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Weekly Message

January 20, 2023
27 Tevet 5783
PARASHAT VAERA
Exodus 6:2 - 9:35

Dear Friends,

At the burning bush, Moses tells God, I am not the man for this job -- three times. If we take a step back and look at the situation dispassionately, we see Moses, aware that he is on holy ground, able to recognize that he is in the presence of the Divine, yet able to get into a dialog with God. Before we look at the outcome of this interaction, it is important to understand what is being modelled for us at this moment. Despite the fact that none of us is Moses, we can still be strengthened by the knowledge that we can question what is being asked of us. Sometimes that very process of questioning gives us the strength to go forward and do that which seems impossible. 

Parshat Va’era, “and I appeared” (Exodus 6:2-9:35), can be looked at as a portion that gives us insight into the power of the choices we make and the ways in which they can enable us to be our best selves or can lead us to rely on past behaviors believing ourselves incapable of change and growth.

When we look at Pharoah in Va’era, we see a man who is incapable of adjusting his line of vision and of letting go of past behaviors to find a new direction. Pharoah’s behavior from the start is that of a man used to getting what he wants no matter the cost to others. Increasing the labor of the Hebrews is a way of asserting his authority. He says no when the first 5 plagues come his way and his heart hardens as soon as the immediacy of the plague has subsided. So, when we are told that God hardened Pharoah’s heart at the 6th plague, Pharoah’s ability to change and truly see what was happening to his own people was no longer possible. 

The psychologist Erich Fromm wrote, “Every evil act tends to harden a man’s heart, that is to deaden it. Every good deed tends to soften it…The more man’s heart hardens, the less freedom does he have to change, the more is determined already by his previous action.” In all of this, there comes a point where this behavior is so entrenched, the heart so hardened, so deadened, that change is impossible. At the 6th plague, Pharoah’s behavior is truly entrenched.

 When we contrast Pharoah’s journey with that of Moses, we are given another option, another way of being in the world. Moses wrestles within himself as to whether he is capable of doing the task that God has given him. He does not get to where he needs to be all at once. Moses is still in the process of becoming a leader. He is receiving on-the-job training and he is not alone.

 The role that Aaron plays as the spokesperson is key. We begin to see that although there is much in our lives that we must do on our own, having the support of others can make all of the difference. It can give us the courage and the persistence to do what needs to be done.

 I invite you to picture Moses standing before Pharoah alone and then picture him with Aaron by his side. The image says it all; we are stronger and more capable when we have others by our side and when we have the capacity and the willingness to change over time. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Sat, January 28 2023 6 Shevat 5783