This week we meet a challenging and, in some ways, complex portion. Va’era opens with a recitation of some of the various names of God and goes on to open a discussion on free will vs God’s control. Pharaoh’s heart was “hardened” in response to Moses and Aaron and the tradition discussed who really was in control of that and, more importantly, why?
Yet, I wanted to mention a verse that speaks to our generation. In 7:7, we read “Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they made their demand on Pharaoh”. Now even if you see Torah as symbolic language, we are impressed by the age of Moses and Aaron. How many eighty-year-old people are ready to mount the barricade and confront leadership?
The message I hope you can take from this is echoed in a comment that is found in the Etz Hayim commentary (p.357): “The reference to Moses’ age might remind us of the potential contribution of the elderly to our society, the sharing of their wisdom and experience, and their ability to take on new challenges and responsibilities.”
Let me suggest that this commentary is very relevant to us. In many areas of our society people our age are made to feel invisible or marginalized just because of age. Jewish tradition reminds us that life experience is an asset and that we need to judge everyone on their own terms…just because someone is eighty does not mean that their value is diminished.
Rabbi Brad Artson, writing in myjewishlearning.com, reminds us of the Pirke Avot passage that states that at age 80 we have “strength” and that this strength “comes from experience and completion”. In reflecting on a statement by Rabbi ibn Ezra, Artson notes that in the 7:7 verse ibn Ezra “sees the statement of Moses and Aaron’s old age as highly complementary. Not only do they not hide their age, but it is a source of pride”.
Our tradition understands each person must be taken on their own terms. This portion contains many issues, but I wanted to remind all of us that the model of leadership at any age is always present. Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh and despite the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, in the end, prevail.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.