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Dvar Torah: Va’eira

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What’s the connection between the Waldorf Astoria and the 10 plagues?

In the 1890s there were two hotels right alongside each other in Manhattan. The Waldorf and the Astoria. The Waldorf was owned by William Waldorf and the Astoria by his aunt, Caroline Astor. The two were engaged in a bitter family feud and in fact, the hotels existed alongside each other in order to compete with each other. But then William Waldorf’s manager suggested to him one day “Why don’t you make up with your aunt? Can you imagine what kind of a hotel we could have if we break down the walls in between and join the two together? We could have the best hotel in the world. William was convinced, he then approached his aunt and they made up. Together they created the Waldorf Astoria hotel and the rest, as they say, is history.

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky makes a connection between the historical background of the Waldorf Astoria and the plague of hail as is described in Parshat Va’era. The hail that fell upon the Egyptians then was not hail as we know it today. The Torah tells us “V’aish mitlakachat b’toch habarad” “there was fire flashing from within the hail and therefore that hail was a combination of fire and water. Now we know that fire can melt ice, and water can douse flames, however, when brought together and fused into one fire and water produced hail which was a mighty, powerful force. Indeed this is something Pharaoh king of Egypt noticed, it was after this plague that he called Moshe and he said “Hashem Ha’Tzadick, v’ani v’ami harashaim” “this time God is right, I and my people are wrong”. Pharaoh was obviously deeply impressed with this phenomenon of the hail to be convinced that actually instead of being pitted against his adversary, the Israelites, he momentarily saw the value of making peace with them. Unfortunately his heart quickly hardened once again, but at that particular moment the hail made an impact.

From the plague of hail, we therefore, learn a hugely important lesson which applies to each and every one of us. Instead of engaging in unnecessary feuds within our families and our communities – nationally and globally – let’s combine forces.   If the Waldorf and the Astoria can do it, we too can produce a power for good within our lives to the benefit of all of humanity.

Shabbat Shalom