Shabbat Shalom: Where has all the magic gone?

Jan 11, 2024 | Article

By: Bethany Friedlander
PJ Library Manager

Turning a staff into a serpent. Having that very serpent swallow other serpents that were also previously staffs. Striking the Nile with the staff and turning it into blood, killing all the fish. Next frogs here…frogs there…frogs were jumping everywhere. There is something quite magical about it all. Replace Moses with David Copperfield or Aaron with Houdini or my kids’ favorite, Justin William, and you have a great show – possibly even one that can get a few likes on YouTube.

There is something magical about this parsha, Vaera, as G-d sends Moses and Aaron to rally the Israelites and confront Pharaoh. This is a show of shows – a Barnum and Bailey classic. And what happens when the brothers show up? Pharoah just could not see the magic. His heart was hardened, and he did not have it in him to be amazed until ten plagues later.

If we had been standing next to Moses and Pharaoh watching the serpent slither, the blood run from the Nile, the frogs jump and the lice spread, would we see the magic or would we be too busy scrolling on our phones finding ways to replicate those parlor tricks? Have we forgotten how to experience magic?

It has occurred to me that cacti can be seen as awe-inspiring or absolutely boring. The Arizona desert is home to many types of cacti – prickly pear, jumping cholla, barrel, and saguaro to name a few. There are also mule deer, javelina, rattlesnakes and more. On a recent trip with the family, I found these sights – both the cactus and the javelina – to be majestic. Our family spent some time just being in nature, surrounded by green prickly things. It was magical for me. Not so for the rest of the family. One hike and that was plenty, cacti were boring and javelina were, well, weird looking and definitely something to stay away from.

It took a week trying to convince my teens that deserts are alive and filled with magic. They were unconvinced, yet polite, and eager to return home where they found great happiness hanging out with their friends, playing with their dog, finding old toys to play with, crafts to create with, and even using a slightly small soap box derby car to run up and down the hill outside our front door.

Watching them was magical. It was not the same type of magic as the breathtaking views and smell of desert, but it certainly showed me that we need magic. And not just the serpents and frog kind. We need the social interactions that create the sparks of magic that excite our curiosity, that make us stop, look, and listen, that makes us see that the world is more than a single stationary cactus or a wooden staff.

I do not think we have lost the ability to see and appreciate magic. It might just be that we have a little bit of Pharaoh in us. Our hearts are a bit hardened – preoccupied with a million other things that must get done. But I think it is worth taking the time to find a little magic – whether we are the ones who are creating it or the ones enjoying it.

As we enter this new year of 2024, I hope we all find a bit of magic on our paths.

Please email Bethany Friedlander at with questions or comments.