This week, we more or less start over. Va’era makes last week’s story of the first encounters of Moses and Aaron with the Hebrews and Pharaoh seem like a TV pilot. The basic elements were there, but, as drama, it needed polishing and fleshing out.
That’s what we get this week. First, there’s a marvelously majestic introduction by the Lord in a mirrored structural form known as “chiasma.” The content of Ex. 6:2-8 follows a pattern a b c d e d c b a, i.e.,
(a) I am the Lord;
(b) appeared to Abraham Isaac Jacob;
(c) covenant re: land;
(d) bondage in Egypt;
(e) I will redeem you;
(d) burdens of Egypt;
(c) bring you to the land;
(b) Abraham Isaac Jacob;
(a) I am the Lord. (See Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Shemot, vol. 1, pp. 115-118)
Next is a bit of stage-setting genealogy, the names of the families of Jacob’s sons Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, leading into Levi’s descendants (here’s where we are told Amram and his father’s sister Jocheved are the parents of Moses and Aaron). Then we get back into our story, with some divine clarification: Before Pharaoh lets the Israelites go, he’s going to refuse several times, and the Lord with then strike the Egyptians with “chastisements.” This will demonstrate the power of the Lord to Pharaoh, the Egyptians, and, perhaps most importantly, the Hebrews.
And so, Moses and Aaron go back to Pharaoh, who demands a “marvel,” so Aaron throws down his staff and it becomes a serpent. Pharaoh is unimpressed. [This staff-into-a-serpent trick was apparently how you presented your credentials in ancient Egypt.] But he gets the first hint that this is a different ball game when, after his magicians do the same thing, Aaron’s serpent swallows all the Egyptian ones. Of course, he still refuses to let the people go.
The plagues follow, one after another. This week, we read about the first seven: blood, frogs, lice, flies or gnats (some say wild animals), cattle plague, boils, and hail. There are various natural explanations for the plagues; see, e.g., Ehrenkranz NJ, Sampson DA, “Origin of the Old Testament Plagues: Explications and Implications,” Yale J Biol Med. 2008 March; 81(1): 31–42, which attributes them to “unseasonable and progressive climate warming along the eastern Mediterranean coast”. The general conclusion is that they were a series of natural disasters, some clearly linked, like the water that turned to blood made the Nile uninhabitable for frogs, which then swarmed over the land. And they were probably spread out over a longer period of time than we read in Exodus but collapsed into a single cataclysm by group folk memory.
The reactions of Pharaoh and the Egyptians change with each new plague. As I noted here two years ago, “The Egyptian magicians cave at the third plague (8:15, “It is the finger of God!”), since that’s the first one they could not reproduce (7:22 and 8:3, JPS translation). At the fourth plague, Pharaoh offers to let the Hebrews go (but not far) to sacrifice to the Lord. But then, as with the fifth, sixth, and seventh plagues, he changes his mind. (According to Rashi, Pharaoh hardens his own heart for the first five plagues and the Lord does it for the last five.) Some people just grow more stubborn under pressure.”
The Torah portion ends after the seventh plague. Seven is a good number, of course, traditionally associated with wholeness and perfection. I think here it gives us a chance to catch our breath. It’s like an ocean wave gathering strength and pausing for a moment before it crashes down and causes total havoc. That crash is what we’ll see next week.
Why Humor is Therapeutic [excerpt]
“We believe laughing is good for your health,” said Michael Miller of the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. “And we think we have evidence to show why that’s the case.”
A “Ha-Ha-Ha” = A Happy Heart
Miller and colleagues examined the connection between blood vessels’ ability to expand (vasodilation) and laughter. If vasodilation is poor, it can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. The study involved 20 adults who watched clips of a violent movie and a humorous movie and had their vasodilation tested. They found that:
- Blood flow was significantly reduced (by about 35 percent) in 14 of the 20 volunteers who saw the stressful film.
- Blood flow significantly increased (by 22 percent) in 19 of the 20 volunteers after watching the funny movie.
What’s more, researchers said the improvement in blood flow experienced by most all participants after laughter was equal to the improvements seen after a 15- or 30-minute workout!
“Laughter is not dissimilar from exercise,” said Lee Berk, an associate professor of health promotion and education who studies laughter at Loma Linda University in California. “It’s not going to cure someone from stage three cancer, but in terms of prevention it does make sense. In a sense, we have our own apothecary on our shoulders. Positive emotions such as laughter affect your biology.”
http://allaboutfrogs.org/funstuff/jokes/ratfrog.html (Sent out 5 years ago)
Frog and Rat Act
A drunk is sitting at a bar, and says, “Bartender! Another drink.”
The bartender shakes his head and says, “No you’ve had enough.”
“Well,” the drunk says. “How about if I show you something really cool? Then will you give me a drink?”
“Sure,” the bartender says. “But it’s gotta be pretty cool.”
The drunk takes a tiny piano and a frog out of his pockets and sets them on the bar. The frog starts banging away, playing a beautiful song.
The bartender gives him a drink. The drunk downs it, and orders another.
“No way,” the bartender says. “Now you’ve really had enough.”
“If you give me a drink, I’ll show you something even cooler,” says the drunk.
The bartender agrees.
The drunk pulls out a rat, and sets it next to the piano. The frog starts banging away again, and the rat starts singing to the music.
The bartender is amazed, and gives him another drink.
A man who had been watching all this comes up to the drunk and says, “You’ve got a million dollar act there. I’ll give you $500,000 for them right now.”
“Not for sale,” the drunk croaks.
“Ok, $500,000 just for the frog.”
“Not for sale.”
“Ok, $500,000 just for the rat.”
The drunk agrees, and the man pays him and leaves.
The bartender says to the drunk, “What did you do that for? You broke up a million dollar act!”
“Not really,” the drunk says. “You see, the frog’s a ventriloquist.”
Apparently, head lice have now become resistant to the drugs normally used to treat them.
The problem has scientists scratching their heads.
William H. Swanson’s Homespun Fly Jokes (selected)
Waiter! There is a fly in my soup!
What did you expect for this kind of price, an eagle?
Waiter, waiter, there’s a dead fly in my wine!
What’s wrong, sir? – You told me you liked wine with a little body in it!
Waiter, what’s the meaning of this fly in my teacup?
I wouldn’t know, sir. I’m a waiter, not a fortuneteller.
Waiter, waiter, there’s a cockroach in my soup!
That’s right sir! He’s volunteered to take over while the fly visits his mother over Christmas. If you look carefully, you can see he’s wearing a little red hat and has a white beard.
Waiter, what’s this fly doing in my soup?
It’s fly soup, sir!
(from Reader’s Digest)
(One of) 11 Outrageous Folk Remedies to Avoid
Corpses cure boils!
This old English remedy, gets our vote for strangest of them all. Apply a poultice to the boil. When you remove the poultice, place it in a corpse-containing coffin. Theory was, the boils would leave you and pass on to the dead person, where they could do no harm.
The local church had hired a new choir director from Mississippi for the church choir. The church was undergoing some roof repairs, and as a result of the incomplete roofing, the church was uncovered with just the tin foundation. Meanwhile, the poor choir director was struggling with the worst choral voices this side of the Mississippi. One Sunday morning, during the choir director’s debut, the choir was sounding like sour grapes. All of a sudden, a fierce hail storm broke out, just as the choir was singing its last “Amen.”
With that, the minister stood up and looked toward the roof top and said, “It sounds like hail!”
The indignant choir director got up and cried out, “Won’t you give me a break?! I’m doing the best I can with these terrible voices!”