Va’era – G-d in History

The story of the departure from Egypt is a dramatic depiction of the emergence of the Jewish people as a nation from a people who were slaves.We repeat this telling every Seder night as commanded in this Parasha.We are to tell it to our children so they will understand the history of our people,and the responsibilities that come with freedom from slavery.


Nechama Leibowitz compared the way G-d revealed Himself to Moshe as opposed to the patriarchs. G-d said “I appeared to Avraham,Yitzchak and Yaacov as El Shaddai, but by my name, the Lord I was not known to them”. This name had been explicitly used in G-d’s dialogues with Avraham.  Rashi, Ramban and Ibn Ezra formed the view that one particular aspect of the Godhead was being revealed to Moshe and that this particular aspect of the Divine had not, until then, been in evidence. Nechama Leibowitz quoted Akedat Yitzchak “from this it emerges that the text is a pointer not to His name but to His meaning”.She wrote that “we cannot perceive the actual essence of the Godhead. We can only perceive Him through His manifestations in the world, through His deeds as they impinge on us. In them we discern His ways”. 


Rashi’s explanation was “I was not known to them through My attribute of keeping faith which is implied in My name “the Lord”,  faithful to authenticate My words; since I made them a promise and did not fulfil it.”  Ramban was interpreted as distinguishing between two types of Divine providence, one working through the ordinary events of human existence and the other through open miracles in violation of the natural order.


Nechama Leibowitz referred to Yehuda Halevi who argued that the patriarchs as individuals saw G-d’s role in everything.  In the days of Moshe, the Jewish people had evolved and as a mass they could not appreciate the language of hidden miracles and would not have been able to discern the role of G-d without the display of the supernatural.


In the dialogue between G-d and Moshe, there are ten examples of G-d saying variations of “in order that you may know that I am the Lord in the midst of the earth”; “that you may know that the Lord does not make a distinction between Egypt and Israel”;  “and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord”.  Leibowitz concluded that the purpose of the plagues was educational, but at the end of the sedra  “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he refused to let the children of Israel go”.


G-d was with Moshe in his determination to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt.  In a recent visit to Australia, Natan Scharansky described his determination to leave for Israel in the face of the might of the Soviet Union.  He was not steeped in religious thinking or practice and his sense of Jewish identity initially derived from the word Jew in his identity document. The only book he had to read whilst in solitary confinement and dealing with prolonged interrogation was the book of Psalms(Tehillim).  He repeatedly read the psalms and this was an important source of new knowledge and strength along with messages from his wife and occasional news of support from other sources.

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