Shemot – G-d in Jewish History

Pharaoh enslaved the Jewish people, and when his successor made their conditions even harsher, they cried out to G-d in despair. R’Eli Munk commented that the word for their cry was not “prayer” but “va-yizaku” meaning to beseech. These were desperate and inarticulate cries to G-d which should surely find a response.


In the next sentence “G-d heard their moaning”, signifying that their pleadings are perceived. Then “G-d remembered the covenant He had made with Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaacov.“ R’ Munk quoted the Maharal who commented that these were the first two stages of Divine mercy shown to the children of Israel suffering in exile.  In the next sentence, “G-d saw the children of Israel and He knew”, signifying that their distress had become so pronounced that His intervention was no longer an act of mercy but one of justice. The “knowing” implied that G-d would now show His understanding of the secret suffering of the heart.


His next action was to appear to Moshe in the burning bush, revealing His presence through the element of fire, and to call out to Moshe from the bush and to give Moshe the task of going to Pharaoh to take the people out of Egypt. Moshe asked if he was suited to this task, and G-d said He would be with Moshe. When Moshe asked if the people were worthy of being redeemed, the answer was that they would be once they had received the Torah at Mt Sinai. Then Moshe asked what name G-d wished to be known by and He answered “Eheyeh asher Eheyeh” meaning “I shall be as I shall be”. R’ Munk quoted Recanti who commented that this is the name G-d gives Himself, the holiest name, describing himself in the first person. It indicates pure existence, containing within it the mystery of existence, revealed only to Moshe, and mentioned nowhere else in the Torah. We gain an insight into the nature of G-d through learning about Moshe’s experience, but to the elders He was known as the Tetragrammaton, pure existence but in the third person. The third name characterises man’s relationship with G-d, designating G-d as He relates to the Universe. G-d then told Moshe to say that He was the G-d of their forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaacov. This concept would be more understood by the people, and the merit of their forefathers, was invoked by Moshe, to have a better chance of his prayers being answered. This same concept has been incorporated in the opening to the Amidah, to enable us to better connect with G-d in our prayers.   

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