Thursday, December 26, 2013

Parashat Va'era ("and I appeared") - Exodus 6:2-9:35 by Jon Eaton

Parashat Va'era ("and I appeared") -   Exodus 6:2-9:35 by Jon Eaton

The very first few verses of this parasha begin with an announcement of a fresh revelation of the nature of HaShem. 
“Elohim (אֱלהִים) spoke to Moses and said to him, ‘I am the Lord (יהוה).  I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shaddai (אל שׁדּי), but by My Name the Lord (יהוה) I did not make myself known to them’” (Exodus 6:2-3). 

As the Shema testifies ("Hear, O Israel, the LORD (יהוה) is our G-d (אֱלהִים), the Lord is one" - Deut. 6:4) that despite various forms of dualism which attempt to separate Elohim's justice from Adonai’s mercy, the term “Lord G-d” (יהוה אֱלהִים) which is first found in Genesis 2:4, unites both of these attributes into a unity.  
Whilst the avot (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - Patriarchs) had previously experienced a wonderful appearance/revelation of Elohim, or even more obviously with El Shaddai, HaShem’s new appearance to Israel would be that of a powerful caring, merciful Saviour.  It was time for Moses and all Israel to see His compassion that would set His children free from slavery.  And of course, by default, we are privileged to see this revelation unfold.  Mind you, unfortunately for Pharaoh, he was about to discover the ‘other’ characteristics of the Lord. 

When Moses and Aaron said, "Thus says the Lord, the G-d of Israel, ‘Let my people go...’" Pharaoh replied with, “Who is the Lord (יהוה) that I should obey him?”  Exodus 5:2.

It may have gone much better for Pharaoh should he have simply replied with “Who is the Lord?”, because our hearts should always long to know Him more.   The Talmud (Chillin 89a) states that HaShem said to Israel, "I love you because even when I bestow greatness upon you, you humble yourselves before me. I bestowed greatness upon Abraham, but he said to me, 'I am mere dust and ashes' Genesis 18:27).  I did the same to Moses and Aaron, but they said, 'We are nothing' (“what are we?” Exodus. 16:8). But the heathen react differently. I bestowed greatness on Pharaoh, and he said, ‘Who is the Lord that I should obey Him?’

An interesting side note: . "The prayers of the tzaddikim (righteous) turns Hashem's mind from the attribute of strict justice to the quality of mercy" (Ibn Ezra, Sotah 14).

We read in Exodus 6:6-8 that "I am the Lord" Ani Adonai (אֲנִי יְהוָה) is directly connected to his saving and compassionate characteristic in Exod. 6:6-8:
“Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: and I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a G-d: and ye shall know that I am the Lord your G-d, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.  And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the Lord”

As we continue on we read about the incredible miracles and acts of power that take place in Egypt in an attempt to have Pharaoh release the Israelites.  But instead of simply repeating scripture, I would like to explore how the miracles give us greater insight or rather, a greater “appearance” of who HaShem is.

(1): Exodus 7:17: "In this thou shalt know that I am the Lord".  He exists and is all powerful; much more powerful than any magic.   These signs and wonders were a statement of powerful position.
(2): Exodus 8:22: "to the end thou mayest know that I am the Lord in the midst of the earth" The uniqueness of His power and that He is involved in every part of the world and nothing is hidden from Him.
 (3): Exodus 9:14:" that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth".   His absolute superiority.

What a wonderful “appearance”/revelation.   Truly majestic.

And it would take these amazing signs and wonders to move Israel out of their slavery mindset.  According to midrash, 30,000 members of the tribe of Ephraim tried to escape from Egypt some 30 years before the redemption but were all killed by the Philistines (Shemot Rabbah, 20:11).   So whilst this was fresh in the memories of that generation, and many may have lost hope and accepted their status as slaves, HaShem was preparing His great display of kindness and power.

Despite this incredible show of power and mercy, this parasha ends with Pharaoh AND his servants sinning even more by hardening their hearts in Exodus 9:34-35.

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