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definition - Va'eira

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Va'eira, Va'era, or Vaera (וָאֵרָאHebrew for “and I appeared” the first word that God speaks in the parshah, in Exodus 6:3) is the fourteenth weekly Torah portion (parshah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the second in the book of Exodus. It constitutes Exodus 6:2–9:35. Jews in the Diaspora read it the fourteenth Sabbath after Simchat Torah, generally in January.

  The Seventh Plague (1823 painting by John Martin)



  Moses (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

God spoke to Moses, identified Himself as the God of the Patriarchs, and acknowledged hearing the moaning of the Israelites. (Exodus 6:2–4.) God instructed Moses to tell the Israelites that God would free them, make them God’s people, and bring them to the Promised Land. (Exodus 6:6–8.) But the Israelites would not listen because of their distress and hard labor. (Exodus 6:9.) God told Moses to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, but Moses complained that Pharaoh would not heed him, a man of impeded speech. (Exodus 6:10–12.)

The text interjects a partial genealogy of Reuben, Simeon, and finally Levi, including Moses and his family. (Exodus 6:14–25.)

  Aaron Cast His Rod Before Pharaoh and It Became a Serpent (woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld from the 1860 Die Bibel in Bildern)

God placed Aaron in the role of Moses’ prophet, to speak to Pharaoh. (Exodus 7:1–2.) God intended to harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that God might show signs and marvels. (Exodus 7:3.) God told how Aaron could cast down his rod and it would turn into a snake, and Aaron did so before Pharaoh. (Exodus 7:9–10.) Pharaoh caused his magicians to do the same, but Aaron’s rod swallowed their rods. (Exodus 7:11–12.) Pharaoh’s heart stiffened. (Exodus 7:13.)

  The plagues of Egypt

  Water Is Changed into Blood (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

God began visiting ten plagues on Egypt. God told Moses to go to Pharaoh at his morning bath, demand of him to let the Israelites go to worship in the wilderness, and have Aaron strike the Nile with his rod and turn it into blood. (Exodus 7:14–18.) Moses and Aaron did so, and the fish died and the Nile stank. (Exodus 7:20–21.) But when the Egyptian magicians did the same, Pharaoh’s heart stiffened. (Exodus 7:22–23.) Seven days later, God told Moses to have Aaron hold his arm with the rod over the river and bring up frogs, and they did so. (Exodus 7:25–8:2.) The magicians did the same. (Exodus 8:3.) Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron to plead with God to remove the frogs and said he's let the Israelites go; Moses did so, but Pharaoh became stubborn and did not let the Israelites leave. (Exodus 8:4–11.)

God told Moses to have Aaron strike the dust with his rod, to turn it to lice throughout the land, and they did so. (Exodus 8:12–13.) The magicians tried to do the same, but they could not. (Exodus 8:14.) The magicians told Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God!” But Pharaoh’s heart stiffened. (Exodus 8:15.)

  The Plague of Flies (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

God loosed swarms of insects against the Egyptians, but not Goshen, where the Israelites dwelt. (Exodus 8:16–20.) Pharaoh told Moses and Aaron to go sacrifice to God within Egypt, but Moses insisted on going three days into the wilderness. (Exodus 8:21–23.) Pharaoh agreed, in exchange for Moses’ prayer to lift the plague. (Exodus 8:24.) But when God removed the insects, Pharaoh became stubborn again. (Exodus 8:27–28.)

God struck the Egyptian’s livestock with a pestilence, sparing the Israelites’ livestock. (Exodus 9:1–6.) But Pharaoh remained stubborn. (Exodus 9:7.)

God told Moses to take handfuls of soot from the kiln and throw it toward the sky, so that it would become a fine dust, causing boils on man and beast throughout Egypt, and he did so. (Exodus 9:8–10.) But God stiffened Pharaoh’s heart. (Exodus 9:12.)

God told Moses to threaten Pharaoh with hail. (Exodus 9:13–19.) Those who feared God’s word brought their slaves and livestock indoors. (Exodus 9:20.) God sent thunder and hail, which struck down all exposed in Egypt, but did not strike Goshen. (Exodus 9:23–26.) Pharaoh confessed his wrong, agreed to let the Israelites go, and asked Moses and Aaron to pray to end the hail. (Exodus 9:27–28.) Moses did so, but Pharaoh reverted to his guilty ways. (Exodus 9:33–34.)

  In inner-biblical interpretation

  Exodus chapters 7–12

The description of the 10 plagues exhibits patterns and progressions, as follows:

Cycle Number Plague Verses Was There


Time Warned Introduction Actor Rod? Israelites


Did Pharaoh


Who Hardened

Pharaoh’s Heart?

