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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Exodus / Shmot - Va-Era
January 2-8, 2000
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The second Parshah in Sh'mot is Va'eira which encompasses Vav:beit (6:2) through Tet:lamed-hay (9:35).

In last week's discussion, I pointed out that the word Sh'mot meaning names is far more appropriate and accurate for this Sefer than the word Exodus. Vav:yud-dalet (6:14) begins a listing of the names of the current generation of descendants from the twelve sons of Yaakov. This will be repeated again throughout the coming Parshahs.

This Parshah discusses the first seven of the Ten Plagues that will eventually lead to the release of the Ivri'im (Hebrews) from Mitzrayim (Egypt). According to the Stone Edition Chumash, the ten plagues are three sets of three plagues and the tenth and final plague - the death of the firstborn. The first three plagues prove that Hashem exists. The second three establish that His influence and interest extends to both earthly matters and our personal affairs. The third makes it clear that G-d is supreme over all.

When we read this Parshah, we see some really interesting points. In each set of three plagues, the first two are preceded by a warning from Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) to Paro (Pharaoh). The third in each group is not. According to the biblical commentator, Malbim, "When [Paro] ignored [the warnings, the two plagues became 'witnesses' that established the intended point [referenced in the preceding paragraph]. The third plague in each series was not preceded by a warning; the point having been made and proven, the third plague came as a punishment to Paro and his people for not heeding the message that had been delivered forcefully and undeniably."

In order, the ten plagues are:

  • Blood

  • Frogs

  • Lice

  • Wild Beasts

  • Epidemic

  • Boils

  • Hail

  • Locusts

  • Darkness

  • Plague of the Firstborn

This Parshah has more. The first question that stood out was about the warnings. A follow-up question might be about Paro's responses to the plagues. Again, when reading the Parshah, we can see that at times Paro was quite adamant that plague or no plague, the Ivri'im would not be leaving Goshen. At other times, Paro relented, told Moshe that they could go and then later changed his mind. What was the difference?

The commentator, Or Chaim, explains that the difference is in whether Paro sees his life as being threatened. Again, the Stone Edition Chumash, provides concise explanations:

  • Blood - The plaque was not life threatening because the Egyptians could buy water from the Ivri'im or find their own water by digging new wells (commentaries to 7:21 - according to the Midrash, the water turning to blood did not affect the Hebrews. Ibn Ezra states that only the above-ground water was affected and newly dug wells would have had fresh water).

  • Frogs - In addition to the unbearable annoyance of the around-the-clock croaking, the frogs actually crept into the innards of the Egyptians and threatened their lives [see 7:29 oo'v'chah - and into you].

  • Lice - Although Paro's magicians finally conceded that the plague could only have been brought by G-d, Paro would not budge, because the plague was uncomfortable but not dangerous.

  • Wild Beasts - Anyone would have feared for his life when surrounded by beasts of the wild. Paro for the first time promised to capitulate to all of Moshe's demands.

  • Epidemic - Only animals died, not people.

  • Boils - Again, the plague caused extreme discomfort but killed no one. Furthermore, as implied by 9:11 ("The necromancers could not stand before Moses because of the boils, because the boils were on the necromancers and on all of Egypt"), which does not mention Paro, it may be that it afflicted only his people and not him.

  • Hail - The loud thunder and flames from heaven terrified everyone, making them fear they would suffer the same total destruction as S'dome (Sodom) had in the time of Avraham Avinu (our Father Abraham).

  • Locusts - Pharaoh said explicitly, remove this death from me (10:17).

  • Darkness - Pharaoh did not ask Moshe to pray on his behalf. During the first three days of the plague, the Egyptians could have used lanterns; thereafter, they could not move (10:23 says, "Nor could anyone rise from his place" - according to Rashi, there were actually two three-day periods of this plague - in the first, people could use lanterns but in the second, they were completely unable to move).

  • Plague of the Firstborn - Paro's resistance broke down completely and he ordered the Ivri'im to leave Mitzrayim.

There is a third item that is interesting to look at in this Parshah. It relates specifically to the Plague of Hail but can be generalized beyond to all of the plagues.

At Tet:chav-vav (9:26), it says, "Only in the land of Goshen, where the Children of Israel were, there was no hail." That Hashem would protect the Hebrews from the plagues would be obvious. However, this one example is unique. After all, the weather and atmosphere of Goshen would be no different than the other parts of Mitzrayim. Perhaps it is from this, that we can take a great lesson.



Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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