Numbers in [square brackets] are the Mitzva-Count from Sefer HaChinuch.
Kohen – First Aliya – 12 p’sukim – 6:2-13
[SDT] The two most common names of G-d in the Torah are E-LO-HIM and A-DO-NOI (as an act of respect for G-d’s sacred names, these two are generally pronounced ELOKIM and HASHEM respectively, when referred to other than in prayer or Torah reading). ELOKIM is usually considered to be G-d’s name of strict judgment, whereas HASHEM carries the connotation of Divine Mercy. Notice that in the accounts of Egyptian oppression, the predominant name of G-d is Elokim (esp. in 2:23-25).
Exile is certainly associated with the stricter side of G-d’s treatment of his People. If the quality of mercy were dominant, perhaps we would acclimate too well to conditions and lose our yearning for redemption. (See what has happened in modern times when exile is accompanied by G-d’s Midat HaRachamim and people are quite comfortable, and unfortunately complacent.)
In the opening pasuk of this week’s sedra, we find the unusual combination of both names. It is ELOKIM Who speaks to Moshe, G-d Who has judged and treated the People strictly and harshly. (And G-d Who is also speaking harshly to Moshe for his outburst at the end of Parshat Sh’mot). However, His message to Moshe is “I am HASHEM” (which comes with VAYOMER, the softer “tell”, rather than VAIDABEIR, the harsher “speak” that began the pasuk). And His words of hope and promise to the People begin with the same declaration, “I Am HASHEM”. In this context, we are told that G-d will take the People out of Egypt, save them, redeem them, take them unto Him, be our G-d and ultimately bring us into the Promised Land. These stages of redemption are summed up with the reiteration of the statement, “I Am HaShem”. It is as if G-d is saying to the down-hearted People: “until now you’ve experienced Me as ELOKIM, but rest assured that you will now see HASHEM – the G-d of Mercy – in full measure. The Egyptians on the other hand are being punished by the hand of G-d as ELOKIM. (see 5:15).
The sedra begins with G-d speaking to Moshe Rabeinu and telling him of the promises He had made to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Also, G-d tells Moshe that He has heard and is responding to the cries of the People of Israel.
In other words, G-d will be taking us out of Egypt not only because of promises He had made to the Avot, but because of His feelings for us.
Therefore, G-d will take the People out from under Egyptian oppression, will save them from bondage, and will redeem them with His might. He will then take the People to Him as a Nation and be our G-d. He will then bring us into the Promised Land.
Moshe relates this prophecy to the People, who are too exhausted to listen.
G-d then tells Moshe to go to Par’o and demand the People’s release. Moshe questions how Par’o can be expected to listen, if the People (Moshe’s own people) themselves didn’t listen to him.
[SDT] G-d tells Moshe to go speak to Par’o (about letting the People go). Moshe “demurs”, using the logical argument known as KAL VACHOMER – if the People of Israel (my own People) didn’t listen to me, how is Par’o going to listen to me. Seems logical, but the Torah has told us why the people didn’t listen to Moshe – they were utterly exhausted from their unusually difficult labors. If so, it does not follow logically that Par’o would not listen to Moshe. Maybe he would listen, not being exhausted. On the other hand, Moshe’s KAL VACHOMER is based on his own statement – “I have a speech impediment”.
In trying to understand his failure to reach the people, Moshe finds fault in himself, not in the People. This is how a leader should behave. When a rabbi or teacher fails to communicate an idea to his charges, he should not conclude that the fault lies with them – they are dumb; they are not committed enough; etc. He should rather be critical of himself – I probably didn’t explain things well; I wasn’t patient enough; etc. This is one of the signs of humility that is such a desirable characteristic in a leader. This was one of the many qualities that made Moshe Rabeinu The Leader and Teacher par excellence.
(Above Moshe’s objections, so to speak,) G-d reiterates to Moshe and Aharon, that they are to tell the People as well as Par’o that the People will be leaving Egypt.
Levi – Second Aliya – 15 p’sukim – 6:14-28
The Torah begins to enumerate the names of the tribes and family groups. It is obvious that the intention here is not to review the whole of the nation, but rather to focus on Moshe & Aharon. The Torah starts the list with Reuven and Shimon, and when it gets to Levi, there is much more detail. In this brief section, we meet many of the “main personalities” of the rest of the Torah. The Torah is also giving us the ability to continue to draw the timeline of Jewish history, by giving us the ages at death of Levi (we already know the ages of the three previous generation, those of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov), his son Kehat, his son Amram. That brings us to Moshe and Aharon. We are also introduced to Korach and his sons and Aharon and his family.