First 1 blood Exodus 7:14–25 yes in the morning לֵךְ אֶל-פַּרְעֹה

Go to Pharaoh

Aaron yes no no passive voice
2 frogs Exodus 7:26–8:11

(8:1–15 in KJV)

yes unknown בֹּא אֶל-פַּרְעֹה

Go in to Pharaoh

Aaron yes no yes passive voice
3 gnats or lice Exodus 8:12–15

(8:16–19 in KJV)

no none none Aaron yes no no passive voice
Second 4 flies or

wild beasts

Exodus 8:16–28

(8:20–32 in KJV)

yes early in the morning וְהִתְיַצֵּב לִפְנֵי פַרְעֹה

stand before Pharaoh

God no yes yes Pharaoh
5 livestock Exodus 9:1–7 yes unknown בֹּא אֶל-פַּרְעֹה

Go in to Pharaoh

God no yes no Pharaoh
6 boils Exodus 9:8–12 no none none Moses no no no God
Third 7 hail Exodus 9:13–35 yes early in the morning וְהִתְיַצֵּב לִפְנֵי פַרְעֹה

stand before Pharaoh

Moses no yes yes passive voice
8 locusts Exodus 10:1–20 yes unknown בֹּא אֶל-פַּרְעֹה

Go in to Pharaoh

Moses yes no yes God
9 darkness Exodus 10:21–29 no none none Moses yes yes yes God
10 firstborn Exodus 11:1–10;


yes unknown none God no yes yes God

Psalms 78:44–51 and 105:23–38 each recount differing arrangements of seven plagues. Psalm 78:44–51 recalls plagues of (1) blood, (2) flies, (3) frogs, (4) locusts, (5) hail, (6) livestock, and (7) firstborn, but not plagues of lice, boils, or darkness. Psalm 105:23–38 recalls plagues of (1) darkness, (2) blood, (3) frogs, (4) flies and lice, (5) hail, (6) locusts, and (7) firstborn, but not plagues of livestock or boils.

  In classical rabbinic interpretation

  Exodus chapter 6

A Midrash noted that God had already informed Moses that Pharaoh would not allow the Israelites to go, as in Exodus 3:19 God told Moses, “I know that the King of Egypt will not allow you to go,” and in Exodus 4:19 God told Moses, “I will harden his heart.” But Moses did not keep this in mind, but came instead to doubt the wisdom of God's decree, and began to argue with God: “Lord, why have You dealt ill with this people?” For this reason, the Attribute of Justice sought to attack Moses, as Exodus 6:2 says: “And God spoke to Moses” (employing the name of God (אֱלֹהִים, Elohim) indicative of God's Justice). But when God reflected that Moses only asked this because of Israel's suffering, God retracted and dealt with Moses according to the Attribute of Mercy, as Exodus 6:2 says: “And He said to him: ‘I am the Lord’” (employing the name of God (יְהוָה, the Tetragrammaton) indicative of God's Mercy). (Exodus Rabbah 6:1.)

  The Israelites' Cruel Bondage in Egypt (illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible)

Rabbi Simai found evidence for the resurrection of the dead in the words, “And I also have established my covenant with them (the Patriarchs) to give them the land of Canaan,” in Exodus 6:4. Rabbi Simai noted that Exodus 6:4 does not say “to give you” but “to give them,” implying that God would give the land to the Patriarchs personally, and thus that God would resurrect them so as to fulfill the promise. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 90b.)

  The Egyptians Afflicted the Israelites with Burdens (woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld from the 1860 Die Bibel in Bildern)

A Baraita deduced from Exodus 6:6 that the Israelites’ bondage in Egypt ended on Rosh Hashanah. The Baraita noted that Exodus 6:6 uses the word “burden” to describe the end of the Israelites’ bondage in Egypt, and Psalm 81:7 uses the word “burden” to describe the end of Joseph’s imprisonment, and the Baraita deduced that the two events must therefore have occurred at the same time of year. The Baraita further deduced from the words, “Blow the horn on the new moon, on the covering day for our festival . . . He appointed it for Joseph for a testimony when he went forth,” in Psalm 81:4–6 that Joseph went forth from the prison on Rosh Hashanah. (Babylonian Talmud Rosh Hashanah 11a–b.)

Rabbi Nehemiah cited the use of the words “will bring you out” in Exodus 6:6 to demonstrate that using the word hamotzi in the blessing over bread would mean that God “will bring forth” bread from the land — not that God “has brought forth” bread from the land. Rabbi Nehemiah thus read Exodus 6:6–7 to mean: “I am the Lord, the One Who will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” The Gemara reported that the Rabbis of a Baraita, however, read Exodus 6:6–7 to mean: “When I shall bring you out, I will do for you something that will show you that I am the One Who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 38a.)

