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Shabbat Parashat Vaiera 5777

Parashat Hashavua: Exodus Version II and III

Harav Yosef Carmel

Our parasha describes, on one hand, the troubles Moshe encountered on the way to the liberation of Bnei Yisrael and, on the other hand, the great miracles that accompanied that process. The prophet Micha coined the phrase about the hope for such recurring miracles, when he said: “Like the days that you left the Land of Egypt I will show you miracles” (Micha 7:15).

We will concentrate now on parallel words of two other prophets. One received prophecy about a possible liberation that could have followed the prototype of the Exodus, but it was made conditional on the mending of the nation’s ways. The second prophet informed the people that the liberation was canceled because the nation did not succeed in repenting as necessary.

The first prophet was Yoel, in a powerful prophecy that ends with words we know well from the Pesach seder. He speaks of the “day of Hashem” coming soon, a day of darkness, with a great swarm of locusts. He speaks of the stench (reminiscent of the description of the frogs in Egypt). In the midst, he speaks of the need of returning to Hashem (Yoel 2:11-13). Yoel also speaks of the spirit of Hashem engulfing young men and women and even slaves and maid servants, which is reminiscent of the revelation at Sinai. Finally, he speaks of “v’natati moftim bashamayim uva’aretz – dam va’eish v’timrot ashan (I shall place wonders in the heavens and the earth – blood, fire, and pillars of smoke),” which we recite in the Hagadda to describe the plagues in Egypt. So we see that the prophecy gave the nation the possibility of reliving those historical moments.

A few generations after this, the prophet Amos turned to Bnei Yisrael and told them that they had failed. The day of Hashem turns from a day of liberation to a day of trouble. Using many of the same images and words as Yoel, he says that the pestilence associated with Egypt would fall on Israel as would the stench, since they did not return to Hashem (see Amos 4:9-10). “Those who desire the day of Hashem, why do you want the day of Hashem, as it will be darkness and not light” (ibid. 5:18). The prophet promises darkness falling in the daytime and “they will search out the word of Hashem and not find it” (ibid. 8:9-12).

We ask ourselves what specifically was missing, which caused this tragic turnaround. Why were there darkness and a lack of connection to Hashem, when the positive was anticipated? Why did the plagues afflict Israel instead of their enemies?

The answer provided by the prophet is clear. It was social corruption and a failing of the judicial system. Money was garnered without justice, and the weaker echelons of society were taken advantage of. We will cite just a smattering of p’sukim: “They who turn justice into la’ana (a poison) and they abandon charity in the land” (Amos 5:7). “For you have turned justice to rosh (another poison), and the fruit of charity to la’ana.” “… to decrease the measure and increase the size of the coins and corrupt the scales, to sell poor people for money and the destitute for shoes” (ibid. 8:5-6).

The clear conclusion is that to return to the days of the Exodus, a society based on charity and justice is necessary. There must be honesty and fair paying of taxes no less than Shabbat observance and kashrut. The rich must support the poor and not take advantage of them. The State of Israel has a strong foundation to build a society based on truth and kindness in all aspects. Let us pray that we will succeed in strengthening the positive and merit our own Exodus-like liberation.  
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