VA’ERA (Exodus, 6:2-9:35) — “Life Begins … Today!”

Moses and Aaron were given a tough assignment.  G-d commissioned them to demand the release of the Israelite slaves from Egypt.  They were to approach the king and warn him that G-d commanded that the slaves be freed.  The Pharaoh, of course, was not cooperative. 

Moses and Aaron were required to go back and forth to the king with new warnings of new plagues as consequences of his repeated refusals to comply.  They also had to deal with their own People, an overwhelming majority (80%!) of whom preferred not to leave Egypt. 

In the middle of a discussion of Moses’ “marching orders,” the Torah makes a statement that seems a bit out of place: 

Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron was eighty-three years old, when they spoke with the Pharaoh.  (Exodus, 7:7) 

What is the point of that statement?  Who cares how old they were?

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Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin pointed out that there is a great lesson we can learn from this statement about their ages.  These men were in their eighties.  They were old!  What were they doing running around back and forth to the palace?  Couldn’t G-d find some younger men to take on this demanding task? 

(In spite of the advanced ages we often see in the Torah, Rabbi Sorotzkin writes that it was no longer the norm in Moses’ time.  Moses’ lifespan of 120 was unusual.  In fact, Moses himself writes in the Book of Psalms: (90:10) The days of our years … are seventy years, and if with strength, eighty years…) 

The Talmud goes into great detail describing Moses’ life in the decades between his departure from Egypt as a teenager and returning as an octogenarian.  (He served, among other things, as king of an African nation!)  Yet the Torah ignores all that and focuses on what he did in his “retirement years.” 

The way of the world is that as soon as people reach a certain age or financial level, they decide to take it easy.  Somehow, the feeling is that after a “lifetime” of working, it is now okay to take it easy.

Jacob wanted to take it easy in his waning years.  G-d said that it was not to be the case.  Life gets easy only when life is over!  We are supposed to use every moment that G-d gives us to be productive.

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I am in a unique situation to see this concept in practice.  I am privileged to serve as the chaplain of a retirement community.  I am not sure what the average age of residents is, but it is up there.  And they never cease to amaze me. 

There’s “Sarah,” (not her real name) who, at 93 years young, walks on a treadmill every day.  One of the ways she keeps sharp (and I do mean sharp!) is by writing poetry.  She composes it in her head while on the treadmill and writes it down later.  She has received awards for being a dedicated volunteer in a hospital and elsewhere.  [Follow-up, written in 2013.  “Sarah’ lived till 101, vibrant almost to the end.  She and I drank “L’chaim” with some Scotch a few days before she died!]

Then there’s “Miriam,” who, until she got sick several months ago, took a car service from Monsey to a bank in New Jersey, an hour away!  Transportation ate up half her income, but it was worth it.  Every day she reported for work, keeping herself engaged and vibrant. 

And I can’t forget good old “Mike,” who passed away about a month ago at 92.  Mike was known all over town as “the guy from the retirement home who walks all over the place.”  Mike maintained a vegetable garden and walked 10 PLUS miles a day.

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Did Moses ever get around to retiring?  Actually, he did.  Shortly before his death, at the age of 120, he turned over the reigns of leadership to his student, Joshua.  It’s not that he WANTED to retire: 

I am 120 years old today; I am no longer permitted (by G-d; healthwise he was fine – Rashi) to go out and come in…G-d has said to me, ‘you will not cross this Jordan.’ “ (Ibid. 31:2) (See ““Decisions, Decisions”.) 

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Moses and Aaron were not sent to Pharaoh IN SPITE of their ages.  They were sent to him because they were the best men for the job.  Perhaps their age and wisdom was part of the reason that they were so qualified. 

It is up to G-d to decide when we are no longer capable of being productive.  But until that time comes, we should view life as a precious bottle of wine: 

It doesn’t get older; it gets better! 

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz 

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links. 

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 From the Archives  

“Abracadabra = MC2” (2010) 

“Show me a sign!” challenged the Pharaoh … Moses was prepared. He took his staff and threw it to the floor. The staff miraculously turned into a snake. Surely, this man was for real. 

The Pharaoh laughed in his face. “Do you think you can impress me with simple magic? Anything you can do, my magicians can do better!” 

Sure enough, the Egyptian sorcerers made their own sticks into snakes. “Are you trying to sell straw in Ofarayim?!” (The Egyptian equivalent of bringing coal to Newcastle or rabbis to Monsey. 🙂 ) This was Egypt, the magic capital of the world! … 

Do we believe in magic?!… 

Read more

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THIS is your Life!” (2009) 

Slaves aren’t real people.  They are chattel; they are property.  They can be bought and sold and bartered like animals…

Pharaoh felt the same way about his Israelites.  They were his possessions, to be utilized in the efficient production of bricks for his ambitious building projects.  He was free to do with them as he wanted. He could even kill their children and use their blood for medicinal purposes.  No one was going to take away his Jews… 

Well, almost no one.  Two Levites by the names of Moses and Aaron were making trouble.  The G-d of Israel, they explained, wanted Pharaoh to release the slaves.  Pharaoh had no interest in complying. 

 “Who is G-d that I should listen to His voice to release Israel?  I don’t know G-d, nor will I let Israel go!”  (Exodus, 5:1-2) 

How could chattel have a G-d??  These sub-human life forms known as Hebrews couldn’t have a G-d!  Why should the great Pharaoh follow the dictates of someone who represents the fictional G-d of a primitive cult? 

Pharaoh obviously needed some convincing… 

Read more

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“Let the Pharaoh GO!” (2008) 

…Pharaoh took this god thing pretty seriously.  He even went to great efforts to convince his subjects that he was super-human.  Yes, they fed him the finest foods.  He had the most comfortable royal furniture.  This man who would be a god was a very material fellow.  Every creature comfort known to man was, no doubt, available in the palace.  With one exception… 

Can you picture the scene? 

“Good morning, Your Majesty!”

“Oh, Moses!  Is that you again?  What are you doing here?” 

“I need to speak with you, your Majesty.  Right away.” 

“Not now, Moses.  Come see me at the palace later.” 

“No, Your Majesty.  I really need to speak with you now…” 

“Uhm, not right now, Moses.  I’m kinda busy at the moment…” 

“Oh I’ll be quick, Your Majesty.  I just have to speak with you for a couple of minutes…” 

“FOR A COUPLE OF MINUTES??!! I DON’T HAVE A COUPLE OF MINUTES!!!  PLEASE MOSES, GO AWAY!  NOW!  PLEASE!  … 

Read more

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 “Answering the Call of Puti” (2007) 

In listing the family lines of Moses and Aaron, the Torah tells us: 

Elazar, the son of Aaron, took one of the daughters of Putiel as a wife, and she bore to him Pinchas…  (Exodus, 6:25) 

Who was this Putiel?  It’s not at all clear.  Some commentaries say he was a well-known person in his day.  It seems from other commentaries that he didn’t exist at all; that he was a “composite.” 

The Talmud (Sotah 43a) indicates that the name “Putiel” is a reference to Joseph…As well, it is a reference to Moses’ father-in-law Jethro… 

What’s with the nicknames?  Why doesn’t the Torah simply tell us the man’s name?!!… 

Read more

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“Frog Beaters” (2006) 

Sometimes smart people do things that aren’t so smart. 

…  Our Sages tell us that the Plague of Frogs was a compound miracle.  The swarms of frogs started out with one big frog.  The Egyptians tried to kill it.  Every time they hit a frog, it produced more frogs.  Soon the entire country was inundated with frogs. 

Now let me ask you a simple question.  If a big frog walked into your house, you might try to kill it.  That I understand.  But tell me, if every time you hit it, it produced more frogs, what would you immediately stop doing? 

If the Egyptians saw that their efforts to get rid of the frogs were backfiring, why did they keep hitting the frogs?!… 

Yes, sometimes smart people do things that aren’t so smart… 

Read more.  

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“Sorry, PETA, Pig’s Feet Aren’t Kosher!” (2005) 

… Moses knew where Pharaoh was coming from.  He was an Egyptian king with Egyptian values.   He despised everything Moses stood for.  The very thought of an Israelite slaughtering a lamb in service of G-d was an anathema to everything he stood for.  But he was willing to compromise.  For now.  If keeping his slaves from leaving Egypt meant tolerating Jews eating lamb chops, he was willing to make the tradeoff.  For now. 

Sounds a little like PETA… 

Read more

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“Life Begins … Today!” (2004) 

… In the middle of a discussion of Moses’ “marching orders,” the Torah makes a statement that seems a bit incongruous: 

Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron was eighty-three years old, when they spoke with the Pharaoh.  (Exodus, 7:7) 

…  These men were in their eighties.  They were old!  What were they doing running around back and forth to the palace?  Couldn’t G-d find some younger men to take on this demanding task? … 

Read more.  

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“I Opened the Door…Where’s Eliyahu??” (2002) 

He comes to visit every year.  We pour a cup of wine in his honor, and then welcome his arrival through our open door. 

I refer, of course, to Eliyahu HaNavi, Elijah the Prophet, our annual Seder guest… Actually, at the risk of bursting a very popular balloon … Elijah does NOT join us at each Seder… 

Read more.  

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“Not So Loud, the Bread Can Hear You!” (2001) 

…Imagine the scene.  The Shabbos table is set.  Everyone is hungry, and waiting to say Kiddush and begin the meal.  Dad lifts the cup to say Kiddush… then he sees it…the Challah cover is missing. Dad gets annoyed: “Of all the…what’s the matter with you?!!” he bellows.  “Can’t you remember a simple thing like a Challah cover?!!!!!”… 

Read more.  

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2013 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on January 22, 2004 at 9:51 am  Leave a Comment  

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