The Jerusalem Talmud cited the four promises of salvation in Exodus 6:6–7, (1) “I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians,” (2) “I will deliver you from their bondage,” (3) “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm,” and (4) “I will take you to Me for a people,” as one reason why Jews drink four cups of wine at the Passover seder. (Jerusalem Talmud Pesachim 10:1; see also Exodus Rabbah 6:4; Genesis Rabbah 88:5.) And thus the Mishnah taught that “On the eve of Passover, . . . even the poorest man in Israel must not eat until he reclines; and they (the overseers of charity) should give him not less than four cups of wine.” (Mishnah Pesachim 10:1; Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 99b.)

A Baraita taught that Rabbi Simai deduced from the similarity of the phrases “And I will take you to me for a people” and “And I will bring you in to the land” in Exodus 6:7 that the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt occurred under circumstances similar to their entry into the Land of Israel. Rabbi Simai thus deduced that just as only two out of 600,000 (Caleb and Joshua) entered the Promised Land, so only two out of every 600,000 Israelites in Egypt participated in the Exodus, and the rest died in Egypt. Rava taught that it will also be so when the Messiah comes that only a small portion of Jews will find redemption, for Hosea 2:17 says, “And she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the days when she came up out of the land of Egypt,” implying that circumstances upon the coming of the Messiah will be similar to those upon the Israelites’ entry into the Land of Israel. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 111a.)

The Gemara asked why the Tannaim felt that the allocation of the Land of Israel “according to the names of the tribes of their fathers” in Numbers 26:55 meant that the allocation was with reference to those who left Egypt; perhaps, the Gemara supposed, it might have meant the 12 tribes and that the Land was to be divided into 12 equal portions? The Gemara noted that in Exodus 6:8, God told Moses to tell the Israelites who were about to leave Egypt, “And I will give it you for a heritage; I am the Lord,” and that meant that the Land was the inheritance from the fathers of those who left Egypt. (Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 117b.)

A Midrash interpreted the words of Exodus 6:9, “they hearkened not to Moses for shortness of spirit,” to indicated that it was difficult for the Israelites to abandon idol worship. (Exodus Rabbah 6:5.)

Rabbi Ishmael cited Exodus 6:12 as one of ten a fortiori (kal va-chomer) arguments recorded in the Hebrew Bible: (1) In Genesis 44:8, Joseph’s brothers told Joseph, “Behold, the money that we found in our sacks’ mouths we brought back to you,” and they thus reasoned, “how then should we steal?” (2) In Exodus 6:12, Moses told God, “Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened to me,” and reasoned that surely all the more, “How then shall Pharaoh hear me?” (3) In Deuteronomy 31:27, Moses said to the Israelites, “Behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, you have been rebellious against the Lord,” and reasoned that it would follow, “And how much more after my death?” (4) In Numbers 12:14, “the Lord said to Moses: ‘If her (Miriam’s) father had but spit in her face,’” surely it would stand to reason, “‘Should she not hide in shame seven days?’” (5) In Jeremiah 12:5, the prophet asked, “If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you,” is it not logical to conclude, “Then how can you contend with horses?” (6) In 1 Samuel 23:3, David’s men said to him, “Behold, we are afraid here in Judah,” and thus surely it stands to reason, “How much more then if we go to Keilah?” (7) Also in Jeremiah 12:5, the prophet asked, “And if in a land of Peace where you are secure” you are overcome, is it not logical to ask, “How will you do in the thickets of the Jordan?” (8) Proverbs 11:31 reasoned, “Behold, the righteous shall be requited in the earth,” and does it not follow, “How much more the wicked and the sinner?” (9) In Esther 9:12, “The king said to Esther the queen: ‘The Jews have slain and destroyed 500 men in Shushan the castle,’” and it thus stands to reason, “‘What then have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces?’” (10) In Ezekiel 15:5, God came to the prophet saying, “Behold, when it was whole, it was usable for no work,” and thus surely it is logical to argue, “How much less, when the fire has devoured it, and it is singed?” (Genesis Rabbah 92:7.)

A Midrash interpreted the words of Exodus 6:13, “And He gave them a charge concerning the children of Israel,” to convey that God warned Moses and Aaron that the Israelites were obstinate, bad-tempered, and troublesome, and that in assuming leadership over the Israelites, Moses and Aaron must expect that the Israelites would curse and even stone them. (Exodus Rabbah 7:3.)

A Midrash interpreted God’s instructions to Moses and Aaron in Exodus 6:13, “and to Pharaoh, King of Egypt,” to convey that God told Moses and Aaron that although God really ought to punish Pharaoh, God wanted Moses and Aaron to show Pharaoh the respect due to his regal position. And Moses did so, as Exodus 11:8 reports that Moses told Pharaoh that God said, “And all these your servants shall come down to Me.” Moses did not say that Pharaoh would come down, only that Pharaoh’s servants would do so. But Moses could well have said that Pharaoh himself would come down, for Exodus 12:30 reports, “Pharaoh arose at midnight.” But Moses did not mention Pharaoh specifically so as to pay him respect. (Exodus Rabbah 7:3.)