[SDT] Although the purpose of this partial genealogy was to identify Aharon and Moshe, the Torah began with Reuven and Shimon before it gets to Levi. A reason offered for this in one of the sources is that since Yaakov Avinu spoke critically of these three sons, the Torah here lists only them, to teach us that they were important tribes despite their progenitors’ “mistakes”.
[SDT] Why are we known as BNEI YISRAEL, and not one of the other Fathers or Mothers? YISRAEL is spelled YUD (Yitzchak & Yaakov), SIN (Sara), RESH (Rivka & Rachel), ALEF (Avraham), LAMED (Leah). The name YISRAEL then emcompasses all the names of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. This is not a reason, but a nice way to look at our main name.
Shlishi – Third Aliya – 9 p’sukim – 6:29-7:7
After the “digression” of the previous passage, the Torah now repeats that G-d is sending Moshe to Par’o and that Moshe continues to “object” because of his speech-impediment.
BTW, ARAL S’FATAYIM has different explanations in commentaries. Literally, I have uncircumcised lips, it is variously interpreted as, “I have a speech defect”, “I can hardly speak”, and “I have no self-confidence when I speak”.
Rashi says that G-d did not repeat the command, nor did Moshe repeat his objection. It is the Torah that is putting us back where we left off before the genealogical data were presented.
G-d tells him that Aharon will do the talking, that Par’o will refuse the repeated requests to free the People, and that He (G-d) will take His people out, and that it will be clear to Egypt (and everyone else) that it is indeed G-d Who is doing everything. Moshe and Aharon do as G-d instructs them; they are 80 and 83 years old respectively.
[Observation] When the Torah is specific about ages, it usually is meant to give us an accurate way of constructing a timeline. Perhaps too, in this case, the Torah is pointing out something that we saw very often in the book of B’reishit – namely, the prominence of the younger brother over the older one.
[SDT] How is it that Moshe Rabeinu is able to speak to the People of Israel throughout his “career” as leader, in light of the fact that he complained of being “speech impaired”? When Moshe spoke to the People of Israel, it was the Sh’china that spoke from his mouth. He had no trouble with his speech defect. He was, however, concerned when it came to speaking to Par’o. See 6:30.
R’vi’i – Fourth Aliya – 28 p’sukim – 7:8-8:6
G-d tells Moshe and Aharon, that when Par’o asks for a sign, Moshe shall instruct Aharon to throw down the Staff before Par’o and it will turn into a serpent. Moshe and Aharon appear before Par’o and do as G-d has instructed them.
Rashi says that TANIN means NACHASH, snake or serpent. Not everyone see it that way. When G-d first had Moshe throw his staff down, it changed into a NACHASH, a snake. Here with Par’o, it changed into a TANIN. Strong possibility is that we are talking about a crocodile, venerated and worshiped by Egyptians. Many Pharaohs identified with the crocodile as the ruling animal of the Nile.
Adds the Baal HaTurim, that the Tanin reverting to wood was a message to Par’o that just as the mighty crocodile turns to dry wood, so too will the mighty Par’o turn to dust and food for worms.
[SDT] The Baal HaTurim points out that the pasuk says: G-d says to Moshe that when Par’o will ask for a sign, you (Moshe) shall tell to Aharon to take your staff and throw it (on the ground) in front of Par’o, it shall become a TANIN. It didn’t say: and it will become a Tanin. He explains that the staff was thrown down and then he was to command it to become a Tanin. And that’s what happened, to show Par’o the power of speech that G-d has given to Moshe. In other words, the staff did not change upon being thrown down. It changed by a spoken command. That carries a pointed message to Par’o that his wizards aren’t even in the same class with Moshe and Aharon.
Par’o calls his wizards who are able to duplicate what Aharon does; however, Aharon’s staff (note: not his TANIN) swallows those of the wizards. Nonetheless, Par’o refuses to listen to Moshe and Aharon, as G-d had said. G-d then instructs Moshe to go to the river (Nile) in the morning, where Par’o will be, and to bring the Staff with him. Moshe is to say to Par’o that G-d has sent me (Moshe) to tell you (Par’o) to release the People and you have refused until now. “With this will you know Who G-d is…” Moshe (actually Aharon) will be striking the water of the river, turning it to blood and killing all the fish therein. G-d tells Moshe to tell Aharon to take the Staff and strike the waters of Egypt. Moshe and Aharon do as instructed and the waters turn to blood, the fish die, and the Egyptians cannot drink the water. Par’o’s wizards again duplicate what was done, causing Par’o to remain stubborn. Egyptians are forced to dig for water (and/or buy water from the Jews). This first plague lasts 7 days.
