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Vaeira: The Will to Live

Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.” We have seen this time and time again throughout history. A classic example is the experience of B’nai Yisrael in Egypt. Slavery was brutal, they worked incredibly hard; so hard they didn’t even have time to think. Our sages tell us that B’nai Yisrael reached the 49th level of spiritual impurity before Hashem rescued them from Egypt. It’s important to know that many of them never lost hope that things would improve. It reminds me of the book by Victor Frankl, A Man’s Search For Meaning. This is a must read, might I even suggest a yearly read! Frankl’s story of how many lost sight of their purpose during the Holocaust, yet others held on and survived is truly incredible! We (B’nai Yisrael) are still here because we’ve never lost hope that Hashem will redeem us.

In Parashat Vaera, we are introduced to seven out of ten of the plagues that Hashem brought to Egypt. Hashem tells Moshe to go back to Pharaoh with Aaron and ask him to send out B’nai Yisrael, but he will harden Pharaoh’s heart. Hashem says that when Pharaoh doesn’t listen, he will show that he is G-d. He will bring out B’nai Yisrael from Egypt (Shemot 7:2-5). The purpose of the plagues was to establish Hashem’s mastery over the universe.

אַתָּ֣ה תְדַבֵּ֔ר אֵ֖ת כׇּל־אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֲצַוֶּ֑ךָּ וְאַהֲרֹ֤ן אָחִ֙יךָ֙ יְדַבֵּ֣ר אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֔ה וְשִׁלַּ֥ח אֶת־בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵאַרְצֽוֹ

וַאֲנִ֥י אַקְשֶׁ֖ה אֶת־לֵ֣ב פַּרְעֹ֑ה וְהִרְבֵּיתִ֧י אֶת־אֹתֹתַ֛י וְאֶת־מוֹפְתַ֖י בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם

וְלֹֽא־יִשְׁמַ֤ע אֲלֵכֶם֙ פַּרְעֹ֔ה וְנָתַתִּ֥י אֶת־יָדִ֖י בְּמִצְרָ֑יִם וְהוֹצֵאתִ֨י אֶת־צִבְאֹתַ֜י אֶת־עַמִּ֤י בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם בִּשְׁפָטִ֖ים גְּדֹלִֽים

וְיָדְע֤וּ מִצְרַ֙יִם֙ כִּֽי־אֲנִ֣י יְהֹוָ֔ה בִּנְטֹתִ֥י אֶת־יָדִ֖י עַל־מִצְרָ֑יִם וְהוֹצֵאתִ֥י אֶת־בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מִתּוֹכָֽם

Hashem is warning Moshe that he’s going to fail at first. There will be struggles, but in the end, it will pay off because they will win; B’nai Yisrael will be free! What a great lesson for life! Whether in business, building The Jewish Education Experience Podcast (which you can find on any podcast platform), or in life, we will get no’s, however, if we keep moving forward, we will eventually get a yes and win!

Hashem made promises of redemption to B’nai Yisrael. The phrases are I will release you, הוֹצֵאתִ֣י ….I will save you, הִצַּלְתִּ֥י ….I will liberate you, ְגָאַלְתִּ֤י …. and I will take you as a nation, וְלָקַחְתִּ֨י. The expression that follows is I will bring you, וְהֵבֵאתִ֤י. Hashem promises to bring the B'nai Yisrael to the land of Israel. This is a metaphor for a future redemption (Shemot 6:6-8).

לָכֵ֞ן אֱמֹ֥ר לִבְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֮ אֲנִ֣י יְהֹוָה֒ וְהוֹצֵאתִ֣י אֶתְכֶ֗ם מִתַּ֙חַת֙ סִבְלֹ֣ת מִצְרַ֔יִם וְהִצַּלְתִּ֥י אֶתְכֶ֖ם מֵעֲבֹדָתָ֑ם וְגָאַלְתִּ֤י אֶתְכֶם֙ בִּזְר֣וֹעַ נְטוּיָ֔ה וּבִשְׁפָטִ֖ים גְּדֹלִֽים

וְלָקַחְתִּ֨י אֶתְכֶ֥ם לִי֙ לְעָ֔ם וְהָיִ֥יתִי לָכֶ֖ם לֵֽאלֹהִ֑ים וִֽידַעְתֶּ֗ם כִּ֣י אֲנִ֤י יְהֹוָה֙ אֱלֹ֣הֵיכֶ֔ם הַמּוֹצִ֣יא אֶתְכֶ֔ם מִתַּ֖חַת סִבְל֥וֹת מִצְרָֽיִם

וְהֵבֵאתִ֤י אֶתְכֶם֙ אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֤ר נָשָׂ֙אתִי֙ אֶת־יָדִ֔י לָתֵ֣ת אֹתָ֔הּ לְאַבְרָהָ֥ם לְיִצְחָ֖ק וּֽלְיַעֲקֹ֑ב וְנָתַתִּ֨י אֹתָ֥הּ לָכֶ֛ם מוֹרָשָׁ֖ה אֲנִ֥י יְהֹוָֽה

Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz explains that the four promises of redemption correspond with the four cups of wine that we drink at our Pesach seder. The Midrash Rabbah explains that the four cups of wine correspond to these four stages of redemption. By contrast, the Gemara says that the number four expresses freedom, and connects each cup to a particular mitzvah of the seder night: during Kiddush we drink one cup, at the beginning of our seder, another during Maggid when we tell the story of the Exodus, the third when we say Birchat Hamazon, the blessing after the meal, and the last one when we recite Hallel, the songs of praise (Pesachim 117b.)

The 5th promise of redemption corresponds with the 5th cup of wine which is Eliyahu’s cup. Eliyahu’s cup is a sign of the upcoming Messianic redemption. Our sages tell us that Eliyahu joins us for two events: Brit Milah and our seders. Eliyahu will announce the arrival of Mashiach, may Mashiach come soon!

In Meshech Chochmah written by Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, we learn about four dangers of slavery: physical annihilation, dehumanization of spiritual essence, loss of a sense of history, and lack of hope. According to Rabbi Breitowitz, B’nai Yisrael, while they were in Egypt, had four merits: they didn’t intermarry, they didn’t speak lashon hara against each other (they were united), they kept their Hebrew names, and spoke Hebrew. Each of the four dangers corresponds with the four merits of B’nai Yisrael, and with the four times during the seder when we drink each cup of wine. There was unity among B’nai Yisrael while in Egypt. They didn’t collaborate with the Egyptian taskmasters. They were saved from physical annihilation which is tied to the cup of wine that drink during Birchat Hamazon. The second danger of dehumanization corresponds with B’nai Yisrael only marrying within the tribe and the first cup of wine that we drink for Kiddush. The Divine Presence rests in a Jewish home when husbands and wives connect via holiness. While in Egypt, husbands and wives were faithful to each other. Our sages tell us that it is the merit of the righteous women that B’nai Yisrael was redeemed. The women gave their husbands encouragement that there would be redemption. The third danger, loss of history corresponds with B’nai Yisrael keeping their Hebrew names, and Maggid when we drink the second cup of wine. Our names connect us with the past, while our story connects us to the future. The last danger is loss of hope which corresponds with B’nai Yisrael continuing to speak Hebrew, and the last cup of wine that we drink during Hallel, which refers to our future redemption. Languages are not learned if they are not spoken, and they are only spoken if we have hope we’ll survive. B’nai Yisrael knew they would be free eventually, and never lost their language.

There is hope that things will get better. Ultimately, there is a plan, and we all have a purpose. Do we have the will to live?


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