Home > Divrei Torah > Parashat Va-era

Parashat Va-era

December 29, 2010

By Rabbi Raphael Goldstein

A few months ago, we studied the three distinct Creation stories in the Bible  “ the story of the seven days of creation, the story of Adam and Eve, and the Noah story. Jewish tradition has always looked at these stories with the understanding that they are about theology, not science or history, but attempts to understand our relationship with G!d and the universe.

This week, we read the Ten Plagues which G!d used to attain the liberation of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. But are they historically accurate; can they be scientifically proven? Is the Exodus from Egypt an allegory, just like the creation stories?

Do I really need to have proof to believe in something? Does belief imply a lack of care with regard to veracity of the belief: is belief blind? What do I really expect the Biblical text to tell me about humanity, G!d, and our relationship with G!d if I can t rely on it to be historically accurate or archeologically verifiable? Does it make a difference if I believe in G!d, but not that G!d could do, or did, the miracles associated with the Exodus from Egypt?

We were slaves in Egypt; we were strangers in a strange land; we know what oppression is; we know what miraculous liberation is. As a result of the Exodus from Egypt, we become the people who struggle with G!d and the Book we received, which we could only receive as a result of leaving Egypt. We are reminded that G!d brought us out of the land of Egypt to be our G!d, to give us the mitzvot, to make us people who connect with G!d through Jewish tradition. Because G!d brought us out of Egypt, we are supposed to honor our parents, remember and observe the Shabbat, not murder or kidnap, and recognize the validity of all of the other rules by which we are supposed to live. Everything we do as Jews is based on this unique experience of G!d being involved in this one-time, never repeated, event.

What was the purpose of the Ten Plagues? Some people will say they were to convince Pharaoh to let our people go. But if G!d wanted to get Pharaoh to do something, anything, all G!d would have to do is zap Pharaoh. Was it the Egyptians, then? Once again, no. The purpose of the plagues was to enable the people of Israel to understand and see a connection to a powerful, caring and involved G!d, Revelation of G!d. Our ancestors, living in Goshen had not had any contact with G!d for nearly 400 years, since the time of Joseph – no phone calls, emails, letters, nothing. They didn t know from G!d. The Ten Plagues were a crash course introducing G!d to our people and to us.

We are supposed to see ourselves as if we personally left Egypt, personally experienced these miracles, so that we can and will see G!d involved in and caring about us. That s really hard to do at the same time as we deny that it happened!

So, did it happen? Why is there no proof?  The proof is in the question  “ in the fact that 4,000 or so years later we re still arguing. I believe it happened not because there is archeological or historical or scientific evidence of it, but because there is religious evidence: we are here and our religion is derived from this experience. The basis for everything we do as Jews can be traced to this introduction of G!d.

There is a connection between the allegories of creation and the Ten Plagues. All are stories of miraculous involvement of G!d in the world. But the Exodus from Egypt goes beyond story, beyond allegory, right to the heart of what we believe we are and what we are supposed to do being who we are.

May it be Your Will, Holy One of Blessing, to enable us to see your involvement in our own lives and the lives of all humanity.  May we be blessed with the courage to believe that which can t be proven, and the confidence to live our lives in accordance with our beliefs. May we see ourselves as if we personally struggled with slavery in Egypt, and learn from that experience to trust in Your compassion to lead us from our own personal darkness into the light. As You were there for us in our worst of times as a people, so may You also be there for each of us in our own darkest hours.

Rabbi Rafael Goldstein, B.C.C. is the Director of Pastoral Care at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, the author of three books currently available on his website,  www.dynamicsofhope.com: Being a Blessing: 54 Ways You can Help People Living with Illness, Access to G!d: 54 ways to Get Closer (Without the Internet) and The Dynamics of Hope Prayerbook for people living with illness, their loved ones and caregivers. He is currently a D.Min candidate at HUC-JIR.