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YESHIVAT HAR ETZION
ISRAEL KOSCHITZKY VIRTUAL BEIT MIDRASH (VBM)
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INTRODUCTION TO PARASHAT HASHAVUA
PARASHAT VAERA

The Exodus - "Peshat" and "Derash"
by Rav David Silverberg


I. Introduction

Parashat Vaera focuses on the ten "makkot," the plagues that bring havoc and destruction upon the land of Egypt in response to Pharaoh's refusal to free the Hebrew slaves. This extended process of ten plagues reveals that God's plan involves more than His nation's freedom. If He intended solely to liberate the slaves from Pharaoh's rule, a single miraculous blow would have sufficed. But, as the Almighty Himself tells Moshe, He has an additional goal in mind, as well: "The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand over Egypt and bring the Israelites from their midst" (7:5). Last week, we read of Pharaoh's defiant response to God's order to set the slaves free: "Who is God that I should heed Him and let Israel go? I do not know God, nor will I let Israel go" (5:2). The redemption process must therefore entail an exhibition of divine strength that brings the Egyptian empire to its knees.

Our shiur this week will address the question as to whether any corresponding process was necessary on Benei Yisrael's part. Did God demand anything from them to earn their freedom? Were they charged with any religious responsibilities or obligations as prerequisites for their emancipation? Much later in Tanakh, in the book of Yechezkel, we find explicit proof to the fact that God had, indeed, called upon the Hebrew slaves to repent: "When I made Myself known to them in the land of Egypt" I also said to them: cast away, every one of you, the detestable things of his eyes, and do not defile yourselves with the fetishes of Egypt" (Yechezkel 20:5,7). In the Chumash itself, however, no such explicit indication is to be found. We will try to demonstrate that the "peshat," or straightforward reading of the narrative in the book of Shemot, and the "derash," the homiletic tradition of our Sages, point us in two opposite directions. As we will see, this issue serves as a beautiful example of the interplay between these two levels of interpretation, which will hopefully enhance our appreciation for the study of peshat on the one hand, and for the brilliance and power of derash, on the other.

I must assume this is a poor choice of words - demonstrating that the "peshat" meaning and the "derash" tradition point us in two opposite directions. Let's assure the "derash" tradition does not lead one from the "peshat" understanding of the Torah.

Deuteronomy Chapter 4
1 And now, O Israel, hearken unto the statutes and unto the ordinances, which I teach you, to do them; that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which YHWH, the God of your fathers, giveth you.
2 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it, that ye may keep the commandments of YHWH your God which I command you.

The well-known statement of the Talmud ein mikra yotze midei peshuto (Shabbat 63a; Yev. 11b, 24a) is rendered in the Soncino translation, "A verse cannot depart from its plain meaning."
- Louis Rabinowitz,
The Talmudic Meaning of Peshat
Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Thought, 6:1, 1963.

There are two possible indications of an obligation on Benei Yisrael's part in preparation for the Exodus, one in Parashat Vaera, and another in Parashat Bo. We will study each instance and contrast the peshat approach with the homiletic interpretation.

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02/13/08: Purim

Taken from Jewish Encyclopedia, Purim

According to the New Moon Report which can be received from a monthly newsletter at Karaite-Korner.org, the new moon was seen in Israel on Friday, February 8, 2008. Thus beginning the Twelfth Biblical Month, Adar.

For 2008, Adar 14th (Purim) is February 22nd, 2008.


Jewish feast celebrated annually on the l4th, and in Shushan, Persia, also on the 15th, of Adar, in commemoration of the deliverance of the Persian Jews from the plot of Haman to exterminate them, as recorded in the Book of Esther. According to that book the feast was instituted as a national one by Mordecai and Esther. For a critical view of Purim see Esther. In the present article are treated only the various features of the feast as developed after its institution.

Esther Chapter 9
1 Now in the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, on the thirteenth day of the same, when the king's commandment and his decree drew near to be put in execution, in the day that the enemies of the Jews hoped to have rule over them; whereas it was turned to the contrary, that the Jews had rule over them that hated them;
2 the Jews gathered themselves together in their cities throughout all the provinces of the king hasuerus, to lay hand on such as sought their hurt; and no man could withstand them; for the fear of them was fallen upon all the peoples.
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17 on the thirteenth day of the month Adar, and on the fourteenth day of the same they rested, and made it a day of feasting and gladness.
18 But the Jews that were in Shushan assembled together on the thirteenth day thereof, and on the fourteenth thereof; and on the fifteenth day of the same they rested, and made it a day of feasting and gladness.
19 Therefore do the Jews of the villages, that dwell in the unwalled towns, make the fourteenth day of the month Adar a day of gladness and feasting, and a good day, and of sending portions one to another.
20 And Mordecai wrote these things, and sent letters unto all the Jews that were in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus, both nigh and far,
21 to enjoin them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar, and the fifteenth day of the same, yearly,
22 the days wherein the Jews had rest from their enemies, and the month which was turned unto them from sorrow to gladness, and from mourning into a good day; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.


Non-Religious Character.

Aside from the much-mooted question whether Purim is of Jewish or of heathen origin, it is certain that, as it appears in the Book of Esther, the festival is altogether devoid of religious spirit - an anomaly in Jewish religious history. This is due to the worldly spirit of the Book of Esther. The only religious allusions therein are the mention of fasting in iv. 16 and ix. 31, and perhaps the expression of confidence in the deliverance of Israel in iv. 14. This secular character has on the whole been most prominent in this festival at all times. Like Ḥanukkah, it has never been universally considered a religious holy day, in spite of the fact that it is designated by the term "yom-ṭob" (Esth. ix. 19, 22.). Accordingly business transactions and even manual labor are allowed on Purim, although in certain places restrictions have been imposed on work (Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 696).

Nevertheless Purim has been held in high esteem at all times and in all countries, some even maintaining that when all the prophetical and hagiographical works shall be forgotten the Book of Esther will still be remembered, and, accordingly, the Feast of Purim will continue to be observed (Yer. Meg. i. 5a; Maimonides, "Yad," Megillah, iii. 18; comp. Schudt, "J'dische Merkw'rdigkeiten," ii. 311). It is also claimed that Purim is as great as the day on which the Torah was given on Sinai ("Mordekai" on B. M. ix., end; comp. Lampronti, "Paḥad Yiẓḥaḳ," s.v. "Purim"). In Italy the Jews, it seems, have even used the word "Purim" as a family name, which also proves the high esteem that the festival enjoys among them (Vogelstein and Rieger, "Gesch. der Juden in Rom," ii. 420; but comp. Steinschneider in "Monatsschrift," 1903, p. 175).

The Book of Esther does not prescribe any religious service for Purim; it enjoins only the annual celebration of the feast among the Jews on the 14th and 15th of Adar, commanding that they should "make them days of feasting and joy, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor." It seems, therefore, that the observance of Purim was at first merely of a convivial and social nature. Gradually it assumed religious features.

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