Va’era (Exodus 6:2-9:35)

Sources: 2016, 2013, 2012 comments on Va’era.

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.”  Exodus 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, New Studies in Shemot, vol. 1, pp. 115-118)

Next is a bit of stage-setting genealogy, leading into Levi’s descendants, where we are told Amram and his aunt Jocheved are the parents of Moses and Aaron. 

Then we get back to the narrative, 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,” i.e., plagues.   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, 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 and the plagues follow, one after another. 

Various natural explanations for the plagues have been proposed, but of more immediate relevance is why the plagues are necessary at all.  There are two big reasons.  One is so that the Egyptians will recognize the existence and power of the Lord, i.e., to know that this God is the Lord.  In fact, references to “knowing” occur 10 times between Exodus7:5 and 14:18.  Isaac Abravanel (15th c.) divides the plagues into three groups, representing aspects of the Lord that the Egyptians needed to acknowledge: (1) the Lord exists, (2) the Lord punishes and rewards, and (3) the Lord can change the nature of things at will.   The other reason is to demonstrate these properties to the Hebrews.  Pharaoh’s bricks-without-straw edict had distracted them and caused them to doubt the possibility of redemption.  They need the concrete demonstrations of divine power as much as, or more than, the Egyptians do. (Leibowitz, pp. 170-173)

According to Rashi, Pharaoh hardens his own heart for the first five plagues and the Lord does it for the last five. When the frog plague hits (#2), Pharaoh starts negotiating – get rid of them and I’ll let you go sacrifice – but reneges.  Two plagues later, he offers to let them go, but not far away, and then reneges.  Three plagues after that, with Egypt largely in ruins and Pharaoh’s own magicians and courtiers begging him to give in, the same thing happens.  

The Torah portion ends after the seventh plague, giving 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.

Shabbat shalom,


Phlebotomy Jokes

  • Don’t mess with me! I get paid to stab people with sharp objects
  • No, I’m a phlebotomist, our blood suckers work in the billing department
  • I wanted to be a phlebotomist, but I found the work to draining.
  • I was reminded my blood type is ‘Be Positive’


tph kermit


Head Lice

Apparently, head lice have now become resistant to the drugs normally used to treat them.

The problem has scientists scratching their heads.


How to Tell the Sex of a Fly

A woman walked into the kitchen to find her husband stalking around with a fly swatter.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Hunting flies,” he responded.

“Oh! Killing any?” she asked.

“Yep, 3 males, 2 females,” he replied.

Intrigued, she asked, “How can you tell them apart?”

He responded, “3 were on a beer can, 2 were on the phone.”


tph milk cows

———————- 2001

Disability Determination
Claimant: Job (no surname)

Date of Injury: September 26, 2507 B.C.E.
Date of Evaluation: 11/28/2001

The claimant appeared for an independent Medical Evaluation based on his assertion that he has a disability because he has become so depressed that he cannot continue in his usual occupation as a farmer.

Mr. Job notes that on the morning of September 26, 2507 B.C.E, he was feeling fatigued, and had been resting from working in his fields, when a cloud of locusts appeared and began devouring his crops. He ran to the house to get help in flailing away the insects. However, on his way to the house, he discovered his cattle all lying on the ground dead. He arrived at his house, only to find it in flames. His wife and seven children were all inside, burned up.

Mr. Job states that he then fell to his knees and prayed to God, only to discover that his entire body was covered with boils. Since then, his neighbors have shunned him.

It is Mr. Job’s claim that he has been so upset by these events that after vainly trying to chase the locusts away, he simply let them eat his crops. He said that he has not been able to return to work since that time.

Assessment: It is clear from his account that the claimant has a history of feeling fatigued in connection with farming work. He admitted that the work-related fatigue began prior to his applying for the disability insurance. It seems quite evident that his so-called depression is an offshoot of this…a psychologically motivated effort to avoid gainful employment. He did show signs of open sores, but these are likely to be self-induced. In my opinion, Mr. Job has a form of Munchhausen Syndrome where he is driven to excoriate his skin, fueled by a covert psychotic disorder. I infer the psychosis from his mutterings about God and the Devil being behind his problems.

In conclusion, I see no basis for compensating this man for an obviously pre-existing condition.

Lou Siffer, M.D.
Psychiatric Consultant


My most memorable hailstorm came on the day of my high school graduation.  The tradition was, and still is, that the graduates wear white dresses (it was a girls’ school) rather than cap and gown.  It was understood they would be reasonably modest; a few years earlier, each girl had to come in with her dress and kneel in front of the vice principal, and if the hem did not touch the ground, it was too short.  My class was spared that.  We also each got a bouquet of red carnations.  Anyhow, we must have looked weird riding the subway on a weekday morning, all dressed in white, but somehow, I managed to keep the dress clean.  After we graduated, picked up our yearbooks, and collected the obligatory signatures, I took the subway and trolley back home.  However, a big storm came up, and I was pelted with hailstones as I ran the two blocks home from the trolley.  My yearbook, diploma, and I were all soaked.  Luckily, there was no real damage.  If fact, the diploma dried out to have a wavy look like old parchment.   IGP

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