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Parshas Vaeira - Vol. 12, Issue 14
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Parshas Vaeira begins with Hashem instructing Moshe to tell the Jewish people that He will take them out and redeem them from their suffering in Egypt. The Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:19) teaches that one of the merits in which the Jewish people were saved was that they did not change their names, and instead of adopting Egyptian names, they preserved their uniquely Jewish names. However, Rav Yisroel Reisman points out that when we examine the names of the Jews who emerged from Egypt, none of them are named after their illustrious ancestors. We don't find anybody in that generation named Avrohom, Yitzchok, or Yaakov, or Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehuda, or Yissachar. Since we are accustomed to defining Jewish names as those that are given to commemorate our righteous forbearers, how can Chazal say that they did not change their Jewish names when we do not find a single person in that generation named after any of the Avos?
Josephus records that when Alexander the Great came to Eretz Yisroel in the times of the second Beis HaMikdash, he met Shimon HaTzaddik and was greatly impressed by him. However, when Alexander requested that a statue of him be erected in the Temple, Shimon HaTzaddik demurred on religious grounds, explaining that there are no statues in Jewish holy places. Instead, Shimon suggested that to show their devotion to him, all male babies born to Kohanim in that year would be named Alexander in his honor, and this is how the non-Jewish name Alexander became a Jewish name. However, if the selection of a name is so significant and influential, how could Shimon HaTzaddik agree to give a non-Jewish name to so many Jewish children, especially to those who would grow up to serve in the Beis HaMikdash?
Rav Reisman recounts that at the end of his life, Rav Avrohom Yaakov Pam remarked that people often approached him for advice about choosing a name for their newborn baby. Unfortunately, the discussions often revolved around the friction that was generated when grandparents had expectations that the baby be named for a dear relative, while the baby's parents didn't care for the name or the person after whom they were being asked to name. Rav Pam said that in his experience, any time a name was given to promote shalom bayis (peace in the family), the parents always had nachas from the child, as the key is not the actual name that is given, but rather the motivation behind it. Similarly, a man was hesitant to name his child after his father because he died at a relatively young age, so he asked Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv for guidance. Rav Elyashiv responded that honoring one's parents brings long life, and he should have no qualms about naming his child after his father.
For the same reason, although the name Alexander was originally a non-Jewish name, because it was given to protect the Beis HaMikdash and to fulfill the instructions of Shimon HaTzaddik, it became a Jewish name, as the rationale behind the name is far more important than the name itself. Similarly, the Jewish people in Egypt did not have the custom to name their children after the Avos, but the names they selected were chosen for Jewish reasons. For example, the father of the leader of the tribe of Gad was named Deuel (Bamidbar 1:14). Although this may not sound like a Jewish name, the Ramban writes (Bamidbar 2:14) that it is a contraction of two words that connote the hope that he would be yode'ah K-eil - a knower of Hashem, which is certainly a Jewish value. Just as Leah chose the name Reuven to express that Hashem had seen her affliction (Bereishis 29:32), so too the Jewish people in Egypt also chose names that expressed Yiddishe ideals. When the Medrash praises them for not changing their names in Egypt, it is not referring to the names themselves, but to the underlying motivations behind them, because that is what is truly important.
The Mishnah in Avos (5:6) teaches that one of the 10 items created at twilight on the sixth day of Creation, just before the onset of Shabbos, was the special staff with which Moshe performed numerous miracles, such as throwing it to the ground at the burning bush, where it was transformed into a snake (4:3). However, in Parshas Vaeira, Hashem instructs Moshe that when Pharaoh demands that he provide a wondrous sign, he should tell Aharon to cast down his staff, which will turn into a snake, and the Torah subsequently records (7:12) that the staff of Aharon swallowed the staffs of Pharaoh's sorcerers. Similarly, in initiating the first three plagues of blood, frogs, and lice, Hashem commands Moshe to tell Aharon to use his staff to bring them on (7:19, 8:1, 8:12), which seems to indicate that there were two different staffs, one belonging to Moshe that was used in Parshas Shemos, and one belonging to Aharon that was used in Parshas Vaeira. Were there in fact two different staffs?
The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh (4:17) quotes the Zohar HaKadosh, which says that there were in fact two different staffs, and explains that this is why Hashem had to specify that Moshe should take "this" staff, and not the other one. This also appears to be the opinion of the Kli Yakar and Netziv (7:9). However, the Ibn Ezra (7:9) disagrees and maintains that there was only one staff, which belonged to Moshe. Whenever Aharon needed to use the staff to perform a miracle, Moshe lent it to him and transferred ownership to his brother, so that it was legitimately considered as belonging to Aharon.
As proof for his opinion, the Ibn Ezra notes that when the Jewish people asked for water in Parshas Beshalach (17:5), Hashem told Moshe to take his staff with which he struck the Nile and bring forth water from the rock. If there were two different staffs, then Aharon hit the river using his own staff, not Moshe's. From the fact that Hashem described Moshe's staff as having stricken the Nile, we can deduce that there was only one staff, which Moshe gifted to Aharon to use on his behalf in bringing forth the plagues.
The Netziv writes that Rashi appears to agree with the Ibn Ezra, noting that when Aharon threw his staff on the ground in front of Pharaoh, the Torah says (7:10) that it became a tanin (serpent). However, Rashi comments that it turned into a nachash (snake), which is difficult to understand, because they are not the same, as a tanin lives in water while a nachash lives on land. If the Torah testifies that the staff was transformed into a serpent, why would Rashi deviate and say that it became a snake?
The Netziv suggests that Rashi felt compelled to stray from the text because like the Ibn Ezra, he held that there was only one staff, which the Torah says was transformed into a nachash at the burning bush. In introducing the first plague, Hashem instructed Moshe (7:15) to take the staff that was changed into a nachash and use it to strike the river to turn it into blood. However, if there were two different staffs and Aharon used his to initiate the plague, Hashem should have told Moshe to use the staff that was changed into a tanin, since Aharon's staff became a serpent, and not the one that became a nachash, since that refers to Moshe's staff. Due to this textual difficulty, Rashi concluded that there must have only been one staff, and he was therefore forced to depart from the text in saying that it was transformed into a ðçù, even though the Torah describes it as a tanin.
This confusion about the staffs continues in Parshas Chukas (Bamidbar 20:8), where Hashem commands Moshe to take his staff and bring forth water from a rock. This is known as Mei Merivah (the waters of strife), as Moshe was punished for not following instructions. Rashi writes (20:11-12) that Moshe's sin was that Hashem commanded him to speak to the rock to bring forth water, but he instead did so by hitting the rock with his staff. However, if Moshe was not supposed to use his staff, it is difficult to understand why Hashem commanded him to take it. Therefore, the Chasam Sofer suggests that the problem was that there were two staffs, one belonging to Moshe and one belonging to Aharon. When Hashem told Moshe, "Take the staff," without specifying which one, Moshe in his humility assumed that He was referring to Aharon's staff, when in reality, Hashem wanted Moshe to take his own special staff which had been around since the time of Creation. Although Aharon recognized Moshe's mistake, he felt uncomfortable correcting his teacher, and it was this misunderstanding about which staff to use that resulted in their inability to enter the land of Israel as punishment for this incident.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) In last week's parsha, Moshe expressed his reluctance to serve as Hashem's agent to free the Jewish people due to his speech impediment, to which Hashem replied that his brother Aharon would assist him as his spokesman (4:15-16). Why did Moshe repeat the exact same worry in this week's parsha (6:12)? (Meged Yosef)
2) Hashem told Moshe (7:3) that He would harden Pharaoh's heart so that he would refuse to free the Jews. Does this mean that Pharaoh lost his free choice to repent his ways even if he changed his mind and wished to do so? (Yefei Toar Shemos Rabbah 13:3, Rambam Hilchos Teshuvah 6:3, Radak Shmuel 1 2:25, Ruach Chaim 3:7, Chofetz Chaim, Rav Chaim Berlin quoted in Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha)
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