Published Date: January 20, 2017
In this Shabbat’s weekly Torah portion Vaeira, Exodus 6:2 – 9:35, G‑d reveals Himself to Moses. Employing the “four expressions of redemption,” He promises to take out the Children of Israel from Egypt, deliver them from their enslavement, redeem them, and acquire them as His own chosen people at Mount Sinai; He will then bring them to the land He promised to the Patriarchs as their eternal heritage.
Moses and Aaron repeatedly come before Pharaoh to demand in the name of G‑d, “Let My people go, so that they may serve Me in the wilderness.” Pharaoh repeatedly refuses. Aaron’s staff turns into a snake and swallows the magic sticks of the Egyptian sorcerers. G‑d then sends a series of plagues upon the Egyptians.
The waters of the Nile turn to blood; swarms of frogs overrun the land; lice infest all men and beasts. Hordes of wild animals invade the cities; a pestilence kills the domestic animals; painful boils afflict the Egyptians. For the seventh plague, fire and ice combine to descend from the skies as a devastating hail. Still, “the heart of Pharaoh was hardened and he would not let the children of Israel go, as G‑d had said to Moses.”
This week’s Haftara Prophets reading, Ezekiel 28:25 – 29:21, begins with a mention of the ingathering of the exiles, echoing G‑d’s promise mentioned in the Torah portion: “I will take you out of the suffering of Egypt.” The prophet then goes on to discuss the decimation of Pharaoh and Egypt, reminiscent of the primary theme of the Torah portion–the devastation G‑d wrought upon Egypt.
Ezekiel begins with a description of 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 shall they dwell on their land that I gave to My servant, to Jacob. And they shall dwell upon it securely…”
The prophet then proceeds to convey a prophecy regarding Pharaoh and Egypt, foretelling the fall of the Egyptian empire. Egypt merited this punishment for two reasons: a) They had reneged on their promise to come to Israel’s aid against the attacking Babylonians. b) They had incredible arrogance, considering themselves un-reliant on G‑d, instead attributing their success to the bounty their deified Nile afforded them. Therefore, Ezekiel warns: “And the land of Egypt shall be desolate and in ruins, and they shall know that I am the Lord! 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.
The haftorah ends with another prophecy wherein G‑d informs Ezekiel that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, will be the one to conquer Egypt and take its spoils. This as a reward for his effort in defeating the wicked nation of Tyre.