“This time I have sinned; the Lord is righteous and I and my people are wrong-doers” Exodus 9:27
At some point in antiquity, the custom arose read the Torah in weekly portions, segmented along natural conceptual fault-lines. It seems somewhat curious that Va’era stops after the seventh of ten strikes against Egypt.
The ten strikes occur in a pattern of threes. The first three are designed to show that God really exists (7:17) and strike from the ground (or water). The middle three demonstrate His control over the world (8:18) and strike at the level of animal and human. The final three attest that there is nothing like Him (9:14) and strike from the skies. The tenth stands apart as the act of releasing Israel.
The question is glaring: why break the sidrah after number seven? What is thematically attained then, sufficient to prompt an override of the natural division?
A compelling approach, offered by Rabbi Matis Weinberg, focuses on two unique aspects of the hailstorm. After each strike Pharaoh capitulates on grounds of divine power; after the hailstorm, it is on grounds of ethical standing, “the Lord is righteous, I and my people are wrong-doers”. Secondly, the destruction of the hailstorm bombardment was avoidable — had Pharaoh followed Moses’s advice and brought the cattle into shelter (9:19).
Pharaoh was simply unable to issue the instruction because he was unable to admit he was not in control. The ensuing devastation served as a proverbial mirror, forcing Pharaoh to recognise that his own addiction to power had contributed to his downfall. Pharaoh gained a dawning recognition that perhaps his power-play had been wrong all along. Perhaps a civilisation based on domination and enslavement of other was indeed a violation of humanity. That achievement was the goal all along. Va’era can stop there. Next week we can worry about the Exodus itself.