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TORAH FOR THE TIMES 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shabbat Schedule:  Friday- Shabbat, Jan. 27-28

 

Torah Reading:  First Torah : Va'eira: Exodus 6:2 - 9:35  
                         Second Torah: Shabbat Rosh Chodesh: Numbers 28:9-15

 Haftora: Isaiah 66:1-24; Isaiah 66:23

  

Shabbat Candle Lighting: 4:50 PM

Shabbat Ends: 5:52 PM
 

Molad for the New Moon: Friday, 1/27, 5:36 & 8/18 PM
 

Rosh Chodesh Shevat is  Shabbat, January 28

 B"H

 

Pharaoh PhD

Repeat Performance.
 

This week’s parsha features seven of the Ten Plagues that were designed by G‑d not just to punish the Egyptians but to educate them as well. Each plague would introduce Pharaoh and the Egyptian people to the existence of the one omnipotent G‑d and to an appreciation for the special relationship He has with the Jewish people. The ultimate goal, of course, was to translate their education into practice by allowing the Jewish people go so that they would be free to serve G‑d. But if that was the only goal, G‑d could have accomplished it with but one massive plague. The fact that it took ten plagues to achieve His objective, added to the fact that it was G‑d Himself Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart, proves that the plagues were also, if not primarily, an educational program. The Ten Plagues were thus a ten Semester course that would, in the end, grant the Egyptians a degree in theology, specializing in the subject of G‑d’s ability to change nature.

The very first plague of blood which affected the Nile River, Rashi says, was intended to strike at their god, since they worshipped the Nile. What then was the purpose of the second plague of frogs, which originated from the Nile? Was this supposed to be a second strike at their god? Indeed when G‑d told Moses about the plaque of frogs, He told him to instruct his brother Aaron to strike the Nile just as he had done for the plague of blood, implying a common purpose between the two plagues. What additional theological lesson did the Egyptian ruler learn from this plague? If the frogs discredited the Nile, how did that add to what the first plague of blood had already accomplished?

The Plague’s Ending

The answer might lie in the way the plague ended. Pharaoh begged Moses to plead with G‑d to remove this nuisance. Moses then asked him that when he prays to G‑d to remove the frogs, when should he ask G‑d to have them disappear. Interestingly, Pharaoh’s response was “tomorrow.”Rashi explains: “Pray today that they should cease tomorrow.”

Now the reason Pharaoh did not want to see the plague stop immediately, commentators explain, was intended to test Moses to see if indeed his power was from G‑d or perhaps, instead, Moses was some sort of magician. Pharaoh therefore told Moses an unexpected time for the plague to cease. If Moses could still stop the plague at his appointed time this would indeed verify Moses’ claim that it was a punishment from G‑d and not a product of magic or some special knowledge of natural phenomena. When it ceased precisely as Pharaoh was foretold it would—tomorrow—he was introduced to the knowledge that not only was it G‑d Who was in command of starting a plague when He chose, but that He could also stop it at whichever time He wanted. The theological lesson was that not only does G‑d control over all of nature, including their vaunted idol, the Nile River, but that he can change any aspect of the rules of nature at any time. The G‑d made rules of nature are subordinate to G‑d’s will, and that this subordination was absolute. G‑d could start the process, and He could end it.

Jewish Education

The Ten Plagues were not just theological lessons for Pharaoh and the Egyptians; they were also intended to educate the Jewish people as to G‑d's greatness, His love for them, and the way they had to prepare themselves to be freed from exile. What lesson can we learn from the way this plague of frogs ended?

We can glean one lesson by first answering another question concerning the way Pharaoh asked for the plague to cease. As was mentioned above, Rashi states that Pharaoh asked Moses to pray today that the frogs cease tomorrow. What difference would it make to Pharaoh when Moses prayed? He could just as well have delayed paying until the next day and ask G‑d to end the plaque right then.

