This week, the name of our parasha, Va’Eira – “I appeared” – sets the stage for what happens throughout the rest of the portion, one of the most eventful and dramatic in all of the Torah.
Last week, Pharaoh became angry when Moses demanded that the Israelites be allowed to leave Egypt to worship God. Pharaoh punished the Children of Israel by decreeing that, in addition to making their usual number of bricks each day, they had to collect the straw for the bricks. Moses asks why God has allowed Pharaoh to make life even worse for the Israelites since sending Moses to deliver them.
Now, our parasha opens with God explaining that this is the way everyone – both the Israelites and the Egyptians – will know God’s power. The Israelites’ work exhausted them physically and spiritually, so they were not able to understand Moses and his mission. The Egyptians worshipped idols and did not believe in God. God tells Moses “I appeared” to the Patriarchs and promised them the land of Canaan. Now, God has appeared to the Children of Israel to redeem them from slavery and take them to Canaan. God will also do this by appearing to the Egyptians in ways to make them recognize God’s power and free the Israelites.
The things God does are the plagues. God says “I shall multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt” so that Egypt will know God.
First, Moses has Aaron stretch forth his staff over the waters of Egypt and all the water – the Nile, the irrigation canals, lakes, ponds and pitchers of water in people’s houses – all turn to blood. Neither this plague nor any of the others take place in Goshen, where the Israelites live.
Pharaoh refuses to let the Israelites leave, Moses tells Aaron to stretch forth his staff, and frogs come out of all the rivers and other bodies of water.
Pharaoh continues to refuse freedom to the Israelites, Moses has Aaron stretch forth his staff, and the dust of the Earth becomes lice.
Still Pharaoh refuses, and God tells Moses to meet Pharaoh in the morning, when he goes to the Nile, and tell him that wild beasts will swarm throughout Egypt. Pharaoh does not free the Israelites, and God sends the beasts to cover Egypt.
Again God has Moses warn Pharaoh, this time that the cattle, horses, donkeys, camels and sheep of Egypt will die. Pharaoh keeps the Israelites in slavery, and the animals die.
Then God tells Moses and Aaron to take handfuls of dirt and hurl it upward in front of Pharaoh, and it became boils and blisters on every Egyptian man and beast.
God has Moses tell Pharaoh that there will be hail that will kill people, animals and crops. When Pharaoh does not listen to the warning, Moses stretches out his staff to heaven and hail mixed with fire descends on Egypt, killing everything that has not taken shelter inside.
These are the first signs and wonders by which God “appears” to the Egyptians. God’s appearance is evident by a change in nature that is so great only the Creator of Nature could cause it.
God’s way of dealing with Pharaoh teaches us a valuable lesson about our own dealings with people. We “appear” to people by our acts. It does not matter how handsome we are, or how nice our clothes look, but how we treat people that determines how they feel about us. If we do what we say we are going to do – as God did with the plagues – people learn to believe what we say. We’re Trustworthy. If we say we will do something and then break our word – as Pharaoh did by saying he would let the Israelites go and then keeping them in slavery – people quickly learned we cannot be trusted.
It will take three more plagues for Pharaoh to learn this lesson. But that’s for next week.