Parashat Va'eira--Sh'mot 6:2-9:35
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Questions for Young Children

  • During which holiday do we talk about the plagues that God sent to the Egyptians?  Can you remember how we remember the plagues?
  • How do you think the Egyptians felt when the Nile River turned to blood?  Why make the bloody Nile the first plague?
  • God says God will "harden Pharaoh's heart."  What do you think that means?
  • B'nei Yisrael are slaves at this time and they are not hurt by the plagues.  What do you think they feel when they see the Egyptians suffering?


Questions for Older Children

  • How does God identify himself differently to Moshe than he did to Avraham, Yitzhak and Ya'akov?
  • What similarities and differences do you see in each of the seven plagues?  Who causes each one?  How is it caused?  How long does it last?  What's Pharaoh's reaction?  How do you think you'd react if you were an Egyptian who was part of Pharaoh's court?
  • Why do you think Moshe and Aharon begin their negotiation with Pharaoh by demonstrating God's power with two signs rather than beginning with the plagues?
  • Why didn't the Israelites believe Moshe (6:6-9)?  Does that make sense to you?

Questions for Teens and Adults

  • Moshe is placed in a dangerous position as spokesperson of the Israelites.  He has no loyal supporters and a dangerous opponent.  What are some leadership qualities you see in Moshe throughout this parasha?  What kind of leader is Pharaoh?
  • Why do you think the geneology is placed in this parasha beginning in 6:14?  Read the paragraphs before and after the geneology as well as the geneology itself to try and generate a response. How is this geneology different from those that appeared in B'reishshit?
  • Why does God prolong Moshe and Aharon's mission?  Why not strike down the Egyptians immediately and quickly end the slavery of B'nei Yisrael?  According to the narrator what is God's plan?



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Magical staffs

Creating staffs from pretzel sticks, carrot sticks, etc. is a simple and edible centerpiece.  


This is the week to go all out using plagues as centerpieces.  The parasha includes seven of the ten plagues and you can represent them on your dinner table.

Some of you may have plague "kits" for use at the seder which you can unpack for this week's parasha.

Otherwise, here are some suggestions:

  1. Blood--red tinted water in a small glass or vase
  2. Frogs--plastic frogs
  3. Lice--plastic bugs
  4. Swarms of insects--more plastic bugs
  5. Livestock disease--plastic horses or cows on their sides
  6. Boils--deface a stuffed animal or doll or cover with bandaids
  7. Hail--cotton balls, ping pong balls
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Parashat Va'eira could be called Parshat Va Ear-a because one of the themes contrasts hearing and listening. God listens to the anguished cries of B’nei Yisrael and now Pharaoh will have to listen to God via Moshe. Pharaoh's hearing seems a bit impaired so it takes ten demonstrations of God’s power to convince Pharaoh to tune up his listening skills and let the Israelites go. Moshe hears God's call to be a leader but doesn't want to listen. He protests being God’s spokesperson because he claims he doesn’t speak well. God listens, but brushes aside his protests and tells him to bring Aharon along to speak. In this parasha, Moshe begins relaying God’s message verbally and through signs, otot. Aharon turns his staff to a tannin, a phenomenon repeated by Pharaoh’s band of priest-magicians. To persuade Pharaoh listen to the message, Aharon's staff swallows the priest-magicians' staffs. Following the demo come the first seven of the ten plagues. Parashat Va’eira ends on an ominous note with Pharaoh reneging on his word to let the Israelites go. The upcoming parasha will teach Pharaoh that even he has to listen to God.

Find the food connection

וְאָמַרְתָּ אֶל-אַהֲרֹן, קַח אֶת-מַטְּךָ וְהַשְׁלֵךְ לִפְנֵי-פַרְעֹה--יְהִי לְתַנִּין

...You shall say to Aharon, "Take your rod and cast it down before Pharaoh." It shall turn into a tannin.

Exodus 7:9b

Tannin!  Romanesco with Curry Sauce.  The Side Dish below explains what a tannin might be and why I've chosen Romanesco as the food connection.  Romanesco's appearance reminded one of my readers last year of reptile skin. I couldn't resist the pun of currying favor although as God's representative Moshe doesn't sink to currying.  He simply repeats God's demand-Let my people go!

The Side Dish
I’m writing this week’s Tasting Torah column as two football teams contend on the television screen. I’m not sure who they are, whether it’s a pro game or a college contest, and what the score is. Ever since I can remember, football watching has been a sacred event. At the end I know there’s a lot of jumping up and down and shouting “we’re number one” and liquid is poured all over the coach even when it’s cold outside.

Of course, the football ritual made me think of Va’eira as a contest. We’re reading the color commentary long after the event. The gifted writer of Sh'mot clues us to the outcome. The first inning (period?) lets us know one of the contestants will get a drubbing and by the end the fight will go out of him. The scene that sets up the contest and the outcome is Moshe and Aharon’s appearance before the Pharaoh and his priest-magicians. Moshe and Aharon are subsitutes for God and the magicians are substitutes for Pharaoh. The play—turn the staff into a tannin. Aharon throws the staff on the ground, it morphs into a tannin. Point for our side. The magicians replicate the trick. Point for their side. Aharon’s tannin swallows the other tannin. It’s really game over despite the fact that they’ll run out the clock with ten plagues and mass drowning at the Reed Sea.

Your Torah's translation of tannin may be serpent.  Until this verse we've seen the word nahash used for serpent.  If you look in a Hebrew-English dictionary, you’ll discover that tannin is the word used for an alligator or crocodile. Push the replay button in your imagination to see Aharon and the magicians throwing down a crocodile (they can be up to 16’ long and weigh 500 lbs). Not only their size and ferocity is impressive, but their symbolism is the spoiler in the story. Sobek, the Egyptian crocodile god, was used as the glyph for “sovereign.” Sobek protected the Pharaoh from dark magic. Without ripping Pharaoh off his throne, Moshe and Aharon have let him know that Pharaoh is on notice. God is more powerful than the Pharaoh and nothing will protect the Pharaoh from God.

Stay tuned for the next two parshiyot as the Pharaoh as well as B’nei Yisrael realize the power of God.




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A Dash of Crocodiles

While crocodiles were not among the plagues, crocodiles did live in the Nile River and were a plague for the women who went to the river to draw water or do laundry and for the men who fished there. The Nile Crocodile can live up to 45 years and can grow to 16 feet.  They can move on land as quickly as 20 mph when they're chasing prey. And, they are carnivores.  The Egyptian God Sobek was depicted as a crocodile so it's no wonder that mumified crocodiles have been found in Egyptian tombs. Most of us are used to thinking about Aharon's staff turning into a serpent but perhaps it was a scary crocodile. The Hebrew word tannin leads us to that interpretation.  Egyptian stories about the transformation of crocodiles include " The Wax Crocodile " composed around 1800 BCE. Notice in the story from the Westcar Papyrus that the magicians use magic phrases to manipulate the crocodile just as they do in our parasha.  Moshe and Aharon, of course, need no incantations.rsz sobekdisplay9 copy

                           Unappetizing mummified crocodile to your right....



A Dash of Egyptolgy

Whoever wrote this section of the Torah knew a lot about the Egyptians.  We've already seen that the competition between Moshe and Aharon representing God and the Egyptian magicians uses ancient Egyptian motifs.  Most of the plagues can be viewed as direct strikes against Egyptian gods.  Let's take frogs as an example.   Heqet was the Egyptian goddess of life and fertility. She was  represented by a frog.  Notice that in this second plague all the frogs die and stink up the Egyptian countryside at the plague's end. One could understand this as foreshadowing for plague #10 when all the Egyptian first-borns will die no matter how fervently Egyptians worship Heqet.  More information can be found at

Va'eira also includes Egyptian words and Egyptian phrases.  For example, hartumim which we translate as "magicians" is derived from the Egyptian title for "chief lector priest." Rather than imagine a Houdini (who was Jewish), think of a scholar and scribe who was able to interpret dreams and had expertise in spells. As channels for Egyptian gods, they spent their lives in the temple and officiated at funerals. When they pronounced their incantations, they were accompanied by a "fighter-priest."  An Egyptian idiom, "the finger of God" appears in 8:15.  We have been used to seeing "the hand of God" as the phrase indicating God's involvement in human affairs.  While "the finger of God" provides a lot of material for darshanim, it may reflect the Egyptian phrase "the finger of Thoth" or "the finger of Seth."  Ancient Egyptians also possessed amulets with the "fingers of Horus."  images

Delving into the ancient Egyptian connections is fascinating, but the more fascinating question is how did the author/Author of Sh'mot know so much about ancient Egypt?  If you believe God is the Author, then the question is moot.  If you believe Moshe to be the author, he could have known much about Egyptian customs from his time in the Pharaoh's household.  If you believe the text to have been written at a later date, then the question become intriguing.


A Dash of Perspective 

This parasha can be approached from multiple perspectives. Your guests may enjoy adopting one point of view and representing it to others at the table.

1. Va'eira is part of a very tightly structured narrative and can be approached from a literary viewpoint.  Examine how the last three plagues fit into the story line as well. 

2. How do you understand the plagues from an ecological or environmental vantage point?  Why would God choose to alter nature to demonstrate God's power?

3. Approaching Va'eira from the perspective of multiple characters is an exercise in empathy building.  How do you imagine the following to understand the events they're witnessing?  How do they feel as the plagues progress?

  • Moshe
  • Aharon
  • Israelite slaves
  • Pharaoh
  • Pharaoh's daughter
  • Egyptian magician-priests
  • Egyptian peasants
  • Taskmasters

This exercise works well at the Pesah seder too.






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Curry F(l)avor Romanesco
Pareve and Vegan

Serves 4-6

Ingredientsrsz romanesco vaeira copy

  • 1 head Romanesco
  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 Tbsp. coconut oil
  • 1 tsp. curry powder
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 375º.
  2. Trim the Romanesco and slice off about 1/8 “ of the stem so it will stand upright.
  3. Set in a roasting pan or ovenproof skillet or dish.
  4. Drizzle vegetable oil over the Romanesco and salt.
  5. Roast betwenn 25-45 min. until a knife can easily be inserted into the center.
  6. Heat the coconut oil in a small saucepan and whisk in curry powder and lemon juice.
  7. Serve the Romanesco cut into wedges drizzled with the curry sauce.
  8. Season with salt and pepper.

Alternative toppings for roasted Romanesco: Salsa verde, chimichurri, carmelized onions and garlic.

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