Parshat Va’era 5783: Developing Understandings of the Names of Hashem

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua — Parshat Va’eira is being sponsored anonymously dedicated for a Refuah Shleima and for good health for Yaakov Hirsch ben Chana. To our anonymoous sponsor, many thanks for your sponsorship, and for your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Va’era 5783: Developing Understandings of the Names of Hashem

by Moshe Burt

Our Parshat Va’era opens with Torah relating:

“G’d spoke to Moshe and said to him; ‘I am Hashem. I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov as El Shaddai, but with my name Hashem I did not make Myself known to them. Moreover, I established My covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their sojourning, in which they sojourned. Moreover, I have heard the groan of the B’nei Yisrael whom Egypt enslaves and I have remembered My covenant.'” (Sefer Shemos. Perek 6, posukim 2 -5 as rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash)

To properly understand the tone of our Parsha’s opening posuk, the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash provides context regarding the ending of Parshat Shemos (Artscroll Stone Chumash, page 318) :

Moshe complained that Hashem had sent him in vain, for instead of helping the people, he [Moshe] had only made it worse for them. ‘[With the beginning of our Parshat Va’era] Hashem now continues his response. He speaks harshly to Moshe, comparing him unfavorably to the Patriarchs [the Avos], who maintained their faith without complaint, even though they were not privileged to see the fulfillment of Hashem’s oaths to them, while Moshe, who had been told that the redemption was at hand, was so disillusioned that he could not wait for Hashem to carry his plan to its conclusion, as He defined it.

The Torah implies that Hashem rebuked Moshe for his previous complaint that Hashem had not made his mission a success. (Artscroll Stone Chumash citing Rashi on Sefer Shemos. Perek 6, posuk 2)

This author puzzles at Perek 6, posuk 4, particularly the end of the posuk:

“…the land of Canaan, the land of their sojourning, in which they sojourned.”

However, the Artscroll Stone Chumash cites Malbim on Perek 6, posuk 5 (page 319), perhaps giving a hint as to the end of the posuk — “in which they sojourned” :

“The land of their sojourning.” Because the Avos’ attitude toward this world was that they were but temporary sojourners, but their true residence was in the Heavenly world of the spirit, I [Hashem] promised to give them the country on earth that is the most conducive to spiritual greatness.

On the word “Moreover”, the Artscroll Stone Chumash (ibid) notes:

Not only did I [Hashem speaking as El Shaddai] appear to them, I also established a covenant with them to give them the Land (Artscroll Stone Chumash citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 13, posuk 14) — and a covenant, by definition, cannot be altered or abrogated, even it one of the parties becomes undeserving.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in his sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text” relates G’d’s dialogue with Moshe regarding the redemption and raises questions regarding G’d’s names (Sefer Shemos, pages 39 – 42):

G’d… informs Moshe that He has heard the cries of the B’nei Yisrael and that He has remembered His covenant. He instructs Moshe to tell the B’nei Yisrael that they will soon be fully redeemed. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Shemos, Perek 6, posukim 2 – 8)

What does G’d