Shabbat Vaera - January 4, 2019

This week’s Torah portion is filled – to use the words of the old Maxwell House Haggadah – with signs and wonders, with plagues and portents. Parashat Vaera recounts the first seven of the ten plagues sent against Egypt.

The seventh was the plague of hail. But this was not some ordinary meteorological event. The Torah describes it as ice with fire flashing inside of it. Which, of course, set the Rabbis to wondering.

How could that be? Fire in the midst of hail? Would not the fire melt the ice or conversely would not the melted ice extinguish the fire. Their conclusion: the two elements made peace in order to do the will of their Creator.

The Rabbis gave two similar examples. They pointed to the practice of floating a thin layer of water over the oil used in the lamps of the study house. Passing a wick through the two contradictory elements not only made the oil last longer but the lamp burn brighter.

Similarly they noted that as a pomegranate matured the seeds expand and push outward just as the skin of the fruit shrinks and pushes inward. The two contrasting forces to their way of thinking made the juice so exquisitely healthy and sweet.

I write this installment of my weekly blog from Essaouira on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Essaouira for many hundreds of years has been a prosperous and important town. It seems that well into the 19th century this city was about fifty percent Jewish. Who knew?

There has long been a tradition of religious tolerance and mutual respect in Morocco. The main gateway into Essaouira has the symbols of the three Abrahamic faiths carved prominently into the stonework – the cross, the crescent and the six-pointed star. One more example of how when seemingly contradictory elements make peace to do the will of their Creator the result is inevitably illuminating, encouraging and decidedly sweet.

The history of the Jews of Morocco extends over many thousands of years – alternating between periods of prosperity and persecution but generally a remarkably tolerant kingdom. During World War II, when the French Vichy government ordered Mohammed V to turn over his Jewish subjects, the king refused. Who knew?

Increasingly we live in an either-or world constantly struggling to exert one option, one idea or one perspective over all others. It need not be so. When differing, seemingly contradictory ideas find accommodation the outcome is usually more beneficial to all the parties concerned. And the outcome, I would say, reflects more accurately the will of our shared Creator.

All good wishes for a happy secular New Year and Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Whiman