Ya'aqov Shenkin

Hashem’s Name and Active Conscientious

The Burning Bush. CC BY-SA 2.0. Credit: Jeff Jacobs '1990'
The Burning Bush. CC BY-SA 2.0. Credit: Jeff Jacobs '1990'

Parashath Wayera begins with Hashem introducing Himself by the name of the Tetragrammaton. He then proceeds to tell Moshe that He did not reveal Himself to the Avoth in such a manner, rather He appeared in the form of Qel Shaqqai. To fully understand what this means, an examination into the implication of these names is in order.

On this verse, the Maharal informs us that the Tetragrammaton is a contraction of the phrase: “He was, He is, and He will be.” (Gur Aryeh, Shemoth 6:2) It is clear from here that the Tetragrammaton is fundamentally tied to the notion of time. Note that the actual Tetragrammaton is conjugated in the future, appended with the prefix ‘yud,’ implying ‘will be’ and the root meaning ‘to be.’ Meditating on this grammatical fact might assist us in attaining holiness and a connection with Hashem.

A simple man thinks only in the immediate present: focusing on his current reality and no more. People who view themselves this way are incredibly susceptible to the Yetzer Hara. Rashi zy”a comments on the word “garti” in Bereishith 32:5, explaining that Ya’aqov attempted to inform Esau that the blessings that Yitzhaq were not immediate and would require time to take effect. One can conclude from here that those who focus only on the present.

Rav Yehoshua Hartman shlit”a teaches that we can see another proof that the Yetzer Hara is obsessed with the present in Sanhedrin 91b:

“Marcus Aurelius Antoninus said to Ribbi Yehuda HaNasi: From when does the evil inclination dominate a person? Is it from the moment of the formation of the embryo or from the moment of emergence from the womb? Ribbi said to him: It is from the moment of the formation of the embryo. Antoninos said to him: If so, the evil inclination would cause the foetus to kick his mother’s innards and emerge from the womb. Rather, the evil inclination dominates a person from the moment of emergence from the womb.” (Translation adapted from the Steinsaltz translation)

The impatience of the Yetzer Hara stems from an obsession with the present.

The past is similarly treacherous. There are two modes one might interact with the past: nostalgia and regret. Both provide the same poison. Whilst nostalgia is fun to engage in for a brief period, over-indulgence into a positively distorted view of the unchangeable past can lead one to a despair that oft encourages them to neglect that which they are capable of changing. And regret, whilst essential to the teshuva process, becomes venomous when over-indulged. It leads to self deprecation and poor self-image, which restrains one from engaging in Torah and Mitzwoth. Rav Ephraim Becker relates in the name of Rav Tzvi Kushelevsky that Hevel could be killed due to his exceeding self-negation. “Even his name, which means vanity and meaninglessness, conveys that the world could not be built through him.” He goes on to claim that the tiqqun for Hevel was Moshe, however, we will explore this fully in a moment.

Unlike past and present, truth, and true reality, remain in the future. The future contains the ideal self. In the imagined futures which we hold in our minds, within our hopes and dreams, everyone has personal ambitions and ideals of greatness, even if these aspirations may be considered morally questionable when viewed objectively. However, it is always the case that from a personal perspective, these aspirations hold significance as motivators of action.

It would be incredibly insulting to believe that our current, sinful selves are in any way the true realisation of the ‘self.’ Rather, the true self resides constantly in the future, where we hope and believe to fully implement all changes and greatness that we desire of ourselves – our current selves are mere transient representations of this ideal.

Even when pursuing goals that may be objectively wrong, the emotional impact of not reaching one’s desired destination can be a powerful motivator. Personal fulfilment and self-perception play a crucial role in defining one’s true self, we read in Bamidbar 12:3:

“Now HaIsh Moshe was a very humble man, more so than any other man on earth.”

The line is regularly mocked by the ill-educated due to the notion that the claim itself, written by the hand of Moshe (even if on instruction from Hashem), acts as a counter to its own argument that Moshe is the most “humble man on Earth”.  However, Moshe’s humility was a humility of ambition. Humility is not self-degradation, and certainly not when it requires falsity to engage with. Rather, the nature of Moshe’s humility allows him to recognise the truths of the present: at that moment, he was the most humble man on earth, yet, in the imagined Moshe of his own mind, he had no ambition for further greatness or honour. It is important to note the seemingly spare word “HaIsh.” Rashi (ad loc.) understands it to mean true personhood. It is not the literal Moshe that is being written of Moshe, but his ‘true self’ – the future self existing in his own mind. That version of Moshe was and is the true Moshe, and it is of that Moshe that the statement of true humility is even truer. In here, we understand the statement of Rav Tzvi, that Moshe provides a tiqqun for Hevel. The contrast to this aspect of Moshe is the arrogant Qorah, whose ambitions were filled with a hunger for power and debase desire. Rav Tzvi notes that like the original Hevel was absorbed into the ground, Moshe was able to cause Qorah to be swallowed into the ground. He further notes that the numerical difference between Moshe (345) and Qorah (308) is Hevel (37).

By introducing the attribute of time and future contained within the Tetragrammaton into one’s life, they are able to introduce the motivator for morality. However, there is a limit to the use of this attribute. The future self may be a motivator to action, but that does not mean that the action itself is objectively moral; indeed it is certainly subjectively so, but not objectively so. Tracking the nature of uses of the Tetragrammaton in the Torah will help us understand why this attribute is tied to it.

Until the fourth chapter of Bereishith, the Tetragrammaton only appears alongside the qualification “Eloqim.” The first time that the Tetragrammaton stands as its own independent name of Hashem is only after Adam and Hawa are exiled from Gan Eden (in Bereishith 4:1). In the opening to his Guide for the Perplexed, HaRambam zy”a explains that the sin of eating from the Tree of Good and Evil separated the subjective morality of the individual from the objective morality of the Torah. We have discussed how the Tetragrammaton symbolises subjective morality, it is important to also understand how the name ‘Eloqim’ symbolises objective morality. Reb Josh Daniel shlit”a taught me how the name ‘Eloqim’ can be read as a plural form of the word ‘Elu’ – meaning ‘these.’ The issue with such a word is that ‘these’ is already itself a plural; the name ‘Eloqim’ is a plural of a plural. The initial ‘Elu’ can be viewed as the morality, desires and views of each individual; ‘Eloqim’ is the collection of all of those views into the singular entity which contains objective morality.

As of the banishment from Gan Eden, morality of the individual, as symbolised in the Tetragrammaton is entirely removed from objective morality of the Torah, as symbolised in the name ‘Eloqim’.

Returning to our parashah, a new question arises over the conclusions which we have thus far drawn: why, when encouraging Moshe to confront Paro, does Hashem appear with the name of the Tetragrammaton, with all its implications, as opposed to any other name, such as ‘Eloqim,’ the one of objective morality?

When Moshe first goes to Bnei Yisrael in the parasha to inform them of their incoming freedom, they refuse to accept it: “But when Moshe told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to Moses, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage.” (Shemoth 6:9). This attitude seems confusing at first, however, the Baal HaSulam, in his epic political article, ‘The Writings of the Last Generation,’ explains how this attitude prevails even today:

“The conscientious class, i.e. the rulers and the inspectors, inevitably create an exile such as in Egypt over the lagging class, who are the workers. This is because the rulers gather for themselves all the surplus of the workers and take the largest share.

And as for purposes of the benefit of the public, they will not let any worker escape from them to a different country, and they will guard them like Israel in Egypt where no slave was able to leave to freedom…

… In this we find the explanation for Hitlerism. For one of the wonders of the natural world is what happened to the Germans, who were thought of as the most elevated civilised nation, and in essentially a day they became a savage nation, the worst of all primitives, which had never been seen before in the world.

Moreover, Hitler was elected by the majority! In light of the [subduing of the lagging class by the conscientious class], it is very simple: the majority of the public do not possess their own opinions, which is an essentially evil status [to exist in.]” (Part One, Section Six – Translation by Ya’aqov Shenkin).

The lack of political consciousness amongst Bnei Yisrael prevented them from not only the ability to break free of their bondage, but also to even desire it. A similar lack of political consciousness brought Hitler to power.

And so, in here we find a reason that Hashem appears to Moshe through the name of the Tetragrammaton, which symbolises both the ability to engage in subjective opinion that exists since the sin of Adam, and also of the drive to act on our moralities in realising the futures which we hope for, as explained above. Because, as the Baal HaSulam explains, when our subjective reasoning is dulled by a lack of conscientiousness by those who are conscientious, we default to an ‘evil’ position of supporting existing power structures, the ‘rulers and inspectors.’

This is true of Bnei Yisrael and their reluctance to listen to Moshe and their acceptance of Paro, it is true of the German peoples’ support of Hitler, and it is true of many of us today. How many opinions that you own today are your own? How often do you find yourself looking for information on a political issue and turn to the site formally known as Twitter or to the site still known as YouTube only to appropriate the opinion of your favourite content creator whilst attempting to fool your friends that this is your own opinion “based on extensive research”? One who spends all their time collecting opinions that fall into the status quo (with both liberals and conservatives attempting to hide beneath the guise of some supposed of ‘the counterculture’ while in truth both are fairly mainstream opinions) is incapable of thinking of revolution, because those ideas are not presented to them.

Hashem’s attribute of the Tetragrammaton reminds us of the importance of political and philosophical development in a world that rejects the values of the Torah. One cannot rely on their ‘default’ instincts, we must actively work on tuning our positions to that of the Torah, that once again the Tetragrammaton may be written exclusively with the qualifier ‘Eloqim’ and that Qudsha Brikh Hu may be reunited with His Shekhinah, and that we may be lead by leaders with the moral clarity and moral motivation of Moshe.

About the Author
Ya'aqov Shenkin is a British-Israeli Jew residing in Jerusalem with a passion for Jewish history, Jewish politics and Torah knowledge.
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