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Torah Portion

Home > Torah Portion > Vaeira

Torah Portion: Vaeira


"Redemption, like a livelihood, must be earned each day" (Eleazer, Gen. Raba 20:9).

We drink 4 cups of wine at the Passover seder, to relive Vaeira's 4 stages of Jewish redemption from exile:
1)... I will take you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
2) I will deliver you from their bondage.
3) I will redeem you...
4) I will take you to me for a people... (Exodus 6:6-7)".
5) The fifth, or Elijah's, cup, resting on the Seder table, symbolizes the 5th and last stage, the gradual messianic emergence of a permanent State of Israel: "... I'll bring you to the land... (6:8)"-- we're now well on the way.

Time as a cycle was a favorite theme of Franz Rosenzweig, especially the annual cycle of holidays. We see such cyclical patterns in the Torah too. Genesis begins with an all-good world, created and watched over by One God. But all is almost destroyed, as individual and collective Man fails to develop his Divine Image, fluctuating between pleasure and pride trips. The Patriarch's Family Saga begins the path back to Redemption and Restoration.

So Exodus begins with the prosperity and growth of the Jewish nation in Egypt; but their moral fall, their assimilation, leads to physical and spiritual slavery; their turnabout, the departure from Egypt, begins a long and wavering process towards a redeemed Israel in Israel, which will eventually and gradually lead to universal redemption, return to Man's inner self and Eden.

Israel sank deeply into Egyptian exile, a prototype for all subsequent Jewish exiles. Ex. 1:1 uses the present tense-- "These are the names of the children of Israel who are coming to Egypt". Whenever Jews were driven out of Israel, by famine, economic collapse or military defeat, they arrived as strangers in alien lands (cf. Hester St., L.A.). As their new industries and family life prospered, Israel receded into the background. After the old Patriarchs died, the Jews gradually drifted apart and wound up living dispersed among non-Jews. The great majority slowly, but surely (...are coming to Egypt), adopted the customs, values and patterns of thought of those around them.

The only brake on their road to spiritual alienation and assimilation is inevitable, tho gradual, rejection by their host society, culminating in slavery, torture and persecution (is, indeed, the polyarchic, polygenetic, polyplastic, polymorphous and polygenous USA different?). As Rav M. Gafni notes, slavery is the ultimate loss of one's identity, name, in this Book of Names, the culmination of assimilation to alien culture.

But those who want to influence assimilated Jews, before its too late and a new Pharoh or Farrahan arises, must approach them w/respect, understanding and kindness; they must know well the world they live in, and understand how such Jews think and feel. Those rabbis who absorbed secular learning and culture in depth, e.g. S. H. Hirsch, A. Y. Kook, S. Riskin, J. Sacks, M. Gafni, D. Landes and Irving Greenberg, often have the greatest impact on our lost folk. Even Moshe had to be raised in Pharoh's court, not exactly a cheder, to lead Israel back to Israel- cf. Herzl; Hirsch went to public school, not a cheder; he, Rav J. B. Soloveichik and Rav Yitzchak Twersky, taught by his mom, never attended a Yeshiva.

So the 20th century's 2 great Torah leaders of all Jewry (not just the "orthodox"), Rabbis J. Soloveichik and M. Shneerson, who stood united against the "old bucharim club", also possessed high level secular education; cf. Rambam-- Shachian isolationists are uncomfortable when Jews study his works en masse.

Faith, Amidst The Birth of the Blues, Engenders The Birth of the Jews Hope seemed absurd. Yet Egyptian Jewesses had great faith in God's ultimate love and kindness, even Pre-Revelation; they seduced their pessimistic husbands and continued to bear children (see Rashi Ex. 38:8). Suddenly, God appeared (6:2), telling Moshe that He Himself will intervene and redeem His people, as He promised the Patriarchs; He'll bring them up to Israel, where they'll establish a unique nation, based on His covenant-- God is Israel's sole true hope and source of survival-- yet they must act first.

Moshe & Aharon's initial efforts brought worse oppression, increased labor (as just before childbirth, a sign that redemption was near-- cf. The Shoah, just before The State of Israel); Israel gave up. God now orders Moshe & Aharon to start the fireworks-- 10 plagues-- to puncture the balloon of Egyptian culture and civilization.

The Torah suddenly seemingly interrupts its tale with the genealogy of Yaakov's sons, abruptly stopping with Levi (6:14ff), whose descendants now lead Israel-- older Reuven & Shimon have been rejected by Yaakov (see our Vayechi study); Yehudah and Yosef's leadership is temporarily suspended, until Jews return to worldly life in Yehoshua's State of Israel.

So the Jews were often led by other-worldly "Levi-like" rabbis, thruout their long diaspora desert; they could transcend the Exile's horrid stark realities only by escaping into eternity. In our Messianic return to a real State of Israel, however, our leaders should be more down to earth, like Yehuda and Yosef, beautifully combining Torah study with "the way of the earth" (cf. Motti Alon, Zvulun Hammer-- perhaps only rabbis who have served in Tzahal should be our chief rabbis today).

Levites Moshe & Aharon now take charge. If they still have any of Levi's wild angry aggressive energy, condemned by Yaakov, they use it to patiently fight Egyptian evil. Aharon is called "Halevi", a proof of Rambam's contention that the Levites functioned as spiritual eladers even while the firstborn lead ritual


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