The weekly Parsha – Parshas Va’eira

In this week’s reading we see two unusual things.

First, in the beginning (6:12,30) Moses repeatedly tries to refuse G-d’s offer to lead the Jews from exile, and secondly, G-d repeatedly hardens Pharaoh’s heart from heeding Moses.

To understand this here is a story.

Fival was almost weeping as he arrived in the town of Lubavitch to see the Tzemach Tzedek (Rebbe Menachem Mendel, the third Rebbe of Chabad some 150 years ago in Russia). He needed help. He was unexplainably being evicted from the inn he’d been managing for over twenty years.

The Tzemach Tzedek was more than just a great leader. There was no branch of knowledge mundane or spiritual that he was not acquainted with, and his miraculous powers could only be described as similar to Moses. As the Zohar (Jewish Mystical book) explains that in every generation there must be a Moses whose sole purpose is to help each and every Jew.

Fival entered the Rebbe’s study as one would enter the Holy of Holies. Trembling, he closed the door behind him, then approached the Rebbe’s desk and poured out his heart. He couldn’t understand it; he always paid his rent to the Poritz (landowner) on time, and never made trouble. But suddenly a week ago the Poritz gave him one month to leave. All his pleas and reasoning didn’t help, and now with nine mouths to feed and such short notice he had no other recourse than to travel to the Rebbe for help. He needed a miracle.

When he was finished the Rebbe took out a piece of paper and a pen, wrote a short letter, put it in an envelope, addressed it, told him to deliver it as swiftly as possible, and blessed him with success.

He backed out of the room thanking the Rebbe profusely, but as soon as he closed the door and took a quick glance at the name on the envelope, his heart sank; the Rebbe had made a mistake!

There was clearly written ‘Shmuel HaKatan’ (Samuel the Small). He knew who this was! An old retired woodcutter that lived with his wife in his run-down cottage in the woods!! The Rebbe should have written Shmuel ‘HaGodol’ (The Great), a rich, influential Jew that had close connections with all the landlords and perhaps even the Czar himself! If anyone could help it would be him!

But Fival was stuck. To enter the Rebbe’s office again was out of the question. Suddenly he had an idea; the Rebbe had seven sons, he went to one of them and asked for advice.

But the Rebbe’s son assured him that as strange as it might seem, just as a Jewish prophet never errs, so also the Rebbe never makes mistakes.

So with a heavy heart, a day later he was standing before Shmuel HaKatan’s hut deep in the forest and knocked on the door. An old Jew answered, and when he heard the reason for the visit and read the Rebbe’s letter he invited Fival to be his guest for as long as necessary and see what would happen.

But a week passed and still nothing. Fival began to become depressed. What would become of him? Now he wasted another week. In another two weeks he would have to vacate his home and source of income. Winter was beginning; the weather outside was already cold and miserable which added to his melancholy. Where would he go? What would he do? What would be with his children and wife? Night fell, the wind and rain were pounding on the roof and the walls. He went to his room, put out the candle, sat in the dark on his bed, put his head in his hands and wept.

Suddenly the front door rattled and thundered; someone was pounding and shouting outside from the darkness. “Help! Help! Let me in!!” Shmuel HaKatan ran to the door and opened it as Fival looked on through his slightly open door. It was the Poritz, the one that was evicting him, drenched to the bone, shivering blue with cold. He had been on his way home when the storm caught him unexpectedly an hour ago and night fell. He had been wandering in the cold for almost an hour and now was on the verge of death.

Shmuel brought him in, gave him a change of clothes some warm blankets, a glass of vodka and a bowl of hot soup, moved him near the stove and in no time the Poritz, wrapped in blankets, was thanking and praising him.

“You saved me!! I owe you my life!” He exclaimed still shivering, sipping his soup. “You are sent from G-d! Tell me how to repay you!”

“Listen” Shmuel answered. “If you really want to reward me then you can do me a big favor.”

“Anything! I swear! I almost died!! You are my savior! Just ask!”