A Midrash taught that Korah took issue with Moses in Numbers 16:1 because Moses had (as Numbers 3:30 reports) appointed Elizaphan the son of Uzziel as prince of the Kohathites, and Korah was (as Exodus 6:21 reports) son of Uzziel's older brother Izhar, and thus had a claim to leadership prior to Elizaphan. (Midrash Tanhuma Korah 1.)

Rava taught that he who wishes to take a wife should first inquire about the character of her brothers. For Exodus 6:23 reports, “And Aaron took Elisheva, the daughter of Amminadab, the sister of Nahshon.” As Exodus 6:23 states “the daughter of Amminadab,” it is obvious that she was the sister of Nahshon. So Exodus 6:23 expressly states “the sister of Nahshon” to imply that he who takes a wife should inquire about the character of her brothers, because most children resemble the brothers of their mother. (Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 110a; see also Exodus Rabbah 7:5.)

The Gemara asked whether the words in Exodus 6:25, “And Eleazar Aaron’s son took him one of the daughters of Putiel to wife” did not convey that Eleazar’s son Phinehas descended from Jethro, who fattened (piteim) calves for idol worship. The Gemara then provided an alternative explanation: Exodus 6:25 could mean that Phinehas descended from Joseph, who conquered (pitpeit) his passions (resisting Potiphar’s wife, as reported in Genesis 39). But the Gemara asked, did not the tribes sneer at Phinehas and (as reported in Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 82b and Sotah 43a) question how a youth (Phinehas) whose mother’s father crammed calves for idol-worship could kill the head of a tribe in Israel (Zimri, Prince of Simeon, as reported in Numbers 25). The Gemara explained that the real explanation was that Phinehas descended from both Joseph and Jethro. If Phinehas’s mother’s father descended from Joseph, then Phinehas’s mother’s mother descended from Jethro. And if Phinehas’s mother’s father descended from Jethro, then Phinehas’s mother’s mother descended from Joseph. The Gemara explained that Exodus 6:25 implies this dual explanation of “Putiel” when it says, “of the daughters of Putiel,” because the plural “daughters” implies two lines of ancestry (from both Joseph and Jethro). (Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 109b–10a; see also Exodus Rabbah 7:5.)

  Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh (painting by Benjamin West)
  Moses Speaks to Pharaoh (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

Rabbi Simeon noted that in nearly every instance, the Torah mentioned Moses before Aaron, but Exodus 6:26 mentioned Aaron before Moses, teaching that the two were deemed equivalent. (Tosefta Keritot 4:15; see also (Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael Pisha 6:1:2 (attributing to Rabbi Judah haNasi); Song of Songs Rabbah 4:13 (attributing to the Rabbis).) The Gemara taught that the use of the pronoun “he (hu)” in an introduction, as in the words “These are (hu) that Aaron and Moses” in Exodus 6:26 signifies that they were the same in their righteousness from the beginning to the end. Similar uses appear in Chronicles 1:27 to teach Abraham’s enduring righteousness, in 1 Samuel 17:14 to teach David’s enduring humility, in Genesis 36:43 to teach Esau’s enduring wickedness, in Numbers 26:9 to teach Dathan and Abiram’s enduring wickedness, in 2 Chronicles 28:22 to teach Ahaz’s enduring wickedness, and in Esther 1:1 to teach Ahasuerus’s enduring wickedness. (Babylonian Talmud Megillah 11a.)

  Exodus chapter 7

The Tosefta cited Exodus 7:1, where the lesser Aaron spoke for the greater Moses, for the proposition that in synagogue reading, a minor may translate for an adult, but it is not honorable for an adult to translate for a minor. (Tosefta Megillah 3:21.)

Rabbi Aibu bar Nagri said in the name of Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba that the words “with their enchantments” in Exodus 7:11 refer to sorcery without exogenous assistance, while the words “with their sorcery” in Exodus 7:22 refer to magic through the agency of demons. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 67b.)

  Aaron's Rod Changed to a Serpent (illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible)

Reading the words, “Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods,” in Exodus 7:12, Rabbi Eleazar observed that it was a double miracle (as Aaron’s serpent first became a rod again, and as a rod it swallowed up their serpents). (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 97a; Exodus Rabbah 9:7.) When Pharaoh saw this, he was amazed and expressed his fear of what would happen if Moses now told the rod to swallow up Pharaoh and his throne. Rabbi Jose bar Hanina taught that a great miracle happened to that rod, for although it swallowed up all the rods that had been cast down, sufficient to make ten heaps, still the rod did not all become any thicker, and all who saw it recognized it as Aaron's rod. On this account, Aaron's rod became a symbol for all the miracles and wonders that were to be performed for Israel throughout the generations. (Exodus Rabbah 9:7.)

