Va’era-Forefathers

At first glance, there’s a “disconnect” between our Torah portion (Vaera) and the previous parsha (Shemot), even though they relate the same episode. At the end of last week’s parsha, Moshe went to Pharoah, king of Egypt and demanded to let his people go. Pharoah, unimpressed, responded that from now on, the Jews would have to work harder, not only making bricks for Pharoah’s cities, but also gathering the raw materials. Moses became a bit exasperated and asked G-d, “Why have you made things worse for this nation?” (Ex. 5:22). The answer to this question comes at the beginning of our parsha, where God says to Moshe, “I am God; I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as Kel Shadai, without making myself known to them with my true essential name – Havaya. I established my covenant with you…and I will remember my promise. Therefore, tell the Jews that I am the Lord, and I will take you out of the misery of Egypt, and rescue you…and redeem you” (Ex. 6:2-6).

The obvious question is, where is the answer to Moses’ question? How does the mention of the forefathers and God’s relationship with them provide an answer to Moses’ question? Rashi explains that G-d promised to fulfill his pledge to the forefathers to settle the Jews to settle them in the land of Israel, and for that purpose He invoked His essential name, rather than the name that He used while communicating with the forefathers. But, the question remains; why choose to seemingly minimize the relationship between G-d and the forefathers exactly at this point in the narration? Why is that pertinent to the story of the exodus? Moreover, what do we learn from this that can we use for our own purposes in serving G-d?

It is well known that the Torah speaks to us on at least four levels; the simple textual meaning (pshat), the interpretive dimension (drosh), the level of allusion (remez) and the secret, kaballistic level (sod). We saw an example of the simple level of our verse above, in Rashi’s explanation (that G-d came to fulfill his promise to the forefathers). On the kabalistic level, we know that the name Kel Shadai corresponds to the sephira, or Godly attribute of yesod, with which God supplies the creation with all that it needs, and more. The sages said that with this name, God said to the world Dai – “enough”! This means that through the Godly attribute of yesod, using the name Kel Shadai, G-d gives to the world everything that it needs both physically and spiritually. This was the level on which the forefathers related to God. Although the attribute of yesod provides all that the world needs to become satiated, it does not provide a conduit to transcend and reach beyond creation. That only comes from God’s essential name, the name Havaya, meaning “is, was and will be.” That was the name that was introduced to the world through Moses, in order to take the Jews out of Egypt and receive the Torah.

There is a fifth level of Torah understanding that includes and transcends the others, revealing the secrets of the Torah in the soul as well as in the world at large. This is the level revealed by Chassidut. In the Chassidic work, Torah Ohr, the Alter Rebbe, founder of the Chabad Chassidic movement, tells us that in God’s answer to Moses, we find not only a promise (that G-d will bring the Jews to Israel as pledged to the forefathers), but also an answer to Moses question; “why have You made things worse for this nation?” The Alter Rebbe says that in order for the Jews to merit to the higher revelation of the name Havaya (transcendence – “is, was and always will be”), it was necessary for them to go through the slavery in Egypt. Even though on the surface, the slavery was a decline and worsening of their physical situation, it polished and elevated the collective Jewish soul to enable it to merit to revelation of the most sublime, essential level of Godliness. This was a level that even the forefathers, as great as they were, did not merit, because it was necessary for the Jews to first go through the Egyptian bondage in order to rise to that level.

Armed with this understanding, it becomes clear that God’s answer to Moses was far more than a re-iteration of a promise made generations earlier to the forefathers. It was the announcement of a whole new revelation of Godliness in the world. God’s answer made it clear that the exodus was far more than the physical emancipation of the Jews from the back-breaking slavery of Egypt. It was the dawn of a new age in which the Jews would serve Havaya – “When I take you out of the land of Egypt, you will serve God on this mountain [Mt. Sinai]” (Ex. 3:12) out of free choice, from the essence of their souls. It was a spiritual emancipation at least as much as it was a physical redemption from slavery.

The word for “Egypt” in Hebrew – mitzrayim – also means “limitations.” Aside from the obvious physical limitations of the land of Egypt, we all have our inner limitations, as well. Even within the realm of inner holiness, there are limitations. As much as we might strive for true spiritual freedom, we are physical beings, souls clad in bodies. The state of true spiritual freedom is defined by complete and total self-nullification to God, and that is not something we can achieve on our own. Rather, it has to come by way of revelation from Above. As the Chassidic text (Torah Ohr) reads, “he doesn’t experience himself at all…he has no significance in his own eyes.” This level of nullification is unreachable by human efforts, since “the prisoner cannot free himself.” It necessitates a mighty revelation from Above, that is so powerful that it nullifies the person completely, lifting him out of his limitations, even those associated with holiness.

The redemption of the future, during which the meshiach (Jewish messiah) will take the Jews out of exile, lead them to Israel and build the holy Temple, is patterned after the redemption from Egypt. Just as the exodus from Egypt was not only a physical redemption, but first and foremost a spiritual redemption from limitations, so will the future redemption be more than physical – it will be a very high spiritual redemption as well. And just as the Egyptian redemption entailed revelation of the essential, ineffable name of God – Havaya – so will the future redemption entail revelation. That is why when the Rambam wrote about the future redemption at the end of his magnum opus – the Mishneh Torah – he openly mentioned the essential name of God. While in the opening of his work, the Rambam only alluded to G-d, calling him the “prime Entity,” and hiding his name in the letters of the first four words, in the conclusion of his work he mentions God’s name openly. He quotes a verse from the prophets (11:9), “the earth will be full of knowledge of God,” because in the future redemption the Jews will receive full revelation of the essential name of God – Havaya – on the highest level. They will be totally nullified to G-d, and serve Him unswervingly, “like the waters cover the ocean bed” – maintaining their own personal identities and yet being one with God.

For a longer more detailed version, go to www.jerusalemconnection.org

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol 31, Pp 23-27

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: