Sedra of the Week: Vaeira

Sedra of the Week: Vaeira

Rabbi Jeff Berger explains this week's torah portion

Vaeira describes the first seven plagues by God against Pharaoh and the Egyptian people. But why did all Egyptians have to suffer for the cruelty of Pharaoh and his advisers?

True, Pharaoh’s Egypt perpetrated crimes against the Hebrew slaves; throwing first-born males into the Nile and oppressing the Israelites with hard labour. But why should the entire populace have suffered?

Abraham decried God’s ‘unjust plan’ to destroy the population of Sodom and Gomorrah, consuming the righteous among the wicked. Wasn’t Egypt similar?

One view is such a large part of the population either participated in the enslaving of the Jews or stood by unwilling to protest that in effect the entire nation became culpable. Leviticus 19:16, compels “not to stand idly while your brother’s blood is being shed”; implying that failure to protect creates liability.

Vaeira teaches us that in each generation there’s a collective responsibility to champion and uphold basic human rights and freedoms to be worthy of our mission as God’s holy nation – it’s not enough to stand idly by.

Some glibly opt out with statements ranging from suspicions of the evil intent of refugees to outright prejudice. But we all know what support we would want if in their place. Vaeira is a reminder we were oppressed, and that our silence today, like the Egyptians of old, could render us complicit in God’s eyes.

υ Jeff serves the Rambam Sephardi Synagogue in Elstree and Borehamwood and can be contacted at

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