  The Rods of Moses and the Magicians Turned into Serpents (illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible)

A Midrash noted that Exodus 7:13 reports that “Pharaoh's heart was hardened” without God’s action, and that this was so for the first five plagues. As the first five plagues did not move Pharaoh to release the Israelites, God decreed that from then on, even if Pharaoh had agreed to release the Israelites, God would not accept it. Thus starting with the sixth plague and thereafter (as Exodus 10:27 reports), the text says, “the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” (Midrash Tanhuma Va’eira 3; see also Exodus Rabbah 11:6, below.)

Abitol the barber, citing Rav, said that the Pharaoh whom Moses addressed was a puny fellow, a cubit tall, with a beard as long as he was tall, embodying the words in Daniel 4:14 that “the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and . . . sets up over it the lowest of men.” And Abitol the barber, citing Rav, deduced from the words “Pharaoh . . . goes out to the water” in Exodus 7:15 that this Pharaoh was a magus who went to the water to perform sorcery. (Babylonian Talmud Moed Katan 18a.)

  The Rod of Aaron Devours the Other Rods (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

Alternatively, a Midrash, reading the words “Pharaoh . . . goes out to the water” in Exodus 7:15, taught that only in the morning did Pharaoh go out to the water, because Pharaoh used to boast that he was a god and did not need to relieve himself. Therefore Pharaoh used to go early in the morning to the water (when no one else was there to witness that he relieved himself like other humans). God, therefore, told Moses to catch him just at this critical moment. (Exodus Rabbah 9:8.)

A Midrash cited Exodus 7:20 as one proof for the proposition that God does all things together: God puts to death and brings to life at the same time; God wounds and heals at the same time. And thus the Midrash noted, in Exodus 7:20, “all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood,” and later, the blood became water again. (Exodus Rabbah 28:4.)

Rabbi Abin the Levite, the son of Rabbi Judah haNasi, taught that the Israelites became wealthy from the plague of blood. If an Egyptian and an Israelite were in a house where there was a barrel full of water, and the Egyptian went to fill a pitcher from the barrel, the Egyptian would find that it contained blood, while the Israelite would drink water from the same barrel. When the Egyptian asked the Israelite to give the Egyptian some water with the Israelite’s own hand, it still became blood. Even if the Egyptian said to the Israelite that they should both drink from one vessel, the Israelite would drink water, but the Egyptian would drink blood. It was only when the Egyptian bought water from the Israelite for money that the Egyptian was able to drink water. And this is how the Israelites became rich. (Exodus Rabbah 9:10.)

The Gemara deduced from the use of the word for fish, dagah, in the phrase “And the fish that were in the river died” in Exodus 7:21 that the word dagah applies to fish both large and small. (Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 51b.)

  The Plague of Frogs (illustration from the 1891 Bible encyclopedia of Archimandrite Nikiphor)

A Midrash taught that the frogs were the most grievous of the ten plagues. The Midrash taught that the frogs destroyed the Egyptians’ bodies, as Psalm 78:45 says “frogs . . . destroyed them,” and the frogs emasculated the Egyptians, as Exodus 7:28 says that the frogs would “come into . . . [the Egyptians’] bed-chamber, and upon [their] bed.” The Midrash taught that the frogs told the Egyptians that the coinage of their gods was abolished, and the Egyptians’ own coinage — their ability to procreate — was also rendered invalid. The Midrash reasoned that as the word “destroyed” in Genesis 38:9 applied to checking procreation in the passage about Onan’s seed, as “he destroyed it on the ground,” so the Midrash reasoned that Psalm 78:45 means to convey that the Egyptians’ procreation was checked as well when it says, “frogs . . . destroyed them.” And the Midrash deduced that the frogs spoke because Exodus 8:8 says, “concerning the frogs,” and the words for “concerning,” al debar, may also be read, “because of the words of.” (Exodus Rabbah 25:27.)

  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) (painting by Simeon Solomon)

Thaddeus of Rome taught that Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (also known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) delivered themselves to the Fiery Furnace to sanctify the Divine Name in Daniel 3:8–30 because they deduced from Exodus 7:28 that the frogs of the plague, which had not been commanded to sanctify the Divine Name, nonetheless jumped into hot ovens at God’s behest. So Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah reasoned that people, whom Leviticus 22:32 does command to sanctify the Divine Name, should be willing to bear hot ovens for that reason. Thaddeus of Rome deduced that the ovens into which the frogs jumped were hot from the proximity of the words “ovens” and “kneading troughs” in Exodus 7:28, reasoning that kneading troughs are found near ovens when ovens are hot. (Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 53b.)

The Tosefta deduced from Exodus 1:8 that Pharaoh began to sin first before the people, and thus as indicated by Exodus 7:29 and 8:4, God struck him first and then the people. (Tosefta Sotah 4:12.)

