Saturday, January 12, 2008

Dvar Torah S2: Va’era (My God can beat up your god!)

Well, a week late but I’ve been out of town. So I am currently flying back to Los Angeles from a week in New York City by way of Atlanta. I’ve been a little busy…

Let’s kill two parshiyot with one Dvar Torah, or the land of Egypt with Ten Plagues. Really both Vaera and Bo are part of a series as I mentioned last year (If memory serves me correctly as I don’t have the internet on the plane).

There is an interesting tradition that would fly in the face of what we tend to conceive of Judaism: that early Judaism is not a bastion of Monotheism but rather is Henotheistic, ie., there are multiple gods, but only One, the single God of Israel reigns supreme. This theory is supported many times in the plaintext in the Torah with examples too many to enumerate. In two weeks (two weeks from Bo, anyway) we read that which is usually rendered as “thou shalt have no other gods before me”, though it doesn’t say that there are no other gods. However the bottom line is that my God can beat up all the other gods, and to quote the psalmist “all the gods of the nations are nothingness but Hashem created the Heavens”. Thus there is a midrash that God was both fighting both earthly pharaoh and his celestial doppelganger, Ra, as well as all which is deified in Egypt: the Nile, cattle, goats, the superior and holier first born. The Necromancers were not denied their ability to use their dark flashy magic, but only to build up to a greater crescendo in the grand finale. God will make Pharaoh and Egypt know, without a doubt, who the real Power is. Pharaoh himself will admit that God is the righteous One and that he and his people are wrongdoers and begs Moses to entreat God to remove the pestilence which He had inflicted. His necromancers who were granted the ability to replicate snakes, blood, and frogs (or as a scarier rendering suggests for tzfardeah: crocodiles), were forced to admit that they could not compete with the God of Israel (or the finger of God/gods, however you interpret it). God says that through these plagues, God’s Name will be famous throughout the world. God’s revenge on Egypt for what they have done to His People will be like nothing that has ever occurred before, terrible and glorious, that his people are distinct and unique and that he is Unique and greater than all other gods and they remain powerless against Him. But there still remain ironclad laws that govern earthly as well as celestial warfare, and Egypt’s sar, guardian angel, will fall and fall hard and then Egypt too will fall and God will lead his chosen people with their heads held high to redemption and freedom.

Shabbat Shalom.

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