Parshat Va’eira 5770 (from Ireland)

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“For the Land to which you come to possess is not like the Land of Egypt … but the Land to which you cross … from the rain of Heaven shall you drink water.”
(Deut 11:10-11)

As we read of the plagues in Egypt this week, many Irish citizens are getting a sense of déjà vu, as we are hit by one plague after another. We have endured the financial plague, the weather plague, and now the water plague arrives as ancient underground water pipes crack from the unprecedented freeze and thaw. Those of us now without water can finally understand what it meant to be living in an Egypt once the Nile was changed from H2O to blood group O. Thankfully the Liffey has not turned to blood, nor have frogs been spotted en route, but to those of us accustomed to having fresh running water all our lives, the situation is considered critical. Schools and businesses have been forced to close, as have restaurants and hotels, until water supply returns.

The ancient Egyptians worshipped the Nile as a deity, for it was to them the ultimate life giving force. Irrigation channels from the Nile allowed crops to grow and humans and cattle to survive. Our Sages explain this was one of the reasons why the very first plague involved turning the entire river to blood: it was a clear sign to Pharaoh and his advisors that their “deity” was neither invincible nor omnipotent.

When the Children of Israel head for the Land of Milk and Honey they are told that survival there is very different than in Egypt. G-d tells them that unlike Egypt where “you plant your seed and water it on foot like a vegetable garden,” their survival in the Holy Land will depend on the “rain of Heaven,” for it is a “land of hills and valleys.” And they are forewarned that the rainfall in Israel – on which their very survival depends – will vary according to their behaviour. We read these words in the Shema we recite daily: “Vehaya im shamo’ah – If you listen to G-d’s commandments then you will merit the rainfall at the right time, the early rain and the late rain. If, however, you turn to other gods, then the wrath of Heaven will blaze … so there will be no rain.”

The words are clear and unambiguous: The survival of the Jewish people in Israel depends on our following the word of G-d. Listen, and we survive, ignore and we perish (G-d forbid), and nowhere else on earth is this system so transparent. The Land of Israel is “case sensitive,” and responds to the conduct of its inhabitants.

Anyone au fait with the water levels in Israel will be aware that the situation is dire. The level in the Kineret, Israel’s main reservoir is critically low and has been for a long time. Once it reaches below a certain level they will need to stop pumping water. And so surely the time has arrived to actually follow the directives of the book of Devarim!

What if the Chosen People could pull together for a while and live together in harmony as brothers and sisters? Imagine if millions more people began to keep Shabbat, to lay tefillin, to light Shabbat candles, and to keep kosher – the exact recipe for “early and late rain,” that G-d guarantees us.

And our mitzvot in the Diaspora can surely help too, for the Land of Israel belongs to each and every one of us. So let us endeavour today to take one step forward, to do one more mitzvah and pray that we can help tip the balance for good and that as a result, the words of the Bible will come true, bringing the early rain and the late rain and peace and harmony for all mankind.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Zalman Lent

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