  The Plague of Frogs (1670 engraving by Gerard Jollain)

  Exodus chapter 8

Rabbi Eleazar taught that when Exodus 8:2 reports that “the frog came up, and covered the land of Egypt,” it was initially just one frog, which bred prolifically and filled the land. The Tannaim disputed the matter. Rabbi Akiba said that one frog filled the whole of Egypt by breeding. But Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah chastised Akiba for dabbling in aggadah, and taught that one frog croaked for others, and they joined the first frog. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 67b.)

A Midrash interpreted the words of Proverbs 29:23, “A man’s pride shall bring him low; but he that is of a lowly spirit shall attain to honor,” to apply to Pharaoh and Moses, respectively. The Midrash taught that the words, “A man’s pride shall bring him low,” apply to Pharaoh, who in Exodus 5:2 haughtily asked, “Who is the Lord that I should hearken to His voice?” and so, as Psalm 136:15 reports, God “overthrew Pharaoh and his host.” And the Midrash taught that the words, “but he that is of a lowly spirit shall attain to honor,” apply to Moses, who in Exodus 8:5, humbly asked Pharaoh, “Have this glory over me; at what time shall I entreat for you . . . that the frogs be destroyed,” and was rewarded in Exodus 9:29 with the opportunity to say, “As soon as I am gone out of the city, I will spread forth my hands to the Lord [and] the thunders shall cease, neither shall there be any more hail.” (Numbers Rabbah 13:3.)

Rabbi Eleazar deduced from the magicians’ recognition of “the finger of God” in Exodus 8:15 that a demonic spirit cannot produce a creature less than a barleycorn in size. Rav Papa said that a spirit cannot even produce something the size of a camel, but a spirit can collect the elements of a larger object and thus produce the illusion of creating it, but a spirit cannot do even that with a smaller object. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 67b.)

Rabbi Jose the Galilean reasoned that as the phrase “the finger of God” in Exodus 8:15 referred to 10 plagues, “the great hand” (translated “the great work”) in Exodus 14:31 (in connection with the miracle of the Reed Sea) must refer to 50 plagues upon the Egyptians, and thus to a variety of cruel and strange deaths. (Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael Beshallah 7; Mekhilta of Rabbi Simeon 26:6; see also Exodus Rabbah 5:14, 23:9.) And Rabbi Phinehas ben Hama reasoned that as the phrase “the finger of God” in Exodus 8:15 referred to 10 plagues, “the hand of God” in Job 19:21 (in connection with Job’s poverty) must refer to 50 plagues. (Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 116a; see also Exodus Rabbah 23:9.)

  Exodus chapter 9

A Midrash taught that when God perceived that Pharaoh did not relent after the first five plagues, God decided that even if Pharaoh now wished to repent, God would harden Pharaoh’s heart in order to exact the whole punishment from him. Thus Exodus 9:12 reports that “the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh.” And the Midrash explained that the reference in Exodus 9:12, “as the Lord had spoken to Moses,” referred to God’s prediction in Exodus 7:3 that “I will harden Pharaoh's heart.” (Exodus Rabbah 11:6.)

  The Plague of Hail (illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible)

In Exodus 9:12, Pharaoh's heart is hardened. A Midrash catalogued the wide range of additional capabilities of the heart reported in the Hebrew Bible. The heart speaks (Ecclesiastes 1:16), sees (Ecclesiastes 1:16), hears (Kings 3:9), walks (2 Kings 5:26), falls (1 Samuel 17:32), stands (Ezekiel 22:14), rejoices (Psalm 16:9), cries (Lamentations 2:18), is comforted (Isaiah 40:2), is troubled (Deuteronomy 15:10), grows faint (Deuteronomy 20:3), grieves (Genesis 6:6), fears (Deuteronomy 28:67), can be broken (Psalm 51:19), becomes proud (Deuteronomy 8:14), rebels (Jeremiah 5:23), invents (1 Kings 12:33), cavils (Deuteronomy 29:18), overflows (Psalm 45:2), devises (Proverbs 19:21), desires (Psalm 21:3), goes astray (Proverbs 7:25), lusts (Numbers 15:39), is refreshed (Genesis 18:5), can be stolen (Genesis 31:20), is humbled (Leviticus 26:41), is enticed (Genesis 34:3), errs (Isaiah 21:4), trembles (1 Samuel 4:13), is awakened (Song of Songs 5:2), loves (Deuteronomy 6:5), hates (Leviticus 19:17), envies (Proverbs 23:17), is searched (Jeremiah 17:10), is rent (Book of Joel 2:13), meditates (Psalm 49:4), is like a fire (Jeremiah 20:9), is like a stone (Ezekiel 36:26), turns in repentance (2 Kings 23:25), becomes hot (Deuteronomy 19:6), dies (1 Samuel 25:37), melts (Joshua 7:5), takes in words (Deuteronomy 6:6), is susceptible to fear (Jeremiah 32:40), gives thanks (Psalm 111:1), covets (Proverbs 6:25), becomes hard (Proverbs 28:14), makes merry (Judges 16:25), acts deceitfully (Proverbs 12:20), speaks from out of itself (1 Samuel 1:13), loves bribes (Jeremiah 22:17), writes words (Proverbs 3:3), plans (Proverbs 6:18), receives commandments (Proverbs 10:8), acts with pride (Obadiah 1:3), makes arrangements (Proverbs 16:1), and aggrandizes itself (2 Chronicles 25:19). (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 1:36.)

