Va’Era is Exodus’ second parashah. Found in the Book of Exodus 6:2-9:35, the parashah’s name means “I appeared/was appearing”. The name refers to Israel’s patriarchs but one cannot help but wonder if it is not a foreshadowing of the plagues that would be visited upon the Egyptian people. This week’s parashah not only deals with the first set of plagues to hit Egypt but also with Pharaoh’s government’s inability to deal with change. Rather than see reality, The Egyptian government created a sense of falsehoods and lies to pacify the population and to assure the Egyptian populous that the government was in control of the situation. The parashah also revisits the issue of collateral damage. The idea that leadership’s mistakes may cause not only the evil but also the good to suffer is an ethical question that has haunted us ever since Abraham first posed the question to G-d in the tales of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Is the recounting of the plagues meant to be a history lesson or a political statement? Do they teach us to be mindful of government bureaucracies? Certainly, this point is noted in the Book of Samuel when Samuel warns the nation of a centralized king and what its consequences might be. Samuel argues that bigger the government the greater the potential for corruption.
Are these plagues an example of government ineptitude? Did Pharaoh’s government falsely believe that this refusal to negotiate or even hear the other side’s complaints was a sign of strength? Did government officials believe that by carefully manipulating the flow of information they would succeed in convincing the Egyptian population of a false reality?
Even if we give Pharaoh’s government the benefit of the doubt that they truly believed that they could control the situation we also note that Pharaoh’s government refused to review their decisions, stayed with its policy, and in the end invited disaster. Is the text not teaching us that a public that puts its total trust in any government is in the end also responsible for the calamities that might befall it?
Did Pharaoh misread (or chose not to read) the data or had his large army of bureaucrats become experts in creating an Egyptian deep-state that was so entrenched in maintaining power that even Pharaoh could not control it? Was it Pharaoh’s stubbornness that resulted in the deaths of many of his citizens or is the text hinting at government ministers who were so in love with their own power that they were willing to sacrifice the welfare of their people?
Is the text merely a lesson in history or is it teaching us general principles that apply to every age and generation? Is the text teaching us to question? To look behind the interlocking agencies that often control both government officials and the media that tell their side of an issue? These eternal questions are found throughout Hebrew scripture.
The book of Exodus reminds us that what is true of government officials and bureaucracies, is also true in our own personal lives. When should we be steadfast and when should we be flexible When should we embrace change and when should we hold fast and refuse to change? The Bible’s answer seems to be that humans are blessed with the ability to analyze and change their ways. This internal and external questioning forms the basis of the High Holiday concept of “Teshuvah”. When a policy does not work then change may be appropriate; when, however, it is a question of morality then steadfastness may be the proper route.
Successful living depends on our ability to know when to be steadfast and when to change. To question what we know, to not be afraid to change course and to examine the consequences of our actions. How well do you question?
Youtubes of the week:
Israel Technology Opens New Worlds
One more way to defeat cancer:
The Technion: Doing Good