Shabbat Shalom everyone and a special mazaltov to my brother Oliver. You leined brilliantly and I am sure everyone will agree.
I am pleased to be here today to have another chance to say a few words about this week’s Parasha which is Vaera, I have found it to be a very interesting Parasha and I have enjoyed looking into the Parasha in depth to see what life lessons I can learn.
Vaera takes place in Egypt, after the Jewish people had just been in slavery for over 200 years. It begins with G-d telling Moshe to go to speak to Pharaoh, using Aaron as his spokesman, and demand freedom for the Jewish people. Under Gods instruction, Moshe and Aaron go to Pharaoh and say the well known quote of “let my people go “.
Hashem then does something fascinating– he hardens Pharaohs heart – this means he took away his free will and ability to choose between right and wrong. As a result of that, Pharaoh refused to let the Jewish people go. Hashem then told Moshe to extend his staff over the river and he did, which turned the water across the land to blood. This was the beginning of the 10 plagues throughout Egypt.
The 10 plagues were so horrible and effective, that Pharaoh promised Moshe and Aaron that he would let their people go whenever each plague was at its worst. However, when Moshe put an end to that plague, Pharaohs heart was hardened once again, he would take back his promise and say – “no, I will not let your people go.” This series of events happened repeatedly until the conclusion of the ten plagues.
The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart fascinated me and made me think about the subject of free will and free choice, as well as how Hashem took away Pharaoh’s free will and ability to choose.
Vaera finishes with the plague of hail, which was not regular hail, rather it was hail that upon contact with the ground, turned to fire. Pharaoh now felt like he had been through enough and promised he would let the Jewish people go, so he said -
“I have sinned this time, Hashem is the righteous One , and I and my people are the guilty ones. Ask Hashem, and let it be enough of G-d’s thunder and hail, and I will let you go ...”
Unlike Pharaoh’s other speeches telling Moshe and Aaron he would let the Jewish people go, this time his speech was very believable and Moshe and Aaron stopped the hail and this is where Vaera ends.
I have decided to focus on the idea of free will and the ability of choice which features multiple times in my Parasha.
Beshalach mentions that Hashem hardened Pharaohs heart, taking away his free will and his ability to choose between right and wrong. It was almost like Pharoah was a robot and Hashem was his programmer controlling his every decision. This is different to our everyday lives because we do have free will and the ability to choose between right and wrong.
If our free will was taken away from us, we wouldn’t be the people we are; we would be robots, who didn’t know right from wrong. The world would be a dull and boring place with no variation. People would only be performing actions because they were programmed that way.
The gift of free will allows us to take control of our own destiny and even when there are rules, we are still free to choose what we want to do.
In our everyday lives, we always come across decisions, both easy and hard. As we grow older, we still have to make decisions, but the situations will change. At my age, a person may have to face the decision of whether to smoke or not, or to be kind to someone that day. When a person is older, they may have to face a more serious hardship and decide what is the best way to react to it. Whatever stage in a person’s life, there is always a choice to make.
Free will is a gift we all have, which should be celebrated. Free will gives us the opportunity to turn every moment into a victory by choosing right instead of wrong when you face a situation.
This brings me to my correspondence with Yad Vashem – the holocaust museum in Israel.
Yad Vashem gave me the opportunity to twin with a girl called – Emilie Simone - who lived during the time of the Holocaust and was unfortunately taken from us at the young age of 7. Emilie was from Holland. She had a family, a community, friends, likes, dislikes, goals and aspirations – yet she didn’t have the free choice to decide what to do with those things. Instead, unpleasant people in power made those choices for her.
By “twinning” with Emilie, I feel like I am keeping her memory alive and showing that she was more than a number; she was a person. I truly appreciate that Emilie Simone lost her today so I can have my tomorrow. I have learned how lucky I am to be living in Britain in the year 2015. Life is good for me and I am thankful for all the opportunities I am given every day, and the choices I get to make.
I would like to end off by thanking my wonderful family, wishing another Mazel Tov to my brother Oliver, my D’var torah teacher for all her help and to wish everyone here a life of victorious choices.