This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H & my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H & in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta, and my great aunt Rivkah Bas Etta
-Miriam Liba Bas Devora
-Yechiel Baruch HaLevi Ben Liba Gittel
-Aharon Ben Fruma
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamah of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
וָאֵרָא ~ Va’Eira
“Model Theology Class”
Parshas Va’Eira is where all the action concerning the B’nei Yisrael’s rescue from Egypt begins, as Moshe finally confronts Pharaoh to perform Hashem’s signs and wonders, which we know today as the Asarah Makkos, or the Ten Plagues, against Egypt.
Before the action though, Moshe Rabbeinu is once again reluctant as the B’nei Yisrael’s impatience and exhaustion are increasing, Pharaoh has already snubbed him once, and Moshe is still tongue-tied. Hashem ultimately responds by knighting Moshe and Aharon, so to speak, in a new way, dubbing Moshe a “ruler” to Pharaoh, and Aharon as Moshe’s “spokesperson” [Shemos 7:1]; “…Re’eih Nisaticha Elohim L’Pharaoh V’Aharon Achicha Yihiyeh Nevi’echa”-“…See I have designated you as a ruler to Pharaoh, and Aharon your brother will be your spokesperson.” Thus, Moshe would be the main judge and Aharon would be the middleman who would communicate the message to Pharaoh.
What’s strange about these titles is that although contextually speaking, they refer respectively to the two roles of a ruler and spokesperson, however, we all know that in their basic translations, “Elohim” means a god or deity, and “Navi” means a prophet. G-d Himself uses the title “Elokim,” and His prophets are called Nevi’im. Thus, the analogy must go deeper, that not only is Moshe a judge, and Aharon, an orator, but Moshe is a divine power and Aharon is the communicator of the divine message. Certainly, Hashem could have used another analogy for which to describe Moshe and Aharon’s roles—Moshe could be a “Shofeit” (judge) and Aharon could be his “Midabeir” (speaker) or “Meilitz” (interpreter), or anything of that nature. Instead, Hashem chose this really unique formula which He does not use anywhere else, that, what G-d is to His people, Moshe is to Pharaoh, and what G-d’s prophet is to the people, Aharon would be to Pharaoh. What is the basis for this borderline controversial analogy? What is the meaning of this message which G-d conveys to Moshe before He sends him to perform the Makkos?
In order to understand G-d’s model of Moshe as a god and Aharon as his prophet, we have to understand the larger picture of the Exodus story and address another couple of major questions.
One of the more famous questions surrounding the story of the Exodus regards the necessity of the ten Makkos altogether. Although one could hardly think of the story of the Exodus without recalling the miraculous, brutal Makkos, if we could have played the role of G-d and rewritten the history surrounding the Exodus, we would have likely left out a majority of the Makkos. Are blood, frogs, and lice really all necessary? Who needs them? True, the mixture of noxious beasts and the fiery hailstones were pretty cool, but why not just send one big tyrannosaurus or Godzilla-like thing to wipe out Egypt? Or, instead of Makkas Bechoros (Smiting of the Firstborns), just do one big plague that kills everyone; then the B’nei Yisrael could leave. Or better yet, as R’ David Fohrman suggest, why not just use only the plague of Choshech, darkness, and let the B’nei Yisrael escape through the miraculously split sea while no one is looking? No one has to die. Why not?
Another big question that’s asked on our story is why G-d hardens Pharaoh’s heart? Before any of the plagues, G-d warns Moshe that He is hardening Pharaoh’s heart so that Pharaoh will refuse to give in to the demand that he let the B’nei Yisrael leave. But, why would He do that? What’s the point?
Many ask this question from the theological standpoint—“Is it fair? What happened to free choice?”—however, the Sforno famously answers that G-d did not remove Pharaoh’s free choice by hardening his heart, but rather G-d gave Pharaoh the wherewithal to endure the plagues and thereby have the ability to act according to his free choice (and not give in automatically).
Granted, this brilliant suggestion solves the theological issues at hand, but why, in the first place, did G-d want to give Pharaoh this endurance and keep pushing the buck with these plagues? Thinking back to the previous question, just kill Pharaoh or blind Pharaoh with darkness and let the people leave! Who needs Pharaoh’s acquiescence? Why does G-d care for Moshe to have this back-and-forth with Pharaoh? Why does G-d care to perform every single one of the plagues? What is G-d trying to accomplish?
