Three Day’s Company: Vaera 2019

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: What’s the longest trip you’ve gone on, in terms of time? Did you wish it could’ve been shorter, or longer? Upon your return, did such a lengthy trip enable to see your home in a different light?

As Moses asks Pharaoh for the Israelites to leave Egypt in order to worship God in the wilderness, he explains why they must be gone for so long:

The Pitch: “But Moses replied, ‘It would not be right to do this, for what we sacrifice to our God Adonai is untouchable to the Egyptians. If we sacrifice that which is untouchable to the Egyptians before their very eyes, will they not stone us! So we must go a distance of three days into the wilderness and sacrifice to Adonai as our God may command us.’” – Exodus 8:22-23

Swing #1: “Pharaoh was under the impression that even if one was deeply entangled in the corruption of Egypt and bound to ‘the land,’ the earthly elements, one could proceed to worship God and to offer sacrifices to Him without proper spiritual preparations. But Moses explained to him that this is not the way of the Children of Israel. Before a Jew may go forth to worship the Lord and to offer sacrifices to Him, he must first move away from the corruption of which ancient Egypt was a symbol and cleanse himself of all earthly things. It is only after he has repented of his sins and removed himself from evil that he may make his offering to the Lord.” – Shem MiShmuel

Swing #2: “The Children of Israel traveled from Raamses to Succoth, and from Succoth to Etham, and from Etham to Pi-hahiroth. [They traveled on] Friday, Shabbat, and Sunday, which were the 15th, 16th, and 17th [days of the month of Nisan]. On Monday – which was the fourth [day] of their journey [and] which was the 18th day [of Nisan] – Israel was readying their cattle and preparing their equipment to leave. The commanders said to them, ‘Your appointed time has arrived to return to Egypt! In accordance with what is said in Scripture: “So we must go a distance of three days into the wilderness”.’ They said to them, ‘When we left, we left with Pharaoh’s permission.’ They said to them, ‘No matter what you want, you will end up returning and upholding the orders of the kingdom!’ Israel rose against them and struck some of them, wounded some of them, and killed some of them [which caused Pharaoh to chase after the Israelites at the Sea].” – Tanhuma d’Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai

Swing #3: “‘Untouchable to the Egyptians’: It can furthermore be interpreted in a different sense: The sacrifice that we sacrifice is an abhorrent thing to Egypt, for it is their deity that we sacrifice.” – Rashi

Late-Inning Questions: Was Moses’s request for a three-day journey a method to trick Pharaoh into granting them a one-way ticket out of town? If so, was it justified, given the years of suffering the Israelites had endured? Or could God have found a different way to liberate the Israelites? Is deception ever justified?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Tickets are going fast for our 8th annual Jews, Brews, and Ques Kosher Cookout on Sunday, January 13th! Please join us to be a part of one of the great programs in Jewish Charleston.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of deception, one of my favorite baseball stories took place in 1987, when a minor-league catcher named Dave Bresnahan hid a potato in a spare glove during the game and, at an opportune moment, threw it into foul territory, and then tagged a runner out with a real ball. Bresnahan was caught in the act and his playing career ended shortly thereafter but … points for creativity, at least?

Shabbat Shalom!