Drash on Parashat Va'eira
Reverend Sam Zwarenstein
Emanuel Synagogue, Woollahra, NSW
Each year during the Pesach Seder, we read the story of the Exodus from Egypt, the time of our redemption from slavery to freedom, in order to serve God. It is no surprise therefore that many events from this week’s parasha can be found in the Haggadah.
As we read our story each year, we are reminded that God tells Moses that Aaron should accompany him when he goes to speak to Pharaoh, as well as that God would harden Pharaoh’s heart and that Pharaoh would refuse to let the Israelites go. Then God’s signs and marvels would be multiplied in the land, until the Egyptians recognised God’s power.
Amongst all the imagery we find ourselves absorbed in, in this key chapter of our journey as a people, we read a line that throughout our story becomes the subject of much discussion and glorification. “V’ga’alti etchem bizro’a netuyah u’v’shoftim gedolim” - I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary punishments. (Exodus 6:6)
This phrase is used several times in the Bible to describe and glorify God’s might and power, most specifically relating to the Exodus from Egypt, and it foreshadows what will be eventually required to force Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to leave.
However, it seems to be more a tactic on God’s behalf to address a challenging situation. Earlier in the parasha, Moses reminds God that the plight of the Israelites has gotten worse every time that he has gone to Pharaoh. God then tells Moses to tell the Israelites that they will be redeemed through God’s might, and that it will be Pharaoh who eventually drives them out of Egypt. When Moses relays this message to the Israelites, it does not reassure them.
The remarks made in the commentaries suggest that God is seeking to teach all parties a lesson, both in terms of God’s powers, and that it would be futile to challenge these powers.
To achieve this, it becomes necessary to harden Pharaoh’s heart, to make him an even more tyrannical taskmaster, so that when he does release the Israelites, it is done as submission to God’s eternal power. It would also reiterate the message of God’s power to the Israelites.
With this in mind, we get a more thorough appreciation of the rabbis’ fondness and dedication for the imagery and effectiveness of the phrase through its inclusion in the Haggadah and the many lines of commentary devoted to it in the telling of the story of the Exodus each year at the Pesach Seder.
It is indeed another fitting reminder of the connection between our redemption from slavery to freedom, and our duty to serve God, which is why we were freed. The imagery may seem over the top and the commentary may appear a little indulgent. However, we are reminded that we have an obligation to immerse ourselves in the telling of this story. It is all a part of appreciating who we are, what our story is, and the importance of making sure we continue telling the story.