Rachael Turkienicz

The Canadian Jewish News (Montreal) - - Parshah -

In this week’s por­tion, Va’era, God in­structs Moses and Aaron to con­front Pharaoh and be­gin Is­rael’s re­demp­tion from Egypt. The ini­tial meet­ings do not go well, and the plagues of Egypt be­gin. The text is packed with themes, mes­sages, his­tory and phi­los­o­phy for which we have thou­sands of years of Jewish thought recorded for us to study.

In­ter­est­ingly, there is also a clear con­trast of lead­er­ship and cul­tural mod­els that are shown to us through­out these texts. When Moses first ap­pears to Pharaoh and the signs be­gin, Pharaoh sum­mons his sor­cer­ers and they are able to du­pli­cate what Moses and Aaron have done. These sor­cer­ers repli­cate even the be­gin­ning of the plagues. And so the great chal­lenge be­tween the gods of Egypt and the God of Is­rael starts to un­fold.

The sub­tle mo­ment that con­veys ev­ery­thing is not whether or not these signs can be du­pli­cated, but rather how is each side per­form­ing these tasks. Moses and Aaron al­ways speak out loud to Pharaoh and al­ways in pub­lic. Pharaoh’s sor­cer­ers al­ways speak in their in­can­ta­tions, se­cret spells and hid­den lan­guage.

With­out these sor­cer­ers and their se­crets, there is no ac­cess to their re­li­gious world. It is the exclusive do­main of the spe­cial few.

Un­like Egypt, Moses in­tro­duces a model of trans­parency, con­tact, in­ter­ac­tion and un­der­stand­ing. Ev­ery­thing Moses will do will be an­nounced in ad­vance and un­der­stood. There is no se­cret lan­guage, priv­i­lege of the few or hid­den con­ver­sa­tions, whis­pers or in­can­ta­tions. God is modelling covenant, which is the op­po­site of Egypt and ev­ery­thing it stands for.

Whether or not Egyp­tian sor­cer­ers can cast spells and work won­ders is not im­por­tant to our text. This is the an­cient world, and won­drous events are com­mon­place. The is­sue is not what they do, but how they do it. It’s a sub­tle mo­ment in our text that con­veys the first les­son of the na­tion soon to be.

Rachael Turkienicz is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Rachael’s Cen­tre in Toronto, rachaels­cen­tre.org.

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