The answer to these questions lies in the analogy we presented earlier; Moshe as god, and Aharon as the prophet. We described earlier how the model suggests that what G-d and His prophet are to the people, Moshe and Aharon are to Pharaoh.
If one thinks about it, by this point in the Torah, we have not truly seen the fullest portrayal of such a relationship, in actuality between G-d, His prophet, and the B’nei Yisrael. Yes, we have gotten a glimpse at the scene of the burning thorn bush and soon after when Moshe returned G-d’s message to the people, but that was only the beginning. If we look further down the line, we get to know more about this relationship, not only in the lifetime of Moshe Rabbeinu, but in the time of all of the future Nevi’im in Tanach. From the B’nei Yisrael’s history, we ultimately learn that the relationship between Hashem, His Nevi’im, and the rest of the nation is a difficult one; it’s a broken triangle, mainly, the angle of the people. In short, G-d’s Torah is disgraced by the people, the Navi communicates G-d’s warning to the people, and just about every time, the people refuse to give in, and then the people suffer Divine wrath until they give in. And the cycle repeats, time and time again… When will we learn?
Indeed, the educational process of theology is a tough one, but it all started with the model G-d made here in Egypt. Moshe plays the role of G-d, and Aharon, the role of the prophet. Moshe is concerned that, by natural means, no one will listen to him, not the B’nei Yisrael and certainly not Pharaoh. Hashem basically answers him, “You’re right. Of course they won’t listen on their own. So, we’re going to teach them all a model lesson in theology.” And thus, we have an actor for the role of G-d, an actor for the prophet, and an actor for the stubborn nation. As in G-d-prophet-people story, we have Divine instruction; “Let My people go.” We have refusal; “No.” And then, we have prophetic warnings and Divine action; the plagues. And the cycle repeats itself again and again. Why? Why does G-d keep it going? Why not end it with one plague?
Because G-d is not trying to dominate a bunch of people to get what He wants. Dictatorship would be the Egyptian model. Hashem, on the other hand, using the Makkos, employs the theological model. Indeed, Hashem methodically utilizes each plague to introduce Himself both to Pharaoh and to the B’nei Yisrael and educate them about their relationship with Him, to humble the arrogant Pharaoh and to teach the B’nei Yisrael how to realize their destiny as His people. Part of this relationship entails the peoples’ free choice to either be stubborn or to submit itself to Divine Will. Part of this relationship entails second and third chances to wake up and follow G-d’s word. But, as is portrayed so precisely by Pharaoh following the plague of frogs [8:11], “Vayar Pharaoh Ki Haysah Harvachah V’Hachbeid Es Libo…”-“And Pharaoh saw that there was relief and he made his heart heavy…”—the same often happens with us, that as soon as there is a moment’s relief, we misuse our free choice and continue our negative ways. We forget our promises to do Teshuvah (repentance). We go back to snubbing G-d. And sometimes, the cycle has to repeat. But, that leeway, or that relief, is given in the relationship until the people truly realize that He is G-d, hopefully before it’s too late. There are consequences, but it’s their choice to mature or not.
In the end, G-d is conveying to both Pharaoh and the B’nei Yisrael that He is not just a superpower Who will force His Will upon the people. He could have done that, but there would be no point to that. On the contrary, G-d’s Will is to be taught to His people and realized by His people through education process. G-d’s model is one of a patient relationship that He seeks with His people, not a dictatorship. He first seeks to advise and enlighten before He dishes out consequences. And even if the Pharaoh won’t listen now, even if the B’nei Yisrael won’t listen now—G-d has sent the message and the prophet has spoken. The choice is theirs—and that same choice is ours. Hopefully, we will not just obey for the time being, for the moment’s relief, but we will understand for all time. Because if we don’t, we will repeat the cycle until we get it down. Eventually, we will be enlightened and learn that He is Hashem.
May we all be Zocheh to be the ideal students of Hashem’s instruction and those of His chosen leaders, not only learning how to follow the Ratzon Hashem, but making the right choice to follow His Ratzon, and we should be enlightened with the complete knowledge and clear revelation of Hashem and our relationship with Him with the coming of the Geulah in the days of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos and a Gutten Chodesh Sh’vat!
-Josh, Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