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Parashat Va’era (Exodus 6:2-9:35)

“But Pharaoh made his heart stubborn even this time
and he did not send out the people.” (Exodus 8:28)

Parashat Va’era is arguably one of the best known parashot, or portions, in the Torah. It describes the first seven plagues God inflicts upon Pharaoh and Egypt, an episode recalled each year at the Passover seder. Each time, Pharaoh refuses to liberate the Israelites. When the suffering becomes unbearable, he relents. Then he relents. The moment the plague stops, though, he reneges. So each plague is more severe than the previous one.

Nobody has sympathy for Pharaoh; he is so stubborn and irrational, nobody can identify with him. In fact, though, everybody knows someone just like Pharaoh. Rabbi Abraham Twerski (1930- ; American chassidic rabbi and psychiatrist specializing in substance abuse) compares Pharaoh to a person with addiction problems: the disease causes episodes of great pain and suffering, causing the person to swear of alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, or whatever they are addicted to. The moment the pain is relieved remorse disappears and the person is off on another binge. The addict depends upon denial to ignore the problem and rationalization to find excuses (other than addiction) for the outcomes. Compulsion, of course, drives the addict to repeat the cycle.

Va’era describes God’s might but it also displays human nature. Twerski suggests replacing the word “addiction” in any text with yetzer hara, the evil inclination. This highlights our individual vulnerability to the many temptations that might lure us into destructive behavior, and while you may not be an addict, you probably have experienced temptation. Overcoming denial and recognizing the fallacy of invulnerability is critical in mastering temptation. And that is exactly what Pharaoh cannot do in Va’era.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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