Parashah #14: Va’era (I appeared) Sh’mot (Exodus) 6:2-9:35

Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah # 14: Va’era (I appeared) Sh’mot (Exodus) 6:2-9:35
Haftarah: Yechezk’el (Ezekiel) 28:25-29:21
B’rit Chadashah: Romans 9:14-17

One of the arguments concerning the truth of G-d’s Torah is that there has been no written or archeological “proof” that the Exodus ever occurred. Indeed, Many, if not all Conservative Jewish congregations have adopted this perspective trusting mans archeological findings over G-d’s Torah and denying the Exodus. As I took a virtual walking tour of Luxor, Egypt, the guide. Ramy Romani, who is an archaeologist and Egyptologist made an interesting comment. He said they have not been able to find any evidence of the Exodus written on the walls of Rameses II palace ruins [the Pharaoh believed to be the one involved with the Exodus], but the reason is the most interesting part. He said when archaeologists have discovered and explored one king’s temple and compared it to others, the hieroglyphic stories written on the walls relating to battles and conquests always depict a victory for that specific king. When Rameses II went to battle with the Persians, Rameses is depicted as the victor on the hieroglyphic pictures and writings on the walls. But if you look at the hieroglyphic story in Persia, that king’s story indicates he was the victor. More recent evidence states Rameses II failed to win that battle militarily, but it was a propaganda victory and is so depicted on Rameses II temple walls. So it is no wonder that there is no written record found to date of the miraculous Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt on the walls of King Rameses II temple ruins. Romani also stated that only 10% of Egyptian antiquities have been discovered to date. The remainder of Egypt’s history lies beneath the sand. Although there are numerous reports and photos of what various scientific organizations allegedly found in the Reed Sea such as skeletons, hundreds of weapons and pieces of armor, and the remains of two war chariots, when attempts to verify the organizations and scientists reporting these findings were made, photos of chariots and other related items that were posted and described as being found in the Sea of Reeds were actually taken in another location. Some of the individuals named as scientists or explorers were found to be non-existent. There are no references to Moshe in any Egyptian sources prior to the fourth century BCE, long after he is believed to have lived, but this is not unusual since the leadership of a defeated country would not be expected to write about such a historic episode in which their “enemy” Israel, celebrated a miraculous escape.
The above information is important as it provides a reasonable explanation for the lack of physical evidence of the Exodus to date. But the truth of G-d and his intervention in the lives of man and the universe are easily verified through prophecy that has already come to pass, a growing body of archaeological evidence that is emerging in G-d’s time, and prophecy that will be verified in due time. The reality of the existence of G-d and his intervention in every aspect of his creation requires no scientific evidence, even though G-d is being “proven” by science even as the scientific community seeks to “disprove’’ His existence. Remember that Yahshua told Thomas when Thomas finally recognized Yahshua as G-d, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:28-9). I submit it is not difficult for the true believer to “see” G-d in everything because believers are “tapped in” to a different way of looking at the world and living in it without becoming of the world.
Extending this concept to our parashah, we know that G-d uses different Names to describe the role He is about to fulfill. In the opening paragraph of our parashah. G-d shares this information with Moshe. The patriarchs only know G-d as El Shaddai (the Breasted One; Nurturer; Sufficient). In this role He established His line and the covenant to give the patriarchs and their descendants the Land of Kena’an where they lived as foreigners. But Moshe had the revelation of HaShem, G-d telling Moshe his complete Name Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh (Hand, behold, nail/hook/behold). We see in the Tetragrammaton of G-d’s Name that Yahshua is indeed G-d!
I submit Moshe did not realize the power and majesty; the omnipresence and omnipotence of the One True G-d at this early stage in his relationship with G-d. Yet, G-d was patient as He is with us. We may tend to judge Moshe in his response to G-d’s instructions concerning going back to the people and repeating G-d’s plan and telling Pharaoh to let the people leave the land. But we need to try and put ourselves in his place for a moment. Would we have been any more confident? Would we have been any more eager to go before a Pharaoh who could have us killed at any moment, especially when telling him to let the slaves go? When we look at the exact Hebrew directive given to Pharaoh it says “Let my people go that they may serve Me.” That phrase alone would add insult to injury when Pharaoh was considered the only intermediary between the Egyptian gods and the people. He did not appreciate being told that he must relinquish control over the Israelite slaves to another Master.
