When the Union of American Hebrew Congregations published its first edition of The Torah: A Modern Commentary in 1981, the editors made some unusual choices. One of these was to break up the chapters not into the weekly Torah portions, but instead by logical thematic divisions. A good example is found in this week’s Torah portion. Va’era includes the first 7 plagues brought against Egypt. But, the UAHC commentary has one chapter on the first six plagues and another on the last four. It is confusing to one used to the standard layout of a Chumash (Torah commentary) that they are grouped this way, but the editor explains: “(T)he literary structure…provides for three sets of three punishments and the climactic death of the first born.” In addition, we are told that the last four plagues (hail, locusts, darkness and death of the first born), unlike the first six, are “demonstrations that (God) is uniquely powerful.”(p. 445) Therefore, from a literary standpoint and in support of the theological message, the last four belong together, but of those only the plague hail is found in Va’era.
Rabbi D. Feingold