Parshat Va'eira: A Sign From God

Doritos Art Print    by    DKNG    Studios

I recently typed into Google, “a sign from God.” I figured that if God is trying to catch my attention, how else best to do it than through an internet search engine. The very first article I clicked on was called, “8 Signs God is Trying to Get Your Attention: Are you ignoring God's call?,” by I couldn’t bear missing out on a time-sensitive “get-faith-quick” scheme so I went ahead and clicked. After all, what have I been missing out on? What if that misshapen Dorito that looked like Moses was trying to tell me something?!

The article writes, “God wants to have a relationship with all of us. He wants to be the number one person we come to when we run into problems, when we are scared or need someone to talk to. God gives us the tools we need to reach out to Him and create that dialog. However, sometimes, we choose to turn to other options. We forget that God is there for us, feel He doesn’t have time for us, or any number of excuses...Is God calling out to you and trying to get your attention? Here are the eight signs He is:”

  1. Symbolism

  2. Through People

  3. Direction

  4. Increase of Internal Momentum (not exactly sure what this means…)

  5. Deeper Spiritual Sensitivity

  6. Feeling of Uneasiness

  7. Pushing Out of Our Comfort Zone

Now, I understand this article is necessarily speaking to a Jewish audience (most likely since Jesus gets brought up quite a bit), but the most disappointing part about this list was the fact only seven signs were listed in an article called: “8 Signs God is Trying to Get Your Attention!”  I guess I will need to work on “increasing my internal momentum” to find the 8th sign. Or maybe this is a sign that isn’t the right place for my spiritual curiosities. It’s also possible I just haven’t been listening to enough Ace of Base

But in all seriousness, and please pardon my sarcasm, but we as human beings love signs and omens. Evidence and tokens. We crave directionality. Pointed tell-tales that convey the message, “Yes, this is the thing you should do. Yes, this is the path you should take. Yes, this is what you should invest in; No, don’t plunge your savings in this stock. No, don’t choose this portfolio.” Which is most likely why “Mad Money” with Jim Cramer has millions of viewers tuned into to get “inside the mind of one of Wall Street's most respected and successful money managers.” But in all honesty, it’s probably more like, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on T.V,” sort of thing. Because if Jim Cramer knew the future of the Dow Jones, he wouldn’t be hosting a show about getting rich (he would just be rich).

In my personal opinion, we look for wonders and omens from the world because if the world wasn’t communicating with us, we would feel alone. Uncertain. Insecure. Or quite possibly, a world without wonders might lead us to doubt either the existence of a God or God’s discreet tactics in influencing the course of our actions. We might just begin to think that God is the absent, runaway, neglectful parent who brought us to Disneyland but never came and picked us up.

In our Torah portion this week, parshat Va’eira, we come across the story of Moses attempting to persuade Pharaoh into letting the Children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. Only it’s not so easy. The People of Israel aren’t convinced. Pharaoh isn’t convinced. Even Moses isn’t quite certain of himself and his own leadership skills. Moses even pleads with God saying, “I have sealed lips, so how shall Pharaoh heed me?” But God explains to Moses, our faithful leader:

“See, I place you in the role of God to Pharaoh, with your brother Aaron as your prophet. You shall repeat all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh to let the Israelites depart from his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, that I may multiply My signs and marvels in the land of Egypt.” [1]

And God says to the brothers:

“When Pharaoh speaks to you and says, ‘Produce your marvel,’ you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your rod and cast it down before Pharaoh.’ It shall turn into a serpent. So Moses and Aaron came before Pharaoh and did just as the LORD had commanded: Aaron cast down his rod in the presence of Pharaoh and his courtiers, and it turned into a serpent. Then Pharaoh, for his part, summoned the wise men and the sorcerers; and the Egyptian magicians, in turn, did the same with their spells. each cast down his rod, and they turned into serpents. But Aaron’s rod swallowed their rods. Yet Pharaoh’s heart stiffened and he did not heed them, as the LORD had said.” [2]

In a way, I can understand Pharaoh’s insistence here that these acts of “sorcery” are not, in fact, proof either Aaron, Moses, nor God’s ability to do anything other than churn out a quick magic trick. I can visualize Pharaoh sitting on his ornate royal throne, seemingly unimpressed by Moses and Aaron. His face, a mixture smugness and haughtiness. “Save your Penn & Teller show for Vegas. We’ve got plenty of  David Blaine’s and David David Copperfield’s. This proves nothing.” And in part, Pharaoh, in this particular case, isn’t necessarily wrong in his conviction. Because how does pulling a bunny out of a hat prove anything to anyone about who or what God is. As one commentary points out:

“Pharaoh’s magicians were able to duplicate the wonders performed by Moses, thus supporting the king’s insistence that Moses himself was nothing more than a magician, a profession that was well represented in Egypt.” [3]

And thus, the question can be asked, “How do these signs and wonders truly prove the existence of God or even more important, that Moses is a messenger of God? In verse five, God says to Moses: “And Egypt shall know that I am HASHEM.” According to some commentators, “This is a theme that is repeated throughout the ensuing narrative. Pharaoh greeted Moses and Aaron with the insolent comment, ‘Who is HASHEM...I do not know HASHEM (v. 5:2),’ implying that the very concept of the One and Omnipotent God was foreign to him. Therefore a major purpose of the plagues and miracles was to display to the world that there is only one God. Rabbi Obadiah ben Jacob Sforno, an Italian 14th century commentator, goes so far as to say that, “The first nine plagues were not punishments but signs and wonders to prove that I am HASHEM; only the plague fo the Firstborn and the Splitting of the Sea were punishments, and even they had the additional purpose of demonstrating God’s greatness.”

But even so. As the story goes, the concept of God doesn’t seem to resonate with the Children of Israel either. They too are in constant need of miracles, signs, and wonders. They are in need of seeing “things” Material gestures that point to the existence of a One and Only God: Mana from heaven. Water from rocks. Quail from thin air.

So what’s changed since the Days of Yore? Not a whole lot. We still remain on the lookout for God appointed omens in symbols, people, and even “Feeling of Uneasiness.” But what if the signs aren’t really signs at all. Because how can we differentiate one “sign” from another. This type of theology is the type of thinking that in my opinion, can be quite dangerous. I prefer to go a different route called Process Theology. According to Rabbi Bradley Artson, author of the book, “God of Becoming and Relationship: The Dynamic Nature of Process Theology”:

“Process theology recognizes every ‘thing’ is really a series of events across time, a process, that emerges in relationship. We are each a process, and creation is a process. God is a process, revelation is a process. All emerge in relationship, meaning that no thing can be understood in isolation...We are all part of something interactive and dynamic...In such a worldview, God is not outside the system as some unchanging, eternal abstraction. Rather, God permeates every aspect of becoming, indeed grounds all becoming by inviting us and every level of reality to fulfill our own optimal possibilities. The future remains open, through God’s lure, to our own decisions of how or what we will choose next.”

“God, then, uses a persistent, persuasive power, working in each of us (and all creation at every level) to nudge us toward the best possible outcome. But God’s power is not coercive and not all-powerful. God cannot break the rules or unilaterally dictate our choices. Having created and then partnered with this particular cosmos, God is vulnerable to the choices that each of us makes freely as co-creators.”

And as such, I leave you with a poem from Alden Solovy called “An Amazing Life”

This is an amazing life,
A gift of moments
Precious and dear,
Profound in joy,
Profound in sorrow.
This is an amazing life,
A gift of moments
Glorious and holy,
Rich in laughter,

Rich with tears.
This is an amazing life,
A gift, a song,
A fantastic story of solitude and adventure,
A tale of darkness and light,
A psalm of frailty and endurance,
A poem written in time and motion,
In stillness and silence,
In shouts and whispers,
In mourning and wondrous celebration.

This is an amazing life,
A river of blessings,
A gift to cherish
In awe and wonder.
Blessed are the gifts of life.
Blessed is the Giver of life.
Blessed is this amazing life.

[1] Exodus 6:29; 7:3-5
[2] Exodus 7:8-13
[3] Stone Edition Chumash, p. 325

Aaron Sataloff