As we continue traveling through our parashah, we are reminded of the progressive walk true believers must go through in building a lasting relationship with YHVH/Yahshua. True believers are not taken out of the world for protection and spiritual growth. We are left in the world to endure the hardships and pain with blessings that follow, building our spiritual strength and faith that our G-d is consistent and true to His Word. We also learn that the true believer is not perfect. Moshe made many mistakes in his life including delaying the circumcision of his son, the narrative of which is found in (Num. 20:11).
On the other hand, Moshe often interceded for the people even when they sinned. One of his greatest acts of humility and compassion for the people was when G-d was planning to kill the first generation of Israelites for their sin of the Golden Calf. He was so humble that he even suggested that G-d blot his name out of the Book [of Life] (Ex. 32:33). G-d delays the punishment of the first generation, honoring Moshe’s humility and compassion for G-d’s people.
In Chapter 7 we read as translated in the Chumash “But I shall harden Pharaoh’s heart, and I shall multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt.” A sign validates the messenger’s claim that he was sent by G-d; that is why Moshe only performed signs for the Jews, who believed in G-d but needed to be convinced that He had sent Moshe. A wonder offers proof of the authenticity of the sender; that, according to the Chumash, and that is why Moshe performed wonders for Pharaoh, who, questioned the existence of G-d in Chapter 5:2.
The ten plagues consisted of three sets of three plagues each, followed by the Plague of the Firstborn, which was meant to break Pharaoh’s resistance and finally get him to let the people go. The three sets of plagues were intended to establish three eternal principles. According to the Chumash the first three plagues proved the existence of G-d (7:17). The next three proved His providence [and His intervention in the affairs of man] extends to earthly affairs and that He is not oblivious to material matters (8:18) [ contrary to the Deist belief that G-d is not involved in worldly affairs whatsoever].The next three proved that G-d is unmatched by any power (9:14).
Within the groups of three, Pharaoh was only warned ahead of time in two of them. When he ignored them, the two plagues became “witnesses” that established G-d’s existence. The third plague in each of the three series was not preceded by a warning to Pharaoh. The third plague came as a punishment to Pharaoh and his people for not heeding the intended messages (Malbim), who was a rabbi, master of Hebrew grammar, and Bible commentator in the 1800s.
According to R’Bachya , who was a scholar of Judaism and a commentator of the Hebrew Bible who lived in the 13th and 14th centuries, commented that the first warning of each set of three plagues was delivered at the Nile, and the second warning was in the royal palace, because those two places symbolized Pharaoh’s arrogance. Pharaoh had considered himself the Master of the Nile which was the source of agricultural life in Egypt. When he was affected by a plage, his resistance would increase within the royal palace as the seat of his power. Therefore, G-d chose these two sites to proclaim Pharaoh’s downfall and that he was powerless to defy the will of G-d. Pharaoh’s arrogance is also noted by the fact that he considered himself master of the Nile although there was a god of the Nile (Hapi) of whom it was believed allowed or blessed the annual flooding of the Nile. The Egyptians deemed Pharaoh as the supreme earthly power and even promoted as the “son of Ra” [the sun god].
I want to close this section with a humorous midrash that offers an explanation for why Pharaoh may have been at the river’s edge when Moshe went to meet him in the morning. This explanation comes from Rashi (1040-1105), founded on earlier midrashic traditions.
“Behold, he goes out to the water”- (this means) to relieve himself. He made himself out to be a god and (so) he said that he had no need to relieve himself. Therefore, he woke early and went out to the Nile and accomplished his needs (secretly).
There are many other explanations such as he went simply to cool himself, he went to measure the height of the river, he went to observe divinations at the water as a magician, or to pay his devotions to the Nile (The Torah.com). Although we can’t know why Pharaoh was at the river’s edge for sure, it is certainly enjoyable to research the commentaries of the ancient scholars, rabbi’s and commentators and perhaps develop some of our own ideas! Whatever the reason, G-d knew the perfect time to send Moshe to meet Pharaoh and accomplish his mission with G-d’s supervision and intervention throughout this great event.
