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Parashat Vaera - 5773

My friends,

This Shabbat we read the portion of Vaera, the second parasha in the Book of Exodus. You can call this Parasha, "The Parasha of the Plagues", because seven of the Ten Plagues are described in this Parasha. It begins with G-d telling Moshe to let the children of Israel know that the time has come for their liberation. G-d promises:

  1. Vehotseti - I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians.
  2. Vehitsalti - I will deliver you from their bondage.
  3. Vega-alti - I will redeem you with an outstreched arm.
  4. Velakah-ti - I will take you to be My people.

NOTE: These words became the basis for the Four Cups of wine at the Seder.

Moses tells the people of these promises, "but they would not listen to Moses because their spirits were crushed by the cruel bondage." Moses tries to shirk the assignment by saying to G-d, "The Israelites would not listen to me, how then should Pharaoh listen to me, me a man of impeded speech?" G-d does not accept Moses' excuse and commands him and Aaron to appear before Pharaoh.

What is it that we know about Moses that G-d picked him to save the Israelites? Would it not make sense to pick someone who is perfect with excellent oratory abilities, who can argue the cause of freedom before Pharaoh and his court?

What we know about Moses is that he was a man who cared and stood up for the underdog. The Torah relates three incidents in Moses’ life before he is chosen by God:

  1. He saved a Hebrew slave from an Egyptian taskmaster.
  2. He admonished a wicked, Hebrew man who was striking another Hebrew.
  3. He saved the daughters of Yitro when they were harassed by the shepherds in Midian.

These incidents speak of a person who stands for justice - justice for all - Jews and non-Jews. It did not matter that this person who will become the savior of his people had a physical impediment. His strength lay in his character. His inner strength was more important than his looks, or his power of speech. It is an important lesson to us - emphasized in Pirke Avot - Don't look at the flask, but to its contents - in modern terms, don’t judge a book by its cover. Do we judge people with disabilities as being incapable of success? Moses the savior had a disability - it did not stop him.

The second lesson is deeds count more than speech. Moses demonstrated by his deeds that he was a man of action. By the end of the forty years, Moses proves himself to be not only a man of action but also a man of words by the speeches he gives in the Book of Deuteronomy, the last book of the Torah.

There is a 5th promise made by G-d - "Veheveti" - And I will bring them to the Promised Land. At the Seder, the Cup of Elijah (the 5th cup) symbolizes our hope that one day all the scatered will return to the land. Our generation has been blessed in seeing the fulfillment of this last promise. It is a work in progress, as we see Israel settled in his land, but still struggling to make it a reality that would be accepted by Israel's neighbors living in peace and security.

Shabbat Shalom,