Torah Weekly

For the week ending 9 January 2016 / 28 Tevet 5776

Parshat Vaera

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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G-d tells Moshe to inform the Jewish People that He is going to take them out of Egypt. However, the Jewish People do not listen. G-d commands Moshe to go to Pharaoh and ask him to free the Jewish People. Although Aharon shows Pharaoh a sign by turning a staff into a snake, Pharaoh's magicians copy the sign, emboldening Pharaoh to refuse the request. G-d punishes the Egyptians and sends plagues of blood and frogs, but the magicians copy these miracles on a smaller scale, again encouraging Pharaoh to be obstinate. After the plague of lice, Pharaoh's magicians concede that only G-d could be performing these miracles. Only the Egyptians, and not the Jews in Goshen, suffer during the plagues. The onslaught continues with wild animals, pestilence, boils and fiery hail. However, despite Moshe's offers to end the plagues if Pharaoh will let the Jewish People leave, Pharaoh continues to harden his heart and refuses.


Longing For Redemption

“And I will bring you out, and I will rescue you, and I will redeem you and I will take you...” (6:6-8)

The Jewish People have experienced four great exiles: Babylon; Persia and Medea; Greece, and our current and longest exile — that of Rome and its cultural heirs.

These four exiles are hinted to in the verse in this week’s Torah portion, “And I will bring you out, and I will rescue you, and I will redeem you and I will take you...”

The matrix and seed of these four exiles is that of Egypt.

We say in the Kedusha prayer (Nusach Sefarad) “I have redeemed you — the last as the first.” As our final redemption nears, it mirrors more and more that first redemption from Egypt three and a half thousand yeas ago.

The greatest strength that the Jewish People has in exile is the longing for redemption. As the Jewish People cried out to G-d under the crushing oppression of Egypt, so we too must cry out, “G-d, we long for Your salvation!”, however far we feel from meriting that deliverance.

We are currently in the month of Tevet.

Each of the twelve months of the Jewish Year corresponds to one of the Twelve Tribes. The Vilna Gaon, the Arizal and others parallel the Hebrew months with the order of the encampment of the tribes as they journeyed through the desert. According to this calculation, our current month, Tevet, corresponds to the tribe of Dan.

We are a lot like Dan.

All the Tribes were holy but they were not on the same level. Dan is known as the yarud sh’bashvatim – the lowest of the Tribes. It was the tribe in which idol worship was so rampant that the Clouds of Glory which escorted the Jewish People through the desert would not accompany them. In the Book of Devarim (29:17), when Moshe warns of the possibility of “a man or a woman or a family or a tribe turning away from G-d”, our Sages understand that the Torah is referring to the tribe of Dan.

And even at the height of the revelation at the splitting of the sea, where the lowliest servant saw more than what was revealed to the prophet Yechezkel ben Buzi when G-d showed him the mystical secrets of the interface between this world and the realities beyond this world, even then, Dan carried idols with them into the sea.

Yet, despite this, there are only two tribes in Yaakov’s blessings who are referred to as “Gur Aryeh” (lion cub): Dan, and Yehuda the tribe of the Kings of Yisrael. Yehuda is known as “Gur Aryeh Yehuda”, and Dan as “Dan Gur Aryeh”. What is the connection between Yehuda, whose very name contains the ineffable four-letter Name of G-d, and Dan, the most distant from that loftiness?

In the middle of Yaakov’s blessing to Dan at the end of the Book of Genesis, he suddenly says, “For Your salvation I long, G-d!” What is the meaning of this interjection that ostensibly has nothing to do with what precedes it?

The Midrash describes Dan as a bitter people. They know how pathetic idol worship is and they long to escape from it. They long with all their heart to be saved. “For Your salvation I long, G-d!” It is this longing that makes them a significant and irreplaceable part of the Jewish People.

The Jewish People are compared to the body of a man. As each generation passes, we descend to a lower level. Our generation is called the “Ikveta d’Mashicha”. Ikveta is connected to the word in Hebrew for a “heel” — ekev.We are the generation of the heel. The lowest part of the body.

When we look at ourselves and see how pathetic are most of our thoughts and aspirations, polluted by the exile in a world that has lost all connection to propriety, all we can cry out is “For Your salvation I long, G-d!”

But that is our strength. We know who we are. We know where we are. And we long to escape. It is that longing that will surely bring Mashiach very soon.

“I have redeemed you — the last as the first.”

  • Sources: Sefer Yetzira; Tur Orach Chaim 417; Bamidbar 2; Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 3:12; Midrash Tanchuma Ki Tissa 13; thanks to Rabbi Doniel Baron

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