“Well,” Shmuel gave a glance at Fival peeking from behind his door, “I have a good friend. His name is Fival. You know him. He’s the one that runs the inn on your property. I’m sure you know him. Well, a few weeks ago you
told him to vacate with his wife and family. Well, I want you to let him stay.”
“That’s all you want?!” Shouted the still shivering Poritz, “So it shall be!! Your friend can stay! He can stay forever if he wants! You saved my life!!”.

“It just so happens that he is here in the other room” Continued Shmuel. “Will you put it in writing?”

Fival came out of his room and the Poritz immediately shook his hand warmly, asked for pen and paper and wrote a deed giving him and his offspring sole rental rights on the inn for all generations, and for good measure gave him the next three years rent free.

“But just one thing is bothering me,” Fival said as he thanked G-d, thanked the Poritz and took the deed lovingly in hand, “Why did you evict me in the first place? After all, I always paid rent and never gave you any trouble. What made you do it?”

“Yes,” answered the Poritz as he sat and took another sip of his vodka, “You were the perfect tenant and I would never have even thought of it. But a very influential person, a Jew just like you, came to me and said that I should rent the inn to his son-in-law, he even offered more rent. And he said that if I refused, he had connections with high officials and even with the Czar and he would make trouble!!

“But don’t worry, I’ll take care of him. I’ll tell him that you are my personal friend. I’ll find him another place. I don’t know what made him so hard-hearted. I even asked him how he could do it to a fellow Jew and he answered he didn’t mix business with friendship. You must know him they call him …. Shmuel HaGodol!

“Just one thing that I would like to ask though,” the Poritz continued, “How did you happen to be here exactly on this night?”

When Fival told him about how the Rebbe sent him, the Poritz thought for a while and finally exclaimed, “Now I know that G-d is still with the Jewish people!!”

This answers our two questions: about Moses refusing to save the Jews and G-d hardening Pharaoh’s heart.

According to the Saadia Gaon, Moses refused because he thought his prophesy wouldn’t work. A prophet has to say what he himself hears from G-d but here, because Moses stuttered, it was Aaron that did the talking. So the message was lacking; no one was saying what he heard from G-d and Moses was afraid that it wouldn’t work.

But Saadia Gaon answers that G-d calmed this fear by telling Moses, “I have made you G-d to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother will be your prophet” (7:1)

In other words, Aaron WILL be saying what G-d tells him to say because you, Moses, are G-d! (Just as Moses spoke the entire book of Deuteronomy ‘on his own’.)

Similarly G-d hardened Pharaoh’s heart:

Just as G-d gave Moses the full power of the ‘Creator’ so too He gave Pharaoh the full force of the CREATION! Namely to totally reveal all his powers of evil and selfishness to the end.
His stubbornness brought another and another plague each highlighting Moses’ (i.e. G-d’s) power until, after the splitting of the sea the Jews finally believed in Moses and G-d equally! (Ex. 14:31) to totally transform the world.

In other words, it all came to show that the leader of the Jews; be it Moses in the Torah, the Tzemech Tzedek in our story, or the leader of every generation including ours, just like G-d, cannot be understood with the normal senses.

And the purpose of such a leader is to show us that we are all G-d’s people (His sons Ex. 4:22) and each of us has the purpose of revealing the Creator within nature (as Pharaoh finally realized).

This is the deepest and more personal meaning of taking all the Jews from ‘Egypt’; namely widening their ‘normal’ ‘everyday’ understandings, feelings and realizations of the world (‘Egypt’) and of G-d in order to make this physical world a heaven on earth

That is why the Zohar informs us that the Moshiach will bring even the greatest and holiest Jews to “teshuva” (self-transformation).

Because Moshiach as Moses before him will cause a complete renewal of all human priorities and values and a total overhaul of all creation.
And that is the lesson of the entire Torah, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe said countless times; that even ONE more good deed, word or even thought can tilt the scales and fill the world with the awareness of the Creator G-d like water fills the ocean with Moshiach NOW!