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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Va'era


Rabbi Stewart WeissTevet 25 5778
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Our Sedra of Vaera might aptly be subtitled, "The Miracle Worker" (with apologies to Helen Keller & Anne Sullivan), as Hashem performs multiple miracles in Egypt.

Classic question: For whom were these plagues/miracles done? Was it to bring Egypt to its knees, as punishment for the inhuman way they mistreated us during 117 years of slavery? Was it to show Paro who really is boss? Was it to strengthen & energize Bnei Yisrael after so many years of being downtrodden? All quite plausible & possible. But perhaps there is yet another idea behind these "wonders & signs."

The 7th plague – Hail – destroys the crops of Egypt. But the wheat & spelt are saved, as the pasuk says, "Ki Afilot Hayna." Rashi explains that these two species bloom later, & because they were soft & not yet standing, they survived the hail. But Rashi also brings a Medrash on the unusual word, "Afilot" & relates it to "Pele-miracle," saying that this aspect of the plague was indeed a "wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles!" (Apologies to Mottel Kamzoil).

Rav Moshe Feinstein is puzzled. Was the fact that the wheat & spelt were spared deserving of such extreme hyperbole, a "miracle of miracles?!" But Rav Moshe maintains that this was Hashem holding back His attribute of Justice,
refraining by Divine decision from exercising the full force of the Plague, and that is a momentous thing indeed. Perhaps He did this to offer Paro an "out" – i.e. Paro could say the plague was not 100% effective, and so remain
obstinate – perhaps it allowed the Egyptians to continue their oppression, so as to be brought completely down later on ("When the wicked grow as grass, it is so that they may be totally cut down in due time," says David HaMelech in Tehilim 92).

But I see another profound lesson at work here. We Jews live in a world where we are constantly under threat. Half the world directly attacks, assaults or condemns us, while the other half - with some notable exceptions, such as the USA - sits by & is deathly silent in the face of these obscenities. We ask: "Why doesn’t Hashem punish them? Why are they free to carry out their Barbaric, Despicable, Sickening (BDS) actions? Why does G-d hold Himself back from dispensing Justice?"

Well, perhaps Hashem hopes the world will do Teshuva. Perhaps He waits for the opportune moment to strike the evil-doers. Or perhaps He wants us to realize just how blessed we are, that our People – small in number but giant in stature – can withstand any & all forces arrayed against us, & still continue to thrive & flourish. Virtually the entire planet can harbor ill will towards us, & yet we go on & on, unstoppable. That may just be the greatest of all miracles, a true
"wonder of wonders" if ever there was one. The question is: Do we recognize the miracle in which we live?!
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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