What happens when we try to match wills with the Lord? In this week’s parasha we see the great Pharaoh attempt to ignore and stop God’s Will and the total disaster that it brings. Parasha Va’era translates to “And I Appeared” and covers Exodus 6:2 – 9:35. Parasha Va’era teaches us that no matter how much we want to deny the reality and power of God we can never stop His will.
We continue from last week’s cliffhanger with the Lord declaring to Moses that He has remembered His Covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Lord instructs Moses to speak to our people and proclaim that He would deliver us from slavery and then lead us to the Promised Land of our ancestors. In doing so we would see the great power of Adonai, that He alone is God, and we would be taken as His people.
Moses shared the words of the Lord, but our people would not listen as they had only suffered more since Moses had come back. Even though we doubted the words of God He is still completely faithful to the Covenants that He makes. So he then sent Moses with Aaron to demand again that Pharaoh let our people leave Egypt.
The narrative is interrupted at this point and we read the genealogy of Moses and Aaron. The importance of genealogy may not matter much to us today but was very important in Ancient Israel. Their genealogy recorded in Exodus 6 demonstrated that they had the genealogical qualifications to lead our people.
After this genealogy, we return to the narrative. Moses doubts He can speak to the great Pharaoh of Egypt, a man who is worshipped as a God by his people. Adonai tells Moses that He will make Moses like a God to Pharaoh. The Lord also states that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that despite the amazing signs He is about to perform Pharaoh will not let our people go.
Now many people read a verse like this out of context and have tried to paint Pharaoh in a sympathetic light. The argument is made that Pharaoh would have immediately let our people go if the Lord had not forced him to harden his heart and refuse. If you read the verses about the Lord hardening Pharaoh’s heart in context however this argument falls apart very quickly.
We see during many of the plagues and encounters with Moses that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. During the first two plagues his magicians are weakly able to imitate the Lord’s power and Pharaoh clings to the belief that his desire will triumph over the power of God. In Egyptian culture, the pharaoh was considered a god and this pharaoh truly believed that no one could defy his will. But the plagues the Lord strikes the land of Egypt with are a display of His power for the benefit of our people and all of Egypt. Each plague demonstrates the Lord’s superiority over the fake Egyptian gods, including pharaoh. By hardening pharaohs heart at the end of these plagues the Lord shows that it is His will that will be done and not the will of any fake deity.
So, Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh and show the sign of Aaron’s staff turning into a snake. Pharaoh is not moved by this display of power because his own magicians can perform the same feat, though their snakes are consumed by Aaron’s. Pharaoh ignores this fact, hardens his own heart, and refuses to let our people leave.
The rest of the parasha records seven of the ten plagues, each more terrible then the last. The first plague turned all the water in Egypt to blood. Pharaoh still hardened his heart despite this plague and his magicians could weakly imitate the Lord’s real power. After that first plague the Lord sent frogs, gnats, flies, death to livestock, boils and finally hail large enough to kill animals. Each time the Lord struck Egypt with a plague, Moses and Aaron would go to Pharaoh. He would appear to have finally decided to stop fighting the will of God but each time would change his mind the moment the Lord ended the plague. While each plague raged, the Lord provided for our people and spared us from experiencing these terrible events. The parasha ends with Pharaoh sinning again by hardening his heart after relief from the plague of hail.
Parasha Va’era provides a powerful lesson on how we cannot stop Adonai’s Will. Pharaoh believed that as a god and leader of such a powerful nation he could refuse the demands of Adonai to let our people go. During the first two plagues, he trusted in the power of the magicians he controlled, more than the incredible devastation happening around him and suffered greatly for it.
We read repeatedly that Pharaoh “hardened his heart” but what does that mean? When we see the phrase that pharaoh hardened his heart we should understand that he was willfully denying the physical and spiritual reality around him. He refused to accept the power of God being displayed and the need to submit himself to Adonai’s will. When we read the story of the Exodus it seems incredible that Pharaoh refused God after the very first plague and it has led to people arguing that he was a mindless puppet of God. But how often do we also act like Pharaoh in our own lives? We also can ignore the reality of God all around us and fight against His will in our lives.
We also see after each plague, it was like he forgot what had just happened. This is not something exclusive to those we consider wicked. We read in Mark 8 that the Disciples were worrying about bread after seeing the Lord provide for thousands. We are also quick to forget what the Lord has done in our own lives. It is important to take time to remember what the Lord has done, to count the ways He has blessed us this very day from the big to the small.
Parasha Va’era tells us that we need to know whether or not we have hardened our hearts like Pharaoh. Are we denying the reality and rule of our Creator in our lives or have we come to Him through His Son and ended our denial? Have we forgotten what the Lord has done in our lives and have allowed the suffering of this world to rob of our peace and joy? If we have hardened our hearts we need to give over ourselves to His Will which is infinitely better than our own. May the Lord enable each of us to experience the blessings of living within His Will and avoid the destruction that comes from trying to fight against the One True God.