Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Bo –Sh’mot (Exodus) 10 – 13:16 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

YHVH charges Moshe to "go to Pharaoh," and it is this "going" which our Parasha is named after (literal meaning of "bo" is "come"). The approximately three and a half chapters of Parashat Bo encompass a number of central themes. The historical narrative (describing the last plagues, some of the Israelites' preparations to leave Egypt and a few of their moves), is interspersed with themes of redemption, ransom, the Pesach celebration, injunctions to instruct the future generations, and several teaching tools which are to accompany the nation of Yisrael down the road of time. Thus, at the outset of Yisrael's travels, which ultimately will bring them to the Land of Promise, they are also embarking on a journey on becoming a (special) Nation. And while they had no time to prepare supplies (ref. 12:39), and were carrying almost only that which the Egyptians had given them (ref. 12:33, 35, 36), YHVH was starting to do His own equipping of this nascent nation on the road toward its destiny.  

The educational theme is evident right at the beginning, by the reason given for the "signs" performed in Egypt: "That you may tell in the hearing of your son and your son's son the mighty things I have done…" (10:2). "I have done" here is denoted by the verb "hit'a'lalti," of the root a.l.l (ayin, lamed, lamed). It is a multi-faceted verb the meaning of which depends on context, yet its root also forms one of the words for "infant" or "babe" - "olal," such as used in Psalms 8:2: "Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength" (emphasis added). Thus, within the word for YHVH's "doings" – or miraculous performances in Egypt, which the Israelites are to tell their children about - is hidden an allusion to these very children!

By this time in the narrative, the land of Egypt has experienced a great deal of devastation, with much more to come. The severity of the next plague is such that locusts "shall cover the face [literally "eye"] of the earth, so that no one will be able to see the earth, and they shall eat the residue of what is left, which remains  from the hail…" (10: 5, 15). Here we find a sequel of three synonyms. The repetition serves to heighten the proportions of the catastrophe. The Hebrew reads: "yeter [ha]*pleta [ha]nish'eret."  “Yeter” is that which remains, as is also seen in 12:10, where the lamb is to be eaten in such a way that "you shall let none of it remain until morning" (emphasis added). The term "pleta nish'eret" was also mentioned by Yoseph, when he disclosed his identity to his brothers, saying the following: "And Elohim sent me before you to put a remnant ["she'erit," of the same root as "nish'eret" above] in the land for you and to keep alive for you a great survival [pleta]” (Gen. 45:7, literal translation, italics added). Yoseph’s words, regarding the survival of his brethren had a prophetic fulfillment, as the “remnant” of the Children of Yisrael has not only “survived,” but it had actually turned into multitudes, resulting in Egypt's soil being left (almost) without residue of remaining life (through the plagues inflicted by the Elohim of the “remnant”). Therefore, that which was a means of salvation for the one people (as expressed by Yoseph), turned into deadly circumstances for the other! Shaul the apostle expresses a similar principle in the following words: “We are to Elohim the fragrance of Messiah among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life" (2nd Cor. 2:15-16).

Par’oh's now-exasperated servants complain about Moshe, describing him as a "mokesh" – “snare” (10: 7). However, according to Ee’yov (Job) 34:30, it is a Godless king, such as Par’oh, who “should not reign lest the people be ensnared" (emphasis added)! Indeed, no sooner were the locusts removed, when Par’oh's persistence brought about the ninth plague.  Total darkness descended upon his land, and his people were ensnared once more. The darkness was so thick that it could be "ya'mesh," that is, "felt" or "touched" (10: 21. See also Genesis 27:12, describing the concern of Ya'acov, who was impersonating his brother, lest his father should discover his real identity by “touching” his smooth skin). In 10:23 we are struck by the contrast between the total darkness prevailing over Egypt, and the well-lit dwellings of the Israelites, where the source of Light was the Almighty Himself.

It is time now to prepare for the last phase, and for the start of a new one. YHVH declares to Moshe that He is about to strike the final blow on the Egyptians and on their king (ref. 11:1), a fact which Moshe conveys to the latter. This is followed by instructions for the Pesach lamb, whose smeared blood will single out the homes of the Hebrews, while YHVH will be striking the Egyptian homes by killing every firstborn son. Each Hebrew household is to partake of one lamb, or share it with others if the family happens to be too small. The expression used, "according to the number" (12:4), is denoted by a single word - "[beh]mich'sat," rooted in k.s.h (kaf/chaf, samech, hey), meaning "to allocate." The root employed for this term is also used for the standard form of the verb to “cover.” Thus, even before an explanation is given for the procedure of choosing, slaughtering, eating the lamb and applying its blood, the text points subtly to the Lamb which has been ‘allocated’ and designated to be slain from the foundations of the world (ref. Rev. 13:8), Whose blood was given for the covering of sin.

The blood over the Hebrews’ doors enabled YHVH to steer clear of their homes by passing over - "pasach" (ref. 12:23) - a verb rooted in (pey, samech, chet) and means to “pass" or "skip." Yishayahu (Isaiah) 31:5 says: "Like flying birds, so YHVH of Hosts will protect Jerusalem… He will pass over ["pasach"] and rescue it.” Hence, a lame or limping person is a “piseh’ach” (e.g. 2nd Sam. 9:13; 1Kings 18:21). This verb gives the feast its title of Pesach.

We have already noted that our Parasha is 'didactically inclined,' with 12:14-22 being devoted to instructions pertaining to the future life of the Israelites, once planted in their own land. This passage is fraught with distinct words and terms. We already examined the notion of "allocating" in verse 4. In verse 6 we note that the lamb was to be "kept" (from the 10th of the first month, until the 14th). But rather than a verb, a noun is used there - "mishmoret," of the root sh.m.r (shin, mem, resh). In verse 17 the Children of Yisrael are instructed "to observe the Feast of Matzot." "Observe" is again from the same root, meaning “to keep, or guard,” while in verse 24 the Israelites are told, "to observe," literally "keep," what now becomes an ordinance to be practiced upon entering the Land. In the future, the night commemorating the exodus from Egypt will become a "night of solemn observance (or vigil)" - "shimurim" (verse 42), and again in 13:10, "You shall keep this ordinance in its season from year to year."

The lamb was to be slaughtered on the 14th day of the month, "at twilight" (12:6), which is "ben arba'yim.” “Arbayim" is the plural form of “erev” (evening), the all-familiar term we have been discussing over and again. Most interpreters and commentators believe that "between the evenings" (its literal meaning) denotes "twilight." However, there exists a minority view that supports the literal “between the evenings,” making that expression a reference to an entire day, between the 14th and the 15th.  The meat was to be eaten with bitter herbs, “maror,” and unleavened bread called "matza," which are thin wafer-like crackers baked without yeast (12:8).

The root (mem, tzadi, hey) means “to drain out” to the very last drop of water (e.g. Jud. 6:38), since the leavening agents require liquid in order to be activated. The bitter herbs most likely point to the "bitterness" experienced by the Children of Yisrael in Egypt. Sh’mot (Exodus) says: "And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage--in mortar, in brick, and in all manner of service in the field" (italics added).

In 12:14 we encounter for the first time one of the words for "feast" - "chag" (although in verb form it appeared already in Ex. 5:1). Since the annual reoccurrence of the Feasts makes them cyclical, “chag” is related to the verb "choog" which describes a circle (Job 22:14; Pro. 8:27; Is. 40:22). By its very nature this word implies not only a (set) time, but also a place - a “circle.”  Another such 'multi-dimensional' word is holy "convocation," also appearing here for the first time (v. 16). This "holy convocation" or "assembly," is "mikra kodesh." The root k.r.a (kof, resh, alef) means “to call,” even though the "convocation" - the assembling - is made up of people. The "mikra kodesh" (i.e. the congregation) is designated, therefore, by its calling, but is also connected to a place. In Yishayahu (Isaiah) 4:5, for example, we read:  "Then YHVH will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over "mikra'eh'a" ("her assemblies") a cloud by day…." These “holy convocations” are, of course, to be also special times. The “calling,” then, proves to be the common ‘ingredient’ bonding the people, their place of gathering and the times wherein they are to convene, indicating that Time, Place and People are joined in YHVH's economy. This concept will surface again in future Parashot. 

In their Egyptian Pesach, the Israelites were promised that, "the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses... And when I see the blood, I will pass over you" (12:13). This "seeing" (of the blood) brings to mind another "seeing" on the part of YHVH, as was stated by Avraham, who on the road to Mount Moriah responded to his son's inquiry regarding the offering, saying: “YHVH will see (literally) for himself the lamb for the offering" (Gen. 22:8 italics added). And although (at that time) it was a ram that was provided, the beginning of the fulfillment of those words is taking place now, in Egypt, later to have a further fulfillment, to an even greater degree, by another Lamb. One more connection to the Lamb of Elohim is found in 12:46, where it says that none of the bones of the lamb are to be broken, an injunction which finds its fulfillment in Yochanan (John) 19:33.

The Egyptians are finally persuaded to send the Israelites off. According to 12:33, "they pressed” them to leave. However, "pressed" in this case is from the root "strong" - "chazak" - which makes it a fulfillment of 6:1 “…For with a strong hand [Par’oh] will let them go, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land." Another fulfillment, this time of 3:22, is taking place here in 12:35-36, when the Egyptians consent to give their former slaves gold, silver and garments. This is described as the “spoiling of the Egyptians," which, is also a fulfillment of YHVH’s promise to Avraham concerning the Egyptian Diaspora, out of which his seed was to "come out with great wealth" (Gen. 15:14).  "Spoiled" is "(va)yinatz'lu," of the root (noon, tzadi, lamed), which most frequently means to "survive, save, rescue, or deliver."  In fact, it came up in Parashat Sh’mot (5:23) when Moshe complained to YHVH on behalf of his people, saying, “For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have You delivered Your people at all (italics added)." But now not only are they being "delivered," but they are also "procuring" gifts (the form of as it is used here) from their subjugators. The fact that all of these terms are rooted in the same three letters lends an extra emphasis, or 'twist,' to the rescue story and sheds light on the protagonists (YHVH as the "savior," and on those who are being "saved"). The gold and silver will no doubt serve later for the making of the Mishkan’s articles. But even beforehand, in Shmot (Exodus) 33:6, where the Israelites remove their jewelry, the verb used is "(va)yitna'tzlu" (again of the root of The unusual usage of this word highlights the origin of these articles. Finally, Yeshua, too, "divested," "disarmed" or "wrested" the principalities from their powers, after His victory (Col. 2:15).

Upon leaving Egypt, a "mixed multitude" (“erev rav” – literally “a great mixture”) goes out with the Sons of Yisrael.  After “arbayim” (“twilight”) above (with is root e.r.v. - "evening" – being a "mixed" state, 12:38), “mixture” is now being applied to the nature of the "multitude.”

When the time allotted for their sojourn in Egypt ends, "on this very day" (12:41) YHVH's people, who had been waiting for so long, are suddenly forced to hurry and leave. We recall the case of Yoseph, who was also made to hurry out of prison when the time ordained for his sufferings had fully expired (ref. Gen. 41:1, 14). In both cases, the word used is "miketz" ("at the end of"). When it is time for change, there is not one moment to spare.

The latter part of the Parasha, 13:1-16, is devoted to further instructions. First and foremost among them is the "setting apart" of the firstborn: "…every one who opens the womb among the sons of Israel belongs to me"(13:2), declares YHVH. In verse 15 He elaborates on this, saying that since He "killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt… therefore [the Israelite are to] sanctify to YHVH all males that open the womb, and all the firstborn of [their] sons [are to be] redeemed/ransomed." In last week's Parasha we saw how "ransoming" separated the Israelites from the Egyptians (8:23), even before the smiting of Egypt's firstborn. The notion of "ransom" (“p'dut”) becomes even more evident when blood separates the Egyptian firstborn from those of Yisrael's. The ultimate ransom price for purchasing 'Yisrael the Firstborn' thousands of years later was, and still is, Messiah's blood.

Among the "firsts" in this Parasha, there is a first reference to a name of a month - the "month of Aviv" (13:4). The literal meaning of "aviv," which became synonymous with "spring," is a stalk of grain whose ears are still green. This word indicates the very beginning of growth, before the fruit or grain has had time to develop (e.g. Job 8:12; Song of Solomon 6:11), and is perhaps (also) a reflection on the condition of the Nation in formation. The fact that the noun “aviv” starts with alef, bet, the first two letters of the Alphabet, letters that also form the word “av” - “father,” highlights its “firstness.”

Twice in this portion of instructions we encounter references to the "signs" that are to be on one's hand and forehead (13:9, 16). These "signs" are to be for the purpose of remembering and commemorating the "strong hand with which YHVH brought you out of Egypt" (v. 16), and, "so that the Torah of YHVH may be in your mouth" (v. 9). In both places the mention of these "signs" is related to the teaching of the generations to come. In addition, in keeping with the pedagogical message included in the Parasha, several possible approaches are offered to a variety of future inquirers about the Pesach practices and its teachings. In 12:26-27 we find: "When your children say to you, ‘what does this service mean to you…?’ you shall say, ‘it is the sacrifice to YHVH’s Passover’…" In 13:14, "When in time to come your son asks, saying, 'what is this?' You shall say to him, 'by strength of hand YHVH brought us out of Egypt’…" And in 13:8, "You shall tell your son on that day, saying, 'it is because of this YHVH did for me when I came out of Egypt.’" All three of these are echoed in the traditional Pesach Haggada read on the Passover eve ceremony called the Seder. There they are called the “Four – since another one is added based on Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 6:20  – Questions,” and are posed by the youngest member of the family.

Lastly, in order to partake of the Pesach, a man was required to be circumcised (ref. 12:48), a fact which connects the Paschal lamb to circumcision. It points clearly to the renewal of the Covenant that was established with Avraham and his descendants. Interestingly, in Parashat Sh'mot (4:22) YHVH declares that Yisrael is His “firstborn,” and in the same breath tells Moshe that because Par’oh will refuse to let His firstborn go, He will kill his firstborn (4:22,23). What immediately follows is  Moshe’s wife urge to circumcise her son, calling him "a groom of blood" (4:24-26). This act and choice of vocabulary reinforce the connection of the Paschal lamb's blood to the blood of circumcision.[1] Our "Groom of Blood" who is Yeshua, is also the epitome of the Pesach offering. His Bbood has rendered us the "circumcision who worships Elohim in the Spirit" (Phil. 3:3).

* Ha denotes the definite article in Hebrew.

[1] The Chumash Shmot With The Commentary Daat Mikrah, Pub. Mossad Harav Kook, Jm. 1991.

Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

This time we will take the verb “to come” and see how it is used in in third person singular (both masculine and feminine). Notice that in Hebrew that this verb stays the same in the present and past tense. Above we encountered “remnant” “nish’ar”. In Modern Hebrew this is the verb “for “staying” or “remaining”. You will find out how in Hebrew when the subject of the sentence is in plural so is the verb that follows. We will also apply the very common k.r.a (call, read) to second person, singular masculine and to plural feminine, and end with “come” once more, but this time we will use it in the same way that it is used in the Parasha (such as in “come to Pharaoh”).

The boy is coming/came and stayed
Ha’yeled ba venish’ar

The girl is came/is coming and staying
Ha’yalda ba’a venish’e’ret
(Notice that this verb does not change whether it is in the past or present form)

Did you call me (addressing a male)?
Kara’ta lee?
Did you (plural) call us (addressing females)?
Karaten la’nu?

Come (masculine) in the spring
Bo ba’aviv
Come (feminine) in the spring
Bo’ee ba’aviv

Now that you know the words “bo” and “bo’ee”, see if you can detect “bo’ee” in the song “Bo’ee Kala” (emphasis on the last syllable) which means “Come, (oh) Bride”.
The music was composed to a poem by renowned Hebrew poetess, Leah Goldberg (1911-1970).

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va’ey’ra – Sh’mot (Exodus) 6:2- Chapter 9 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

One of Moshe's roles, at the time recorded by our Parasha, was to link the Children of Yisrael with their forefathers, history, and destination, but not before establishing (for them and even more so for himself) the identity of their Elohim.  This was no easy task!  YHVH had already revealed Himself to Moshe in the desert, both in sight and word.  And while Moshe was trying to negotiate with Par'oh on behalf of the Master of the Universe, as well as to 'introduce' Him to his own people, he himself had a hard time grasping the awesome revelation which was unfolding before his eyes.  Our Parasha opens up with yet another monologue of Moshe's heavenly Father, displaying great patience with His child, who at this point had not fully adjusted to the dimensions of his newly found destiny and relationship.  The opening "I am YHVH," together with the subsequent words, serve as another reminder to Moshe, designed to anchor, steady, and prepare him for what is ahead and to build up his trust and faith.  Last week, upon his inquiry as to Elohim's name, YHVH gave him a somewhat elusive answer (3: 14): “Ehe'ye asher ehe'ye,” adding, “thus you shall say to the Children of Israel, Ehe'ye has sent me.” These words are (typically) translated: ”I am that I am.” Yet if we glance back at 3:12, we find that “ehe'ye” means “I will” (as it says there: “I will be with you”).  It appears that YHVH was not about to divulge His real (or 'full') name at that point.  His response and the tone by which it was conveyed sounds almost like a (temporary) discharge or dismissal. Thus, paraphrased, it may be read: 'never you mind Moshe… I Am and Will be Who I Am - what is it to you?' (Compare Yeshua's response to Shimon Keifa - Peter - in John 21:22).

The verb “ehe'ye” – I will be – is contained in “YHVH,” the name which Elohim is now, by His own initiative, revealing to Moshe (6:2). Thus the letters h.v.h (hey, vav, hey), which are tantamount to h.y.h (hey, yod, hey) meaning “to be”1 form the root of the venerated tetragrammaton.  "Being" and "present" both originate from this one root. The tetragrammaton, therefore, speaks of "being" and of the "present presence."

Now that Moshe learns Elohim’s name, he hears Him say something quite surprising and unexpected, namely: “I appeared (literally – I was seen va’ey’ra) to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as El Shaddai, but My name YHVH, I did not make known to them” (6:3).  However, the name YHVH is mentioned in connection with the Patriarchs.  In fact, there is evidence that they used this name when addressing Elohim (e.g. Gen. 15:8).  The Sages discuss this point at length, but we will not delve deeply into the subject other than to say that since He revealed Himself to them as “El Shaddai,” the “Mighty Breasted One,” or by implication the ”Mighty One Who is Sufficient,” it was this aspect of His being with which they must have been most familiar (e.g. Gen. 35:11).  In the course of His on-going and progressive revelation of Himself, the Elohim of Yisrael is about to demonstrate that He is in control of the present, the One Who Is Present, and truly the One who IS the Present: Yah-hoveh. (Yah, as His name and also connected to the verb “to be,” is used a number of times, e.g. Ex. 17:16, although lost in the translation, and in many other instances in the Psalms.) In chapter 9:3, “the hand of YHVH," that was “to be on [Pharaoh’s] cattle…” is rendered as “yad YHVH hoya.” “To be on” in this case is “hoyah” (which contains the same letters as YHVH), thus informing the listener that He is fully present, and brings to bear this Presence as He chooses.

The passage, which starts in verse 3 of Chapter 6 and continues all the way to verse 8, constitutes a unique and significant unit, in both content and form.  The beginning statement is also found at the end (v. 8), that is, "I am YHVH."  In verse 3 reference is made to the Patriarchs, while a similar reference shows up just before the end, in verse 8, in the form of a very emphatic statement (cf. last Parasha, Ex. 3:15,16). The third point in this monologue deals with the Covenanted Land (v. 4), and is echoed in the beginning of verse 8.  Verse 5 talks about the groaning (and therefore sufferings) of the Children of Yisrael, while verse 7 again deals with the same theme.  Thus, the four elements mentioned appear both in the first and second half of the passage, although the second time round the order of these themes is reversed.

The central part of this passage stands firmly on its own, as a precious stone set in fine filigree, surrounded and framed by the four repetitions mentioned above (i.e. YHVH’s name, Patriarchs, Land, and Sufferings). It reads as follows, “Therefore say to the children of Israel: `I am YHVH, and I will take you out (ve'hotze'ti) from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver (ve’hi’tzalti) you out from their bondage, and I will redeem (ve'ga'alti) you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.  And I will take (ve'la'kach'ti) you to me for a people’” (6:6-7 emphases added).  Here too there is a ‘foursome,’ this time of four verbs, which describe a process.  First comes the "taking out" from one place to another, second is the “deliverance” from the enemy and the rigors of the impending desert journey. The third level, “redemption,” is also deliverance, but connotes “judicial ransoming.”  The "redeemer" is a “go'el,” which in the Bible is synonymous with a "blood relative." Hence, this announcement in and of itself renders the Divine Redeemer as a blood relative who has the means and will to purchase the object of his redemption, take it upon himself to recover and restore everything (including that which has been lost) to right order, and be an avenger of wrongs (e.g. Lev. 25:26; Num. 5:8; Ruth 3:12, Ruth 4; Josh. 20:5). Finally, the "taking" here is much like the "taking of a wife" in marriage (see Gen. 25:20, for example).

When this series of actions is completed “…you shall know that I am YHVH your Elohim” (6:7). Immediately following this, YHVH continues to promise to “bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am YHVH” (v. 8, emphases added). The declaration “I am YHVH" pronounced both at the beginning and end of the passage, powerfully denotes His all-encompassing view and position, contrasted with the restricted human perspective and vantage point of the Sons of Yisrael. The progressive process we have been following evidences that there is only One who can act on every level, with nothing ever being required of the recipients. This IS the grace, “which is not of yourselves [but] it is the gift of Elohim!” (Ephs. 2:8).  However, for this grace to be appropriated, faith is required and thus we move on to the anticlimactic end (v. 9 ): “So Moses spoke thus to the sons of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses on account of their despondency and cruel bondage.”  "Despondency" is literally “shortness of spirit/breath,” sometimes meaning impatience, while "cruel bondage" is actually “hard labor” (v. 9). 

Following this 'introduction' or preamble, the rest of the Parasha is mostly devoted to the implementation of the action plan described above.  In 6:11, YHVH calls out to Moshe to (literally), “come - BO - speak to Pharaoh…” Notice that above He promised to “bring” – ve’heveti – His people to the land. “Come” – bo – stems from the same root as “bring” – la’ha’vee (that is, “cause one to come”). Thus the “coming” that Moshe is commanded to do before the next phase, which will include verbal ‘combat’ with Egypt’s ruler, may be a “coming” first to Elohim. However, prior to the second plague (of frogs), Moshe is charged once again by YHVH to “bo” – come - to Par’oh (8:1, and likewise in 9:1 and in next week’s Parasha’s opening verse).   

Moshe responds to YHVH’s commission twice with “…I am of uncircumcised lips” (6:12, 30), obviously trying (once again) to dodge his responsibility by claiming that he is not a fit speaker. But whereas last week we read that he used the expression: “I am not eloquent… but I am slow of speech and of a slow tongue” (4:10), this time he feels the need to press the point even further, since "uncircumcised lips" could also denote uncleanness.  YHVH is not 'impressed' and does not take up this matter with His messenger.

It is the condition of Par'oh's heart that YHVH is about to deal with, as He says to Moshe, “And I will harden Pharaoh's heart…” (7:3a). Shaul (Paul) elaborating on this says, “Therefore He has mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will, He hardens” (Rom. 9:18). Romans 1:18-21 may help us to further understand this idea:For the wrath of Elohim is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,  because what may be known of Elohim is manifest in them, for Elohim has shown it to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew Elohim, they did not glorify Him as Elohim, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened”  (italics added). 

Back to where we left off in Exodus 7:3. The second part of the verse reads, “… and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt,” with the result being, “And the Egyptians shall know that I am YHVH when I stretch forth My hand upon Egypt and bring out the Children of Israel from among them” (v. 5 italics added). It should be pointed out that the “hardness” of Par’oh’s heart is qualified by three different words – ka’she – hard (e.g. 7:3); chazak – strong (e.g. 7:13; kaved – heavy (e.g. 8:15). Interestingly where it says that YHVH hardened the monarch’s heart the first two verbs are used, but when the latter is doing it himself, the verb utilized is “kaved,” which is also related to “honor” and “glory,” thus exposing Par’oh’s inner motivation (for the same idea see 9:17, though there a different but synonymous verb is used). More on that verb and idea in Parashat Beshalach, especially in chapter 14, where k.v.d will appear several times in a ‘multi-directional’ fashion.

In His plan to bring out His people out of Egypt, YHVH exerts His authority by judging Egypt (see 7:4). “And the Egyptians shall know that I am YHVH, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt…” (v. 5). “Stretching out” in this case is “ne’to’ti” here (the verb being “nato” – its root is noon, tet, hey, n.t.h). This verb denotes leading or pointing direction, and thus in verse 9 when A’haron is told to cast his rod, it is designated by “ma’teh,” originating from the same root. A’haron and Moshe were to represent YHVH’s authority over Egypt’s ruling powers, both the natural ones as well as the supernatural. Indeed, when A’haron casts his rod in front of Par’oh it turns into a serpent, which in Hebrew is “tannin”, literally an alligator. Thus YHVH demonstrated His power over one of Egypt’s most powerful symbols. In fact, in Ezekiel 29:3 Par’oh himself is addressed as the “great tannin” (translated “monster”), that is the great alligator (for the same idea see also Ez. 32:3). The very rule and authority of Egypt is therefore symbolized by this “alligator” (a creature that inhabited the Nile), and is the first to be challenged by Elohim as will, in the course of the coming plagues, several of Egypt’s other ruling powers. 

Just prior to inflicting the first plague, Moshe speaks for YHVH saying to Par’oh: ”…Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness” (7:16). “Serve” here is from the root “work." We remember vividly from last week's Parasha the many negative references to work and labor. Here "work" becomes worship” of YHVH, as are most other references to worship.  The hard working slaves (“avadim,” of the root word, a.v.d) of the Egyptians are about to be liberated and become free to carry out “avodat  Elohim” – that is, rendering service unto YHVH.

If at first YHVH made His name known to Yisrael by attaching it to their ancestors’ names (the Elohim of…), thereby demonstrating His faithfulness, now He wants to convey to His people that He is in charge of their present circumstances, in control of all of nature - both animate and inanimate; of mankind, beasts and the elements.  The first to be affected is Egypt's source of water and life, the Nile (Ye’or in the Biblical terminology), which He turns to blood.  Blood, in its turn, is also a symbol of life and atonement but it now becomes a deadly substance in the very body of water, which in the second plague will be swarming with frogs (8:6). The Nile became the grave of many of Yisrael’s infants (ref. Ex. 1:22), and now that blood is crying out, not from the ground, but from the water… In addition, all of Egypt’s other water sources were also turned to blood (7:19).

The fourth and fifth plagues (8:21; 9:3) are the first ones not to occur in the vicinity of the Israelites' dwellings which means, that the land of Goshen was free of them.  The swarms of insects, as they are called, and the pestilence, are both terms with familiar roots, which we have already encountered.  "Swarms of insects" (and other translated versions) are “a'rov,” and "pestilence" is “dever.”  “Arov” (which shares its root, a.r.v., with the root for “erev” – “evening”) means a “mixture,” hence the mixed variety of species.  Last week we looked at “midbar” - “desert,” noting that the “dever” (i.e. “pestilence” or “plague”) sometimes "drives" (of the same root, once again) its victim to the “desert”.  This time it is 'real' pestilence, not the figurative type, which is plaguing the herds and flocks of the Egyptians (9:8, 9). “Boils and hail with fire flashing… in the midst of… it” (9:24) are the next two plagues, both of which have no tangible effect on the Israelites, “in the land of Goshen in which My people dwell” – with “dwell” being a translation of “stand”. “Stand”? Why stand? Could the text be hinting at the temporary nature of their existence in Goshen, as shortly they would be leaving that locale? There YHVH made “a division between My [His] people and your [Par’o’s] people” (8:23).  “Division” here is “p'dut,” which literally means “ransom.”  It is the ransom which always separates those who are "My people" from those who are Par'oh's.  The basic meaning of the Hebrew root [p.d.h] is “to achieve the transfer of ownership from one to another through payment of a price or an equivalent substitute.”2 More on this idea in next week's Parasha…

1 In Hebrew, the "v" sound (vav) and the "y" sound (yod) are often interchangeable, such as in the name Chava (Eve), which denotes “life,” although the noun “life” is “chayim,” and “to live” is “ lich’yot”.
2 Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vol. 2, ed. R. Laird
Harris, Moody Press, Chicago, P 198

Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

In Hebrew Tools of Parashat Va’ye’ra (And He Appeared, lit. “was seen”), in B’resheet 18, we already encountered the verb for “seeing” in the preset tense. In our Parasha we tackle this verb again, but this time in past tense. Remember the all-famous question that YHVH posed before Yirmiyahu: “What do you see Yirmiyahu”? (11:1), or in Hebrew, ma’ ata’ ro’eh Yirmiyahu?”  In our Parasha, Elohim promises (in 6:6) to bring out the Sons of Yisrael from Mitzrayim. Let’s see how this verb may be used in Modern Hebrew. Additionally, we will make us of a couple of other verbs that are utilized in the Parasha.

And now it’s your turn to practice:

What did Moshe see?
Ma ra’ah Moshe? (lit. what saw Moshe?)

Elohim brought out the Children of Yisrael
Elohim hotzee et Bney Yisrael
(notice that the verb “hotzee” is to “take out”, “bring out”, “pull out” – unlike in English, it is designated by one word only)

He took them to the wilderness
Hu lakach otam lamidbar

He gives and He takes
Hu noten ve’hu lo’ke’a’ch

Elohim is strong
Elohim hu chazak