The Pharisees noted that while in Exodus 5:2 Pharaoh asked who God was, once God had smitten him, in Exodus 9:27 Pharaoh acknowledged that God was righteous. Citing this juxtaposition, the Pharisees complained against heretics who placed the name of earthly rulers above the name of God. (Mishnah Yadayim 4:8.)


According to Maimonides and Sefer ha-Chinuch, there are no commandments in the parshah. (Maimonides. Mishneh Torah. Cairo, Egypt, 1170–1180. Reprinted in Maimonides. The Commandments: Sefer Ha-Mitzvoth of Maimonides. Translated by Charles B. Chavel, 2 vols. London: Soncino Press, 1967. ISBN 0-900689-71-4. Sefer HaHinnuch: The Book of [Mitzvah] Education. Translated by Charles Wengrov, 1:93. Jerusalem: Feldheim Pub., 1991. ISBN 0-87306-179-9.)

  A page from a 14th century German Haggadah

  In the liturgy

Reading the Passover Haggadah, in the magid section of the Seder, many Jews remove drops of wine from their cups for each of the ten plagues in Exodus 7:14–12:29. (Menachem Davis. The Interlinear Haggadah: The Passover Haggadah, with an Interlinear Translation, Instructions and Comments, 51. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2005. ISBN 1-57819-064-9. Joseph Tabory. JPS Commentary on the Haggadah: Historical Introduction, Translation, and Commentary, 94–95. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2008. ISBN 978-0-8276-0858-0.)

Next, the Haggadah recounts the reasoning of Rabbi Jose the Galilean that as the phrase “the finger of God” in Exodus 8:15 referred to 10 plagues, “the great hand” (translated “the great work”) in Exodus 14:31 must refer to 50 plagues upon the Egyptians. (Davis, at 51–52; Tabory, at 95.)

And the haggadah in the magid section quotes Exodus 9:3 to elucidate the term “a mighty hand” in Deuteronomy 26:8, interpreting the “mighty hand” to mean the plague of pestilence on the Egyptian livestock. (Davis, at 49; Tabory, at 94.)

  Ezekiel (1510 fresco by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel)



The haftarah for the parshah is Ezekiel 28:25–29:21.

  Connection to the Parshah

Both the parshah and the haftarah describe God’s instructions to a prophet to confront the Pharaoh of Egypt and bring on Israel’s redemption. Both the parshah and the haftarah address God’s judgments (shefatim) against Pharaoh and Egypt. (Exodus 7:4; Ezekiel 28:26.) A monster (tannin) plays a role in both the parshah and the haftarah: In the parshah, God turns Moses’ rod into a monster (Exodus 7:15); the haftarah describes Pharaoh as a monster. (Ezekiel 29:3.) In both the parshah and the haftarah, God attacks the river (Exodus 7:17–19; Ezekiel 29:10) and kills fish. (Exodus 7:20–21; Ezekiel 29:4–5.) In both the parshah and the haftarah, God’s actions would cause the Egyptians to know (ve-yade’u) God. (Exodus 7:5; Ezekiel 28:26; 6, 16, 21.) And in both the parshah and the haftarah, God proclaims, “I am the Lord.” (Exodus 6:2; Ezekiel 29:21.)

  On Shabbat Rosh Chodesh

When the parshah coincides with Shabbat Rosh Chodesh (as it does in 2010, 2013, and 2017), the haftarah is Isaiah 66:1–24.

  Further reading

The parshah has parallels or is discussed in these sources:


  Early nonrabbinic

  • Ezekiel the Tragedian. Exagōgē. 2nd century BCE. Translated by R.G. Robertson. In The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Volume 2: Expansions of the “Old Testament” and Legends, Wisdom and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms, and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic works. Edited by James H. Charlesworth, 814. New York: Anchor Bible, 1985. ISBN 0-385-18813-7.

