Parshat Va’eira

Friday, January 12th

In the middle of our parsha, there is a strange non-sequitur.  God lets Moshe know that though he will harden Pharaoh’s heart so that Pharaoh will refuse to let the Israelites go, ultimately He would redeem them Himself, and then God gives Moshe and Aharon specific instructions about what to do when they speak to Pharoah.  But in between these two instructions, for no apparent reason, the Torah states “Moses was eighty years old and Aharon eighty-three, when they made their demand on Pharaoh.” (Shemot 7:7) What purpose does this verse serve and why does it come here? Ibn Ezra says this is coming to emphasize Moshe and Aharon’s high spiritual level.  All other prophets only prophesied when they were young, while Moshe and Aharon, alone among the prophets, merited to prophecy when they were advanced in years.  Sforno similarly suggests that this verse is here to demonstrate the virtue of Moshe and Aharon, but he offers a somewhat different reason.  He says it shows us that in spite of their advanced age, they were still alacritous and eager to do God’s will.

In some ways, Sforno’s interpretation reflects even more positively on Moshe and Aharon than Ibn Ezra’s does.  After all, the fact that Moshe and Aharon prophesied at an old age might set them apart from other prophets, but that’s a distinction that’s really in God’s control.  Their ability to prophecy was more of a gift from God than anything of their own doing. However, their willingness to get up early in the morning to speedily fulfill God’s will, at an age when no one would have faulted them for sleeping in a little bit and taking it easy, is entirely to their own credit.

As a society, we tend to valorize those who are healthy and alert at an advanced age, as if that were a great virtue, rather than simply a great blessing.  We would do better to praise (and to emulate) those who, whatever health challenges they may experience, like Moshe and Aharon, continue to devote their energy and their time to the service of God and of their fellow human beings.

Rabbi Garth Silbertstein