Thicker Than Water?: Vaera 2021

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever needed to send someone a message to prove that you “mean business”? How did you send that message?

The first of the 10 plagues is meant to send Egypt the message that the Israelites wish to be liberated from slavery — and that God will do what it takes to make it happen:

The Pitch: “Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded: he lifted up the rod and struck the water in the Nile in the sight of Pharaoh and his courtiers, and all the water in the Nile was turned into blood.” – Exodus 7:20

Swing #1: “For Egypt as a nation dependent on irrigation, the Nile with its fresh water is literally a lifeline. Blood in the Bible is imagined in radically ambiguous terms — the source and substance of life, an apotropaic and redemptive agent, the token of violence and death. It is manifestly the third of these meanings that is brought into play here, as the first plague symbolically anticipates the last one and deprives Egypt of life-sustaining water.” – Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation With Commentary

Swing #2: “[This plague] is a water event par excellence. … [It] foreshadows the ultimate water catastrophe, the splitting of the sea and the drowning of the pharaoh’s forces.” – Carol Meyers, Exodus

Swing #3: “This was a big boost for Moses’ stature that Aaron, merely his messenger, was able to accomplish this and use his staff on a regular basis.” – Rashbam

Late-Inning Questions: Why do our commentators believe this first plague is executed in this way? How does the contrast between blood and water symbolize the Israelites’ demand for life, and a life of dignity? Can a demand for respect be communicated with a disrespectful act?

On-Deck at Temple Beth Tzedek: We look forward to celebrating Tu Bishvat on Thursday, January 28th, from 6:15-7:00pm, following evening minyan. Drive by the Temple on Sunday the 24th between 11am and 1:00pm to pick up Tu Bishvat goodies and to drop off non-perishable food for those in need, and then join us for our Seder on the 28th by logging onto the weekday minyan Zoom link.

The Big Inning at the End: Baseball always has been and always will be my favorite sport, but there’s no denying where our sports energies will be directed after Shabbat … GO BILLS!

Shabbat Shalom!