  Classical rabbinic

  • Mishnah: Pesachim 10:1; Shevuot 5:3; Yadayim 4:8. Land of Israel, circa 200 CE. Reprinted in, e.g., The Mishnah: A New Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 249, 630, 1131. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-300-05022-4.
  • Tosefta: Megillah 3:21; Sotah 4:12; Keritot 4:15. Land of Israel, circa 300 CE. Reprinted in, e.g., The Tosefta: Translated from the Hebrew, with a New Introduction. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 649, 848, 1571. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 2002. ISBN 1-56563-642-2.
  • Jerusalem Talmud Pesachim 42b. Land of Israel, circa 400 CE. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Yerushalmi. Edited by Chaim Malinowitz, Yisroel Simcha Schorr, and Mordechai Marcus, vol. 18. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2011.
  • Genesis Rabbah 1:15; 5:7; 18:5; 19:7; 37:3; 46:1, 5; 82:3; 88:5; 92:7; 96, 97. Land of Israel, 5th century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Genesis. Translated by H. Freedman and Maurice Simon, 1:14, 37–38, 144, 153, 296, 389, 392; 2:754, 816, 853, 898, 929. London: Soncino Press, 1939. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.
  • Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael Beshallah 7. Land of Israel, late 4th century. Reprinted in, e.g., Mekhilta According to Rabbi Ishmael. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 1:169–70. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988. ISBN 1-55540-237-2. And Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael. Translated by Jacob Z. Lauterbach, 1:166. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1933, reissued 2004. ISBN 0-8276-0678-8.
  • Mekhilta of Rabbi Simeon 2:1–2, 5; 3:1; 15:4–5; 16:1, 4; 19:4; 21:4; 22:6; 26:3, 6; 35:1; 47:2. Land of Israel, 5th century. Reprinted in, e.g., Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai. Translated by W. David Nelson, 5–7, 9–11, 50–51, 54, 56, 78–79, 89, 93, 114, 117, 150, 209. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2006. ISBN 0-8276-0799-7.


  • Rashi. Commentary. Exodus 6–9. Troyes, France, late 11th century. Reprinted in, e.g., Rashi. The Torah: With Rashi’s Commentary Translated, Annotated, and Elucidated. Translated and annotated by Yisrael Isser Zvi Herczeg, 2:53–90. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1994. ISBN 0-89906-027-7.
  • Judah Halevi. Kuzari. 1:25; 2:2. Toledo, Spain, 1130–1140. Reprinted in, e.g., Jehuda Halevi. Kuzari: An Argument for the Faith of Israel. Intro. by Henry Slonimsky, 46, 86. New York: Schocken, 1964. ISBN 0-8052-0075-4.
  • Exodus Rabbah 5:14, 6:1–12:7, 23:9, 25:27, 28:4. 10th century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Exodus. Translated by S. M. Lehrman, vol. 3. London: Soncino Press, 1939. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.
  • Jacob Anatoli. “Sermon on Wa-’Era: A Homily on Education.” First half of 13th century. In Marc Saperstein. Jewish Preaching, 1200–1800: An Anthology, 113–23. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989. ISBN 0-300-04355-4.
  • Zohar 2:22a–32a. Spain, late 13th century. Reprinted in, e.g., The Zohar. Translated by Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon. 5 vols. London: Soncino Press, 1934.


  • Thomas Mann. Joseph and His Brothers. Translated by John E. Woods, 788. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. ISBN 1-4000-4001-9. Originally published as Joseph und seine Brüder. Stockholm: Bermann-Fischer Verlag, 1943.
  • Ziony Zevit. “Three Ways to Look at the Ten Plagues: Were They Natural Disasters, A Demonstration of the Impotence of the Egyptian Gods or an Undoing of Creation?” Bible Review 6 (3) (June 1980).
  • Aaron Wildavsky. Assimilation versus Separation: Joseph the Administrator and the Politics of Religion in Biblical Israel, 14. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1993. ISBN 1-56000-081-3.
  • John E. Currid. “Why Did God Harden Pharaoh’s Heart?” Bible Review 9 (6) (Nov./Dec. 1983).
  • William H.C. Propp. Exodus 1–18, 2:261–354. New York: Anchor Bible, 1998. ISBN 0-385-14804-6.
  • Barack Obama. Dreams from My Father, 294. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1995, 2004. ISBN 1-4000-8277-3. (Moses and Pharaoh).
  • Marc Gellman. “The Pharaoh and the Frog.” In God’s Mailbox: More Stories About Stories in the Bible, 36–43. New York: Morrow Junior Books, 1996. ISBN 0-688-13169-7.
  • Bernhard Lang. “Why God Has So Many Names.” Bible Review 19 (4) (Aug. 2003): 48–54, 63.
  • Jeffrey H. Tigay. “What’s in a Name? Early Evidence of Devotion Exclusively to Yahweh.” Bible Review 20 (01) (Feb. 2004): 34–43, 47–51.
  • Marek Halter. Zipporah, Wife of Moses, 245–49. New York: Crown, 2005. ISBN 1-4000-5279-3.
  • Lawrence Kushner. Kabbalah: A Love Story, 78. New York: Morgan Road Books, 2006. ISBN 0-7679-2412-6.
  • Suzanne A. Brody. “The highest form.” In Dancing in the White Spaces: The Yearly Torah Cycle and More Poems, 76. Shelbyville, Kentucky: Wasteland Press, 2007. ISBN 1-60047-112-9.

  External links



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