G-d next instructs Moshe to go to Par’o (at his palace) and warn him that if he does not let the People go, Egypt will be smitten by a plague of frogs. Aharon is to raise the Staff above the river, which he does, and the land is blanketed with frog(s). The wizards are again able to simulate this plague with their magical powers. Par’o calls to Moshe and Aharon to pray to G-d that the frogs be removed, promising that he will let the People go into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to G-d. Moshe asks Par’o when he wants the frogs to leave. (A strange question, to which Par’o gives a stranger answer). Par’o says “tomorrow”, to which Moshe responds “so be it. And that will serve as proof of G-d’s powers”.
[SDT] Why would Par’o ask for the plague to be withdrawn on the following day? He and his people were certainly suffering and would want to rid themselves of the frogs as soon as possible. Par’o (still refusing to see the plagues as Divine, and assuming that there was some natural explanation for them) figured that Moshe came before him when he (Moshe) knew that the frogs would leave. Moshe would give the impression that he (in the name of the G-d of Israel) had power over the frogs. So Par’o tried to trick Moshe by asking the unexpected – do it tomorrow. Moshe’s answer was that doing so would demonstrate that it was truly G-d’s power that was being observed.
Egypt saw itself as great because of the Nile and because of the fertile land created by the waters of the Nile. The first plague smote the water. The second was a plague that came from the river and attacked the land. The third smote the land itself.
Chamishi – Fifth Aliya – 12 p’sukim – 8:7-18
So it happens, and after the frogs are gone, Par’o reneges on his promise, as G-d had said he would (an oft-repeated phrase to indicate G-d’s active role in the events of the Exodus).
G-d tells Moshe to tell Aharon to strike the dust of the earth (no warning to Par’o this time). The resultant plague of lice was not able to be matched by the wizards, who acknowledge G-d’s might. Par’o remains stubborn.
G-d sends Moshe to warn Par’o about the next plague (swarms of insects or wild animals, depending upon which opinion you follow). New element: the contrast between Egyptian and Jewish experiences.
There was always a contrast between the Egyptians and the Jews – Egyptians had no water during the first plague; the Jews had water. The Midrash even says that if a Jew and an Egyptian drank from the same cup, the Jew would be drinking water and the Egyptian would have blood. Similarly, the Jews did not suffer the plagues and the Egyptians did. Yet it seems that G-d had different messages for each of the plagues. (Or each set of 3 plagues.) AROV was the first plague that the distinction between Goshen and the Jews on one hand, and the Land of Egypt and the Egyptians on the other, was so sharp.
Shishi – Sixth Aliya – 26 p’sukim – 8:19-9:16
And so the AROV descend upon the land. Par’o calls for Moshe and gives permission for the people to sacrifice to G-d in Egypt. Moshe says that it must be in the wilderness.
Par’o agrees on the condition that Moshe pray for the removal of the plague. Afterwards, Par’o again reneges. G-d next sends Moshe back to Par’o to repeat the demand for the People’s release and to warn him of the consequence of his refusal this time, namely DEVER. And so it happens that the livestock of the Egyptians all die, with not a single loss to the Jews. This Par’o checks on, yet he still remains stubborn.
The sixth plague (boils) is brought upon Egypt without warning. Although his people are being seriously beaten, Par’o continues to resist (from this point on, with G-d’s help). Moshe is next sent to warn about the seventh (and very powerful) plague.
[SDT] In warning about HAIL, G-d says (through Moshe) that this time, I will send ALL my plagues… The Vilna Ga’on explains that G-d uses three main weapons, so to speak, to punish those who violate His commands – Fire, Water, and Wind. For example, to destroy the Generation of the Flood, G-d used Water. To disperse Dor HaP’laga, He used Wind, and to destroy S’dom, His main weapon was Fire. The plague of Blood, for example, used Water. Plague 6 was the burning Fire of Boils on the skin. The locust (next week’s sedra) came on the Wind. But Hail consisted of the whole arsenal – the Hail itself was Water, it had Fire in it, and the Hail was accompanied by strong Wind (the Kolot mentioned in 9:23).
Sh’vi’i – Seventh Aliya – 19 p’sukim – 9:17-35
It is to be a devastating, unprecedented hailstorm. (There was a large measure of the supernatural in all the plagues, even though each had a natural setting, e.g. fire inside hailstones of ice.) The hail is extremely destructive, but some plants do survive, as do the animals of those Egyptians who heeded Moshe’s warning to bring them indoors. Par’o admits that he has sinned and grants Moshe’s demands, if only the hail will stop. When Par’o sees that the rain and hail and thunder have stopped, he yet again reneges, as G-d has said he would. The last three p’sukim are reread for the Maftir.
Haftara – 23 p’sukim -Yechzkeil 28:25-29:21
The Haftara begins with the prophecy of redemption (as does the sedra). The main connection to the sedra is that the Haftara speaks of the downfall of Egypt. We also find in both the sedra and the Haftara, the extreme arrogance of the Par’o.