hazzan Diana Brewer was ordained through the aleph ordination program. she leads prayer services regularly at the jewish community of amherst, and is on the staff of the davvenen leadership training institute.

Parashat Va’era: Our Journey Through the Torah Continues

This piece was originally written as introductions for the three Aliyot of Shabbat Mincha for the occasion of 2018 OHALAH Shabbaton, edited here for continuity.

When we left our hero Moshe in Parashat Shemot, he had had quite a day already. He’s finally settled into a simple life with his family and a humble job as a shepherd after his considerable misadventures in Mitzrayim. One day, he sets out to take the flock for a walk - business as usual - and stumbles across a mysteriously burning shrub, which turns out to be his own personal theophany. Definitely not business as usual. It turns out that God has a rather sizable ASK to make of Moshe. He is to be the one to end the enslavement of the Israelites in Mitzrayim. After considerable protestation, Moshe finally agrees and makes his first attempt at this task.

In the midst all of this, God reveals several names to Moshe: Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, or Ehyeh for short; YHVH. In our first Aliyah this afternoon, God makes a point of letting Moshe know that this identity - YHVH - was not revealed to his forebears. No, this name has been reserved for a very special occasion. What does this new Divine name mean? In the letters Y-H-V-H, we can see all forms of the verb “to be,” or, as I have been taught, “All Existence and All Potential.” In the name Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, we see a continual process of unfolding and becoming. This past Sunday, a very special occasion in Broomfield, CO, 12 of our beloved classmates in the Aleph Ordination Program introduced themselves by a new name, a new identity: Rav, Hazzan, Rabbinic Pastor. In that moment, their relationship with God and with Israel as agents and as leaders took on a new momentum. This moment in our Torah asks of our musmachim: Who have you been? What or who are you becoming? Who would you like to become? Are you remembering that the moment of ordination is not an ending, nor even a beginning, but a continuing?

Va’era also speaks of the continuum of family. Through the repeated reminder of our connection with our ancestors, Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaakov, we see that God has been preparing the way for us for a very long time. There is an extensive genealogy. We see that we are part of a great family. What is this family? Who is in it? Is it only those who are related by blood, birth, and marriage to the lineage of these patriarchs? Torah tells us that the people who left Egypt were an “asafsuf” - a mixed multitude. A motley crew, maybe? History tells us that it is unlikely that all those who ultimately became Am Yisrael were descendants of our oft-named biblical ancestors. And yet in this moment YHVH osef, gathers up this motley crew of soon-to-be ex-slaves, and links them to each other through these forebears, with a promise to liberate them from their misery in Egypt, and form of them a nation - a family - called Yisrael. Throughout the stories that make up our sacred history, we see examples of many types of families - bonds of blood, bonds of circumstance, bonds of chosen kinship. We honor these multifarious bonds with gratitude and appreciation

We also read in Va’era of varieties of reluctance and resistance, and of overcoming these forces. We learn that Moshe went and delivered YHVH’s message to the Israelites as instructed, “Velo sham’u el Moshe mi-kotzer ruach ume’avodah kashah.” - but they didn’t listen to him for being short-spirited and crushed by their arduous labor. God’s solution? Go directly to Pharaoh and tell him he’s going to let them go! It seems this short-spiritedness may be contagious, as Moshe protests yet again. “The people won’t listen to me and now You think Pharaoh is going to? I’m not famous for my great oratory skills...” But God doesn’t give up on Moshe. God simply tells him and Aharon what to say, and reveals the plan to them. It seems Moshe’s spirit has not been completely short-circuited. He is still able to listen.

I’d put good money on the proposition that I’m not the only one that feels at times that I’m lacking in some way, not up for the job. It is easy, when we are discouraged - kotzer ruach - to feel convinced that we can’t proceed. It is hard to imagine that a circumstance can change. It is hard to take in the voices that tell us, “You CAN.” Moshe is persistent in his protests, but God sticks with him, even providing a support staff (not to mention a magical staff). We don’t always have such immediate and clear instruction from the Great Director, but we are generally surrounded by a support staff, who are always willing to lend a hand, if we are able to keep listening. This portion of our story is for those who need an extra boost of support in a time of doubt. It is for those who need a reminder that our one job in this life is to remain receptive to the voices - Divine and human - that tell us we can.


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