Haftarah: Yechezk’el (Ezekiel) 28:25-29:21
This week’s haftarah starts with the ingathering of the exiles, reflecting back on G-d’s promise in our parashah “I will take you out of the suffering of Egypt.” Ezekiel discusses the decimation of Pharaoh and Egypt, also reflecting the devastation wrought upon Egypt described in the parashah.
Ezekiel tells us what will occur during the ingathering of the exiles. “When I gather in the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they have been scattered, and I have been sanctified through them in the eyes of the nations, then they shall dwell on their land that I gave to My servant, to Jacob. And they shall dwell upon it securely…”
Ezekiel conveys a prophecy regarding Pharaoh and Egypt, foretelling the fall of the Egyptian empire. Egypt was punished for two reasons. First, they reneged on their promise to assist Israel against the attacking Babylonians. Second, they had incredible arrogance, considering themselves totally self-reliant on the bounty of the Nile instead of G-d. The Nile was their G-d. It is interesting that G-d turned the waters of Egyptian god (the Nile) to blood and killed the life within it. That is a teaching in itself! This description fits America perfectly. Therefore, Ezekiel warns them: “And the land of Egypt shall be desolate and in ruins, and they shall know that I am the L-rd!” Because he [pharaoh] said, ‘The river is mine, and I have made it.” G-d warns that the land of Egypt will be empty and desolate for forty years, after which G-d will return the people to the land to reinhabit it, but it will no longer be an important nation to be reckoned with. Does this statement foretell the future of the United States? Only time will tell.
The haftarah ends with another prophecy where G-d tells Ezekiel that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, will be the one to conquer Egypt and take its riches. This was a reward given him by G-d because he was accomplishing G-d’s purpose by defeating the nation of Tyre.
B’rit Chadashah: Romans 9:14-17
Now let’s look at the relationship between Ex. 9:16 to Rom. 9:17. In this passage (Rom 8:26-9:29), Paul compares G-d’s promise to believers to his promise to Israel. We know that Israel as the bride of Yahshua is in fact defined as true believers. Therefore, this relationship should come as no surprise. Romans 8:29-30 literally translates from the Aramaic: “And from beforehand he knew them and marked them with the likeness of the image of his Son that he might be the firstborn of many brothers. And those which beforehand he marked, he called and those whom he called he justified and those whom he justified he glorified.”
The Aramaic does not address predestination, but foreknowledge. The text compares G-d’s promise to believers with his promise to Israel (believers=Israel) in Rom. 9:1-4). Paul tells us that G-d selected/elected/chose Israel (Rom. 9:11). He quotes passages from the Tanakh to support his statement (Rom. 9:12= Gen. 25:23); Rom 9:13=Mal.1:2-3). Take note that G-d hated Esau for giving up his inheritance of his own free will (Gen. 25:24-34).
Paul then quotes the Torah: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. (Ex. 33:19=Rom 9:15). This highlights G-d’s sovereign right to choose Israel.
Paul refers to our parashah (Rom. 9:17= Ex. 9:16), then presents the parable of the potter and the clay (Rom. 9:19-21). A parable common in Jewish literature (Isaiah 29:16; 45:9; Jer. 18:1-10). In this parable the potter is G-d and man is the clay. The point is that G-d is sovereign over man, just as the potter is over the clay. Paul uses this illustration to justify G-d choosing Israel as his elect while “hating” Esau and allowing Pharaoh to continue in his rebellion toward G-d. Paul’s point in Rom. 9 is not to promote the Greek philosophy of fatalism, or to indicate that men have no free will. Rather, his point is to defend G-d’s sovereign right to choose Israel. Furthermore, we can see in this week’s parashah that Pharaoh is not stripped of his free will, but it does express G-d’s sovereign right to create Pharaoh for His purpose. May we submit to G-d’s just and merciful hands as the clay allows the potter to form a perfect vessel.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart