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

• God asked Moshe to do a job—talk to the Pharaoh--but Moshe doesn’t want to. Why? Are you ever asked to do a job you don’t want to do? What can change your mind when you say “no”?

• Moshe and Aaron talk to Pharaoh and ask him to let their people go. Pharaoh says no to them. How does God try to make Pharaoh change his mind?

• How many plagues are in this section? Can you name them? What do you think is the worst so far?

 

Questions for Older Children

• What other time of the year do we read about plagues?
• Why do you think these miracles took place early in the morning?
• How many times does the Torah say Pharaoh hardened his heart? How many times did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? What’s the difference?

 

Questions for Teens and Adults

• Does Pharaoh have true freedom of choice in this parasha? Why or why not?
• Why does God ask Moshe and Aharon to begin with a sign that the Pharaoh’s magicians can replicate?
• Why do you think the Torah highlights Moshe’s speech impediment? Does it make him more or less of a hero?
• What are Moshe and Aharon learning about Pharaoh as he goes back on his word and says he will let the Israelites go, but then revokes his permission?
• Are the plagues miracles?

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The parasha lends itself to a host of menu items in addition to Curry Flavored Blood Orange Salad
• Seven plagues are mentioned. You can create a dish with seven ingredients like a salad or a seven layer dessert.
• Pharaoh is hard-hearted. This can be a week to serve your toughest cookie for dunking into tea.
Kaved is the Hebrew word for liver and one of the terms for hardening the heart. You can reprise vegetarian liver from Parashat Vay’hi or serve real liver which might harden the arteries to your heart.

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Parashat Va'eira is all about who listens and who hears but doesn't listen.  God listens to the anguished cries of the Children of Israel and now Pharaoh will have to listen to God via Moshe. Pharaoh's hearing seems a bit impaired and 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 Aaron along to speak. In this parasha, Moshe begins relaying God’s message verbally and by signs, otot. Aharon turns his staff to a serpent, a phenomenon repeated by Pharaoh’s band of magicians. To make Pharaoh listen to the message, Aharon's staff (not the snake) swallows the magicians' snakes. 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 even he has to listen to God.

Find the food connection

וַיֹּאמֶר ה׳ אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, אֱמֹר אֶל-אַהֲרֹן קַח מַטְּךָ וּנְטֵה-יָדְךָ עַל-מֵימֵי מִצְרַיִם עַל-נַהֲרֹתָם עַל-יְאֹרֵיהֶם וְעַל-אַגְמֵיהֶם וְעַל כָּל-מִקְוֵה מֵימֵיהֶם--וְיִהְיוּ-דָם; וְהָיָה דָם בְּכָל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, וּבָעֵצִים וּבָאֲבָנִים
The Lord said to Moshe, “Say to Aaron: Take your rod and hold out your arm over the waters of Egypt—its rivers, its canals, its ponds, all its bodies of water—that they may turn to blood; there shall be blood throughout the land of Egypt, even in vessel of wood and stone."

--Exodus 7:19

Blood and blood oranges! Adult guests may find this a bit gruesome, but it’s a hit with kids. If you enjoy puns, you can play with the words "curry favor" (not "flavor").  Judah may have used polite language to curry favor with Joseph in Parashat Mikeitz, but Moshe takes a different tone with Pharaoh.

 

I am very impressed by God turning the Nile to blood. Pharaoh is not. Little does Pharaoh know, the plagues will ramp up from one that can be replicated by Pharaoh’s stable of magicians to the last one which will cause the Pharaoh to call out in pain along with his people.

Maybe you or your Shabbat guests  pooh-pooh the miraculous nature of changing the Nile to blood. It’s a familiar plot line in ancient Egyptian and Sumerian myths—is it just a reworked old story? Some science-minded have tried to explain the blood as a natural phenomenon due to particular algae. What do your guests think about the nature of miracles?

Think about timing. Even if you can rationally explain a miracle, can you explain the timing of the plagues? What about the parting of the Red Sea which is ahead in Parashat B’shalah?

The conversation about the miraculous nature of the plagues is one that can be continued in three months during the Pesah seder. This Shabbat you might turn to questions about the nature of miracles and ask if anyone at the table feels he or she has experienced a miracle. What was it? David Hume, the 18th century Scottish philosopher defined a miracle as “a violation of the laws of nature.” Reactions? Perhaps a miracle even greater than overriding nature lies in the persistence of reluctant Moshe, the perseverance of B'nei Yisrael over 400 years to realize the promise made to the Patriarchs. Perhaps the miracle at your Shabbat table is in  the faces that surround you.

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A Dash of Anatomy—Biblical Style
The literal minded or cardiologists among us may wonder—did God afflict Pharaoh with arteriosclerosis that eventually hardened his heart? If you page through the Tanakh (Bible) and the Siddur (prayerbook), you’ll notice a number of anatomical phrases besides “heart-hardening.” I don’t think this is the reason why some Jews become doctors and some are professional kvetchers about their bodily problems. In some ancient cultures, emotions and perceptions were connected with parts of the body. Among Israelites and neighboring ancient cultures, the heart was not associated with love, but with the “essential character of the person” according to Biblical scholar Nahum Sarna. Sarna claims that Pharaoh suffers from “moral atrophy” when God hardens his heart. Other organs with non-physical functions include the kidneys considered the source of the conscience, and the bowels the seat of emotion. Thus Jeremiah calls God, bohein k’layot—examiner of the kidneys.

A Dash of Song
It’s months till Pesah, but bring out those tunes like “Frogs here, frogs there…” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKeKMoW2tU4.
And don’t forget The Prince of Egypt DVD with its tune about the plagues.

A Dash of Comparative Magic

In last week's parasha (Exodus 4:2-5), Moshe threw down his rod and it became a serpent (nahash). This was meant to prove to B'nei Yisrael that Moshe was chosen by God to lead them out of Mitzrayim (Egypt) and fufill the covenant made with the partriarchs.  In this week's parasha if you read most English translations, you'll see that Aharon's rod turns into a serpent (Exodus 7:9) before Pharaoh, the magicians replicate the trick, and then Aharon's staff consumes the magicians'.  If you read the Hebrew you'll notice in this week's parasha, the Hebrew word used for serpent is not nahash but tanin. Tanin doesn't mean snake in modern Hebrew, but alligator. That creates an entirely different picture in the Pharaoh's court.  French commentator Rashi translated tanin for his readers knowing it was not a familiar Hebrew word to his audience.  His translation--nahash. Assuming Rashi may not have been familiar with alligators, we might understand these magic signs to be a way of dissing Pharaoh.  Both the crocodile (close enough to alligator in the world of those not living near the reptiles) and the serpent were Egyptian gods. Whether serpent or alligator, Moshe and Aharon's staffs--with God's help-- were powerful enough to consume the creatures. 

 

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Curry Flavored Salad with Blood Oranges
Pareve-serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

Salad

  • 2 c. spinach             rsz 02 vaera blood oranges copy
  • 2 blood oranges, peeled and segmented
  • 1 c. seedless red grapes, halved
  • 1 avocado, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 c. toasted, slivered almonds

Dressing

  • ½ c. canola oil
  • 1/3 c. wine vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. curry powder
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped green onions

Directions

  1. In a salad bowl, combine the salad ingredients reserving the almonds for garnish.
  2. The citrus should keep the avocado from turning brown so you can set the salad up before dinner begins.
  3. In screw top jar, combine the dressing ingredients and shake vigorously.
  4. Before serving, toss the salad with the dressing.
  5. Garnish with the toasted almonds. 

 

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