 Watering Down the Effects of the Plague

One way of answering this question is to read Pharaoh’s mind. Pharaoh wanted to diminish the effect this plague would have on the Egyptian people. If they would see how the plague would cease the very moment Moses finished praying that would prove to them that Moses was a G‑dly man and that the plague was G‑d’s doing. If, on the other hand, Moses would pray today, but the plague would not cease until tomorrow, the people would still remain skeptical as to the source of the plague. If G‑d was so powerful, they would ask, why did it take a full day for the plague to end?

Pharaoh Mentality

There is an important lesson we can learn from this that can apply to our own unique situation as we are poised to leave the current exile and to enter the age of Redemption. Pharaoh is the force that tries to keep us enslaved and ensconced in exile. Even when he sees the miracles that G‑d has performed he tries as hard as he can to inject doubts as to the true nature and origin of these miracles. One way Pharaoh accomplishes this feat is if the Jewish people grow skeptical when we do not see the immediate effects of all the signs that point to the fact that we are in the last moments of exile. If our prayers for the Redemption have the power to bring Moshiach, why hasn’t it happened already? If the Rebbe told us unequivocally that “the time of your Redemption has arrived,” why is the time of Redemption still not yielding the actual Redemption?

 A Tale of Two Questions

And while we cannot give any rational answers to this question, we ought to know that this question can be phrased in two opposite ways. One way is desirable and constitutes the approach of Moses, while the other plays into the hands of Pharaoh. The first “kosher” form of the question must be directed to G‑d. This is, in fact, what Moses did when conditions in Egypt worsened after he first spoke to Pharaoh. As is recounted in the end of last week’s parsha, after Moses asked Pharoah to “Let my pople go,” instead of things getting better for the Jews they got worse. G‑d’s promise, it seemed, did not materialize. Moses then complained to G‑d as to why the Jews were not liberated immediately? Why did they suffer more as a result of his going to Pharaoh? Why, now, is the Redemption not happening today? Why the “tomorrow?”This is a legitimate way of raising the question. We have a right and indeed an obligation to say to G‑d “ad masai-how much longer?!” How much longer do we have to wait for the promises we were given for the coming of Moshiach to take us out of exile? This demand is not a denial of G‑d or of the message of Moses, and of the Moses of our generation to us; it is, rather, an affirmation of it. Our belief in the fulfillment of G‑d’s promise is so strong that we cannot possibly find any logical explanation for it not happening, and not happening today.

When Pharaoh and his ilk, however, raise the question, their version of it is intended to dampen our spirits and sow doubts into the very efficacy of our prayers and of the very fact that we will leave this exile imminently. Pharaoh wants to demoralize us with his questions so that instead, we will prefer to remain in exile.

Today, Not Tomorrow!  There is another way we can explain Pharaoh telling Moses “tomorrow.” This is the lexicon of exile. A Moshiach oriented person says, “today.” I want Moshiach today! I expect Moshiach today! As we say three times a day in our most important prayer, “And for Your salvation I hope for every day,” which is understood to mean that I hope and anticipate that he will come today. When we hear someone saying “things will get better, but I don’t want, care, or expect it to happen today” they’ve been infected with Pharaoh’s “tomorrow” syndrome. This explains why the Torah doesn’t say when the plague actually ended. While we assume that it ended precisely as Moses told Pharaoh it would, and in fact Rashi says that he did actually pray that day that it would cease tomorrow, the Torah does not mention this explicitly. Perhaps it is the Torah’s way of saying that the word “tomorrow” should not appear in our vocabulary when it comes to the end of pain and suffering or the end of exile. Our motto is “today,” or as the children (and the innocent child within us) sing “We want Moshiach Now!” 

 

 

  

Moshiach Matters: 

 

After Sara's passing, Abraham married Ketura and they had six sons. All six grew up to be idol worshippers. How could Abraham who was renown as a G‑d-fearing, righteous person, and his wife Ketura (who according to the Midrash was also wholly righteous) have had such children? Before the Redemption, it can happen that righteous people will have some children who grow up to be righteous and others who grow up to be evil. But in the Days of Moshiach, all will be righteous, as it says (Isaiah 60:21), "They shall inherit the land forever; they are the branch of my planting and the work of my hands of which I take pride."