Thursday, January 19, 2012

Illusions, Michael!


26 Tevet 5772 / January 20-21, 2012

In this week’s Torah portion, Va’era, we find a stubborn Pharaoh unwilling to allow the Israelites to go into the desert in order to worship God.

Note the common misconception: “Let my people go!” is actually short for “Let my people go out on a 3 day journey into the desert to worship God, and then we’ll be back.” Moses, when initially approaching Pharaoh, does not ask for the slaves to be freed!

What follows Pharaoh’s refusal are the first 7 of the 10 plagues:

1. Blood

2. Frogs

3. Lice

4. Wild beasts / swarms of flies (different interpretations)

5. Pestilence

6. Boils

7. Hail

Interestingly, the first two plagues – blood and frogs – are copied by Pharaoh’s “magicians,” leaving Pharaoh unimpressed and unwilling to compromise. It is only after the third plague that the magicians admit to Pharaoh that the plagues are “the finger of God.”

What are we to make of this?

How did Pharaoh’s magicians turn water into blood and create frogs from nothing?

Earlier in the narrative, when Moses and Aaron first approach Pharaoh, Aaron’s staff turns into a serpent when thrown onto the ground. Pharaoh’s magicians turn their staffs into serpents as well, but Aaron’s serpent then eats their serpents.

What do we learn from this?

At first glance, it appears that Pharaoh’s magicians were pretty impressive. They could turn wood into snakes! Water to blood! They could create frogs from nothing!

But when we look a little bit deeper, what we can learn from the magicians replicating the first two plagues is that we as human beings are capable of Divine acts!

While in this particular situation the Divine acts being copied were not acts we would necessarily consider positive (Plagues!), if we as humans are capable of replicating the Divine in our negative actions, imagine how much more so we are capable of replicating the Divine in our positive actions!

For example, the Torah states that the Divine cares for the sick and watches over the orphan and the widow. These are things that every person has the ability to do! In doing so we are mimicking the Divine, and performing Divine acts.

As we head into Shabbat, think about what being “Godly” means to you.

What actions would you classify as Divine?

What’s stopping you from performing Divine acts?

Unlike Pharaoh's magicians, let us focus our efforts on performing acts that will improve the world around us. Rather than waiting for or relying on Divine intervention, let us strive to perform Divine acts in our daily lives. In doing so, we can fulfill our charge of serving as a light unto the nations, and can cultivate a society overflowing with care, love and warmth.

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