July 23, 2024 ~ Sh PINEHAS. M SABA.

Shabbat Vaera - שבת וארא


The Shepherd

וינהג את הצאן אחר המדבר - Long before he was the famous leader of Israel, Moses was just a simple shepherd. If so, what made him uniquely qualified to lead? After all, he admits that he lacked charisma (ואני ערל שפתים), and correctly predicts that no one would listen to his messages (ולא שמעו אל משה מקצר רוח ומעבדה קשה)! Despite this, God insists on Moses due to his empathy for others. A shepherd's role is to make sure that no sheep goes off the path or gets lost. This is exactly how Moses took care of his people for 40 years in the wilderness. He cared so much for each person and made sure that everyone was "on the right path;" both literally and figuratively. Prior to his departure (Numbers 27:17), Moses begs God not to leave the community "like sheep without a shepherd" (ולא תהיה עדת ה׳ כצאן אשר אין להם רעה). This comparison best describes the close relationship between Moses and his people (Beth Torah, 1/28/17).

Name of God

ויאמר אליו אני י-ה-ו-ה - Gematria (גמטריא‬) refers to the method of giving a numerical value to a Hebrew word based on its letters. Although most scholars do not fully appreciate this method, Exodus 6, as discussed in the research of Rabbi Solomon D Sassoon A"H and Rabbi Moshe Shamah, presents an example of a very compelling gematria. The numeric value of the Tetragrammaton, י-ה-ו-ה, is 26. In the opening verse of our perasha (Exodus 6:2), we start with the words "Ani Hashem." Exactly 52 words later (a multiple of 26), in Exodus 6:6, we again see the words "Ani Hashem." If this seems to be a coincidence, if you start from the "Ani Hashem" of Exodus 6:6, and then count another 52 words, then again you reach the words "Ani Hashem" (Exodus 6:8). The textual embedment of "Ani Hashem" using multiples of 26 in this passage, demonstrates that the presence of God exists at the beginning, center, and conclusion of all things. Tiqqun Highlights, Beth Torah Bulletin, January 5, 2019.

Recognition of Good

אמר אל אהרן קח מטך ונטה ידך על מימי מצרים - For the plague of blood, it is Aaron, not Moses, who is instructed to take the staff and strike the waters of Egypt (Exodus 7:19). Rabbi Tanhum comments (Midrash Tanhuma: Vaera 14) that the act is performed by Aaron, because God does not want Moses to strike the same waters that once protected him. In this interpretation, God teaches us to "recognize the good" (הכרת הטוב); not harming one that had once been beneficial to you. When Moses is sent away by his mother as a three month old infant, it is the waters of the Nile that save him from Pharaoh's evil decree. Therefore, much later in life, God does not put Moses in the unappreciative position of needing to harm the same object that once helped him. This lesson of 'Hakarat Hatov' teaches that it is important to recognize individuals who have acted kindly with us in the past and to always have in mind to return their generosity in the future. Beth Torah Bulletin, January 13, 2018.

Pharaoh's Heart

וַיֶּחֱזַק֙ לֵ֣ב פַּרְעֹ֔ה וְלֹ֥א שָׁמַ֖ע אֲלֵהֶ֑ם - How is Pharaoh punished if it is God who takes away his "free will" and hardens his heart? To answer this, a closer reading is warranted. After the sign of the staff turning into the snake, Exodus 7:13 states "Pharaoh's heart strengthens, and he did not listen to them." The biblical commentator Ibn Ezra (~1090- ~1165) notes that Pharaoh, "on his own," hardens his heart, because he sees that the sorcerers can replicate this same sign. For the first five plagues, it is Pharaoh who hardens his own heart. For these plagues, it says that God "said" that this would happen, but does not say that God actually causes this to happen. It is not until the later plagues (starting with the sixth plague) that the text writes that God hardens Pharaoh's heart and that this was no longer an independent decision made by Pharaoh. By this time, God determines that the Pharaoh already made up his mind and the further hardening of his heart was done in order to further demonstrate God's hand in this event. Beth Torah Bulletin, January 25, 2020.

Maqam of the Week: BAYAT-HOSENI

For Shabbat Vaera (Exodus 6:2- 9:35), the prayers are conducted in Maqam BAYAT-HOSENI according to at least 14 Syrian sources. HOSENI (Arabic: 'beautiful') is often described as "a high Bayat" and is applied when there is an aspect in the perasha relating to Matan Torah. We are reminded of the beauty of Matan Torah at the opening of this perasha when we read the words "Ani Hashem" which is similar to the opening of the Ten Commandments (Anokhi Hashem). Dissenting opinion is to apply Maqam NAWAH in order to sing Mi Yemallel (page 361), a pizmon about the ten plagues. Sephardic Pizmonim Project, www.pizmonim.com.