A Matter of Reputation

Why did God harden Pharaoh's heart and smite Egypt with so many plagues? Why the gratuitous show of power? Was their some divine point to the all the frogs, hail, blood, and locusts?

The LORD used the plagues, the signs, the wonders, and even the redemption of Israel to show His power and to proclaim His name through all the earth. (Image © FFOZ / Bigstock)


Regular Shabbat Readings

  • Va'era (וָאֵרָא | I appeared)
  • Torah: Exodus 6:2-9:35
  • Haftarah: Ezekiel 28:25-29:21
  • Gospel: Luke 11:14-22

Regular readings above are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the current Torah Portion Schedule for all these variations, and special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Exodus 6:14 | The Genealogy of Moses and Aaron
    • Exodus 6:28 | Moses and Aaron Obey God's Commands
    • Exodus 7:8 | Aaron's Miraculous Rod
    • Exodus 7:14 The First Plague: | Water Turned to Blood
    • Exodus 8:1 The Second Plague: | Frogs
    • Exodus 8:16 The Third Plague: | Gnats
    • Exodus 8:20 The Fourth Plague: | Flies
    • Exodus 9:1 The Fifth Plague: | Livestock Diseased
    • Exodus 9:8 The Sixth Plague: | Boils
    • Exodus 9:13 The Seventh Plague: | Thunder and Hail
  • Prophets
    • Eze 28:25 | Future Blessing for Israel
    • Eze 29:1 | Proclamation against Egypt
    • Eze 29:17 | Babylonia Will Plunder Egypt

Portion Summary

The second reading from the book of Exodus and fourteenth reading from the Torah is named Va'era, which means "And I appeared." The title comes from the first words of the second verse of the reading, which says, "And I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty" (Exodus 6:3). The portion begins with four expressions of redemption whereby God promises to bring Israel out of the Egyptian bondage. The narrative progresses to tell the story of the first seven of the ten plagues that God unleashed on Egypt.

God did not arbitrarily or capriciously decide to harden Pharaoh’s heart. From the outset, He explained that He intended to make His contest with the Egyptian pantheon into a public affair. He said, “Against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments—I am the LORD” (Exodus 12:12). He intended to use Egypt as a theater in which He could establish His name (i.e., His reputation) and His identity in the eyes of His people Israel, in the eyes of all Egypt, and in the eyes of the whole world.

The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst. (Exodus 7:5)

In the Semitic sense, to declare one’s name means to broadcast a person’s fame and reputation. To declare God’s name means to reveal who God is, i.e., to glorify Him. It has nothing to do with pronouncing or not pronouncing the sacred name of God; it has everything to do with revealing God’s person and character to the world.

Consider the following passages from the exodus narrative in which the Almighty explains His motives for striking Egypt and delivering Israel:

  • The Egyptians shall know I am the LORD. (Exodus 7:5)
  • That you many know there is no one like the LORD our God. (Exodus 8:10)
  • So that you will know that I, the LORD, am in this land. (Exodus 8:22)
  • In order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth. (Exodus 9:16)
  • And that you may tell in the hearing of your son, and of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I performed My signs among them, that you may know that I am the LORD. (Exodus 10:2)
  • Against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments--I am the LORD. (Exodus 12:12)
  • I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD. (Exodus 14:4)

The LORD used the plagues, the signs, the wonders, and even the redemption of Israel to show His power and to proclaim His name through all the earth. He made His grand entrance onto the stage of world history and sent a message to the whole world: “I exist, I am God, there is none like Me!” He sent a message to the false gods and the idols, proving that He alone is God and there is none other. Israel is the trophy of His victory.

The demonstration succeeded. The decimation of Egypt made an impact on the world, and the name of the LORD has never since been forgotten. In Jericho, the Canaanites were still talking about what God did in Egypt forty years later. The Philistines were still talking about it two hundred years later. We are still talking about it today.

Adapted From: Torah Club Commentary Set: Depths of the Torah. Learn more about Torah Club and how you can start a Club of your own, or join a Torah Club in your area. Visit TORAHCLUB.ORG

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