‘A New Hope’ Parashat Vaera 5781

G-d commands Moshe to go to Pharaoh and to demand that he release the Jewish People from their bondage. Pharaoh, irritated by Moshe’s lack of respect, responds by terminating the provision of the straw used in the production of cement bricks, forcing the Jewish slaves to gather the straw themselves, while simultaneously retaining the original brick quota. The Jewish People accuse Moshe of [Shemot 5:21] “making us loathsome to Pharaoh and his courtiers, putting a sword in their hands to slay us.” Moshe goes back to G-d and asks Him why He has dealt so harshly with him by sending him on an impossible mission. G-d tells Moshe that things are about to change and that Pharaoh will be hit so hard it with Divine Might it will make his head spin. G-d continues [Shemot 6:3]: “I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as Kel Shakkai, but I did not make Myself known to them by My name Hashem[1]”. What exactly is G-d telling Moshe?

Before we proceed, we must understand that each of G-d’s names represents a different Divine Attribute. Rashi, the most eminent of the medieval commentators, who lived in France in the eleventh century, differentiates between the attribute with which G-d appeared to the forefathers and the attribute with which He appeared to Moshe. Rashi explains that G-d made numerous promises to the forefathers and He did so with the name “Kel Shakkai[2], the Divine Attribute of Power, as if to say, “The reason I can make these promises is because I control the entire universe”. The name “Hashem”, on the other hand, represents the Divine Attribute of Trustworthiness, of keeping of those promises that had so far remained unfulfilled. G-d was telling Moshe that the time had come for Him to fulfil the promises that He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, specifically those promises that concerned their descendants inheriting the Land of Israel. A time for hope had arrived.

Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, known as the Ramban, who lived in Spain and in Israel a century after Rashi, adds a layer on top of Rashi’s explanation. The Ramban explains that the names “Kel Shakkai” and “Hashem” represent two very different methods of running the world. The name “Kel Shakkai” represents G-d’s performance of “hidden miracles” – miracles that are cloaked in nature. The classic example of a hidden miracle is an entirely ordinary action that occurs at the perfect time. “There I was, stranded in the desert, and suddenly – and inexplicably – a taxicab drove by”. The story of the rapidly approaching holiday of Purim, as told in the Book of Esther, contains a chain of no less than thirteen such coincidences, where if only one of them does not transpire, then the story ends very differently – with the annihilation of the entire Jewish population of the Persian Empire. The name “Hashem”, on the other hand, represents the performance of “revealed miracles” in which G-d temporarily suspends the laws of physics[3]. Indeed, after G-d tells Moshe that He will begin acting as “Hashem”, He tells him [Shemot 6:6] “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments”. The promise of “great judgements” is implemented by the shock and awe of ten plagues in which the laws of nature did not apply. By combining the explanations of Rashi and the Ramban, we can conclude that G-d was informing Moshe that He would soon be fulfilling those promises that He made to the forefathers long ago and that He would be doing so via supernatural means.

Rabbi Yehuda Léon Ashkénazi, better known as “Manitou”, who rebuilt the French Jewish community after World War II, expounds upon two results of the potentially large period of time that can elapse between G-d’s making a promise and its fulfilment, particularly as it pertains to G-d’s promise of redemption, particularly as it pertains to the nearly two thousand year exile in which we find ourselves today. The first result is self-doubt: Perhaps the promises are being fulfilled, but for someone else. Perhaps, as the result of some crime we have committed, we have forfeited our right to redemption. Perhaps we have been replaced. Indeed, this kind of thought forms the basis of Christian Replacement Theology: the Jews had sinned by not accepting Jesus as their saviour and were superseded by the new Christians. Replacement Theology was the driving force behind the Church’s horrific mistreatment of Jews until 1965, when Pope John slightly softened the tone in Nostre Aetate, writing that “Although the Church is the new people of G-d, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by G-d, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures.” If we no longer believe in ourselves, we will no longer expect G-d to fulfil His promises.

The second result of the time lag between promise and fulfilment is that it is sometimes difficult to recognize that G-d is in the process of fulfilling His promise. Unfortunately, G-d does not take out a full page add in the New York Times, announcing that He will be fulfilling His promises next Monday. A case in point is the modern State of Israel. When I go visit my mother-in-law in Karnei Shomron, a town in Western Samaria (West Bank), I think of the words of the prophet Jeremiah [31:5] “Again you shall plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria; Men shall plant and live to enjoy them.” Jeremiah uttered these words as the Babylonians stood at the gates of Jerusalem, a few short months before the destruction of the first Temple (Beit HaMikdash). Yet when I mention Karnei Shomron to my friends and acquaintances overseas, a verse that they often utter is “Aren’t you scared of the Arabs?” The words of the prophets are coming true before their very eyes but all they see is the window dressing. If we are not looking for an event to occur, we will more than likely miss it when it does occur.

Let me add another layer to Manitou’s explanation, similar to the way in which the Ramban added another layer to Rashi’s explanation. After G-d had smote the Egyptians with six plagues, he warns them of the upcoming plague of hail, a plague that will be more destructive than anything they have ever seen. G-d informs the Egyptians of a way to bypass the hail: anything that is brought indoors will survive the hailstorm. Those who took G-d’s advice saved their possessions. The others were not so lucky [Shemot 9:21]: “But those who paid no regard to the word of G-d left their slaves and livestock in the open”. Their possessions were obliterated. The behaviour of these people was astonishing. G-d had already broken the laws of physics six times. Was it so hard to believe He would do it a seventh time? How could they knowingly allow their property to be destroyed? Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, the Mashgiach (Supervisor) at the Mir Yeshiva in the previous century, suggests that the Egyptians understood that G-d was capable of wreaking havoc at will but they were unable to translate that conceptual knowledge into deeds. With all due respect, I see things slightly differently. I suggest that the Egyptians had been explaining away the ten plagues via natural events such as volcanoes, algae, and seasonal migration. Accordingly, if a hailstorm was going to hit, then it would make no difference if livestock was moved indoors or not. Either way it would perish. The Egyptians “paid no regard to the word of G-d” because they did not attribute the “word” to G-d. If we do not consider miraculous events to be miracles, if we consider them to be natural, albeit rare, coincidences, then we will never be able to internalize that what we are actually seeing is G-d’s fulfilment of His promise. A story is told of a person looking for a parking space at a crowded mall. He promises G-d that if He finds him a parking space, he will give all of his earnings to charity. Suddenly, a car he was just passing pulls out from its parking space. He turns to G-d and says, “Thanks, but I just found a parking space”.

Manitou asserts that it is not coincidental that many in the Diaspora refer to Israel as the “Land of our Forefathers”. By using this title, they are willy-nilly asserting that Israel still remains a land of unfulfilled promises. Manitou argues that the modern State of Israel is not the Land of our Fathers – it is the Land of the Sons, the sons who have merited experiencing the fulfilment of promises made so many years ago to their ancestors.

Shabbat Shalom and stay healthy.

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5781

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza, David ben Chaya, and Iris bat Chana.

[1] The name “Kel Shakkai”, when written with a ‘d’ instead of a ‘k’, is one of G-d’s ineffaceable holy names. Similarly, the name “Hashem” refers to the Tetragrammaton.

[2] See, for instance, Bereishit [35:11].

[3] Note that according to the Ramban, G-d runs the world either via hidden miracles or via open miracles. A world run without miracles of any kind is not an option.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
Related Topics
Related Posts
Comments