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Parashat Va’era (Exodus 6:2-9:35)

“I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob;
and I will give it to you as a heritage – I am Adonai.” (Exodus 6:8)

Parashat Va’era is an epic battle of wills between God and Pharaoh played out through the first seven plagues: will Pharaoh let the Israelites go? It is easy to overlook the leadership lessons Moses offers as he shuttles between the two.

Moses is frustrated at the start of the parasha, or portion. Nothing he’s done so far has helped the Israelites; in fact, they are worse off than before (Ex. 5:7-9). So when God commands him to approach Pharaoh again, Moses replies, ”The Israelites would not listen to me, so how will Pharaoh listen…” (Ex. 6:12). God responds by repeating the charge to Moses and Aaron to lead the Israelites out of Egypt (Ex. 6:13). The S’fat Emet (1847-1905; Yehudah Leib Alter, child prodigy and 2nd Rebbe of the Gerer Chassidim) says this time, God tells them to keep talking to them; it may take some repetition, but God’s words can’t fail to move human beings. Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) says God tells them to lead the Israelites b’nachat, gently.

Rabbi Shelly Marder (Rabbi and Department Head of Jewish Life at the Jewish Home of San Francisco) connects these two classic commentaries. Effective leaders know change takes time; new ideas often need to be repeated over and over until they are understood and absorbed. Rashi understands b’nachat to mean walking gently, or the opposite of galloping quickly (Babylonian Talmud B’rachot 56b). Being gentle means being patient and accepting change happens slowly, sometimes. Moses demonstrates a strong leader is one who is gentle and patient.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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