Community Rabbi Corner, Jan. 24, 2020

Rabbi Laurence W. Groffman
Temple Sholom of West Essex
Cedar Grove, NJ
Parshat Va’era

“I’ve Seen Fire and I’ve Seen…Ice.”

Q. What is a sure sign that we are having a mild winter?

A. When the wintriest weather we encounter is in a story set in the decidedly non-wintry locale of ancient Egypt.

After all, that’s where the hail is—just check Parshat Va’era for the chilly forecast: “The Eternal One said to Moses, ‘Hold out your arm toward the sky that hail may fall on all the land of Egypt…’” (Exodus 9:22)

And fall it does.

But, since this is the Torah, this is no run-of-the-mill hail that typically falls in a hot, humid climate where it’s not unusual for the temperature to hit three digits. An even bigger meteorological miracle is the hail itself: “The hail was very heavy—fire flashing in the midst of the hail..." (Exodus 9:24).

Now that’s a trick—fire and ice together! Up until now, what did you think of when you heard the words “fire” and “ice” together?
(a)  A 1920 Robert Frost Poem
(b)  A 1981 Pat Benatar song
(c)  A 13th century b.c.e. plague
(d)  All of the above

Although all of the above are true, we will focus exclusively on (c)—if it’s good enough for Rashi to focus on, it’s good enough for me (plus, who knows if Rashi would have liked middling 1980’s rock singers): “This was a miracle within a miracle. The fire and hail intermingled, even though hail is water. To do the will of their Maker, they made peace between themselves.” (Rashi on Exodus 9:24)

We would expect the ice to extinguish the fire, and the fire to melt the ice. Not so, says Rashi, because fire and ice realized that they were on, as the noted theologians The Blues Brothers once said, “a mission from God.” (Belushi and Aykroyd, ad loc.). Putting aside their differences for a greater, holy purpose—ah, the things we can learn from inanimate objects!