Parashat Va-eira

Friday, January 24, 2020 /27 Tevet, 5780
Parashat Va-eira Exodus 6:2-9:35

Dear Friends,

As my family prepared to start the day, my son turned to me and said, “Mom, I want to wear a kipa to school today.” This was the first time he had ever expressed a desire to wear this Jewish symbol to school, so I asked him what inspired him to wear a kipa this particular day. “Mom, I don’t need a reason to wear a kipa. I just want to.” We went through his collection of kipot, and he picked out a lego themed kipa to wear.

As a mom and a rabbi, I was thrilled that he felt moved to wear this symbol of connection to God and to the Jewish people. I was also scared. I was nervous about how his classmates would respond to him. Just a few months ago, antisemitic posters were plastered in the park across the street from my home. What if one of his classmates had parents who are antisemitic?

I quickly wrote a note to his teacher, asking her to look out for him. A few hours later I received a reply. His teacher was thrilled to see him wearing a kipa, she said. His classmates had questions about it, and he happily answered them. All in all they found it to be pretty cool. These eight and nine-year-olds saw something new, outside of their experience, and they responded by being inquisitive and accepting. My heart overflowed with gratitude.

In this week’s Torah portion, we learn about Pharaoh who did not have the same sensibility. When the Israelites expressed their need to pray to God, he closed his heart. The Torah uses three verbs to explain the ways in which Pharaoh’s heart hardened: K’sh’h (to harden), K-b-d (to make heavy), ch-z-k (to strengthen). Pharaoh is asked to allow the people to pray to God, or to free them. Each time a plague strikes, Pharaoh says that he will let the people go. When the plague subsides, he quickly changes his mind, convinced that his needs supersede those of the Israelites.

In contrast, God called Moses in last week’s Torah portion. Despite his disbelief that he could be the Israelite leader to march the people to freedom, and the ways in which returning to Egypt put his own life in peril, Moses heeded God’s call. He opened himself up to the needs of the people and vowed to do all that he could to help.

When life became difficult, Pharaoh shut out the needs of others. Moses embraced them. Each of us has some Pharaoh and some Moses within us. At times, we shut out the needs and voices of others, whether intentionally or unintentionally. At other times, we open ourselves up to one another’s experiences, and rise to the occasion. This Torah portion begs of us to diminish the Pharaohs within, and to embrace our inner Moses. It asks us to not rush to judgment, but instead to ask questions of one another, as the wise eight and nine-year-olds in my son’s class so beautifully exemplified. The world can use more understanding.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Cassi Kail