Kenneth Brander
President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Ohr Torah Stone

Our Role in this World: Creating Light and Magnifying God (Parshat Va’era)

TRANSCRIPT

What is the role of the Jewish People in the world? What is the significance of our existence as a people?

This week’s Torah portion, Va’era, begins with a perplexing conversation between God and Moshe that I believe will help us understand our role and our relationship as a People with God.

“וידבר אלוקים אל משה ויאמר אליו אני ה’ וארא אל אברהם אל יצחק ואל יעקב בקל שקי ושמי ה’ לא נודעתי להם” (שמות ו, ג)

“And אלוקים, the God of power, spoke to Moshe and He says to him I’m not just the God of אלוקים, of power, I’m also YKVK, an intimate God and I have appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with the name קל שקי but the name of YKVK I have not made known to them.” (Exodus 6:3)

What does this mean that he has not made the name YKVK known to them? It was written no fewer than 144 times in the Book of Bereishiet, and is actually used several times by God in communicating with our Patriarchs!

What is the message that God is communicating to Moshe?

I’d like to offer the following approach.

Throughout the first book of the Torah, the Book of Bereishiet, the focus of God’s relationship is with individuals; Adam and Chava, Noach, Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Yaakov and Yosef.

These individuals all have a personal relationship with God.

However, in this week’s Torah portion, we find a transition to God having a relationship with the Jewish people.

When God states ושמי ה’ לא נודעתי להם, I have not made the name YKVK known to them, He means, “Until now I have never revealed Myself to a nation. Until now, I’ve only had an intimate relationship with individuals.

Now, the paradigm is now changing, as we see in the continuation of the verse:

“וְגַם הֲקִמֹתִי אֶת בְּרִיתִי אִתָּם”

“And I also established My covenant with them,” I want to engage with the nation, to set up My covenant with them.

It is in this week’s parsha that God informs Moshe that His own presence is linked with the actions and destiny of the Jewish people.

The Talmud tells us when the Jewish people are in exile, when the Jewish people are suffering, that God imposes suffering also upon Himself – the concept of “שכינתא בגלותא” – that when the Jewish people are in exile, God is in exile as well.

But the flip side is also true: when the Jewish People create light in this world through the observance of the mitzvot, then God’s presence is magnified!

Rav Kook ztz”l commented on the fact that God is already whole and is therefore unable to grow. He explained that God exists simultaneously in two paradigms: He is, on the one hand, whole and complete. But at the same time, when the Jewish People develop and actualize their potential, His presence is more profoundly seen in the world.

This week we learn that we are an extension of God, created in His image with the capacity – and responsibility – to create light that empowers both ourselves and God.

Shabbat Shalom.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, an Israel-based network of 27 educational and social action programs transforming Jewish life, living and leadership in Israel and across the world. He is the rabbi emeritus of the Boca Raton Synagogue and founder of the Katz Yeshiva High School. He served as the Vice President for University and Community Life at Yeshiva University and has authored many articles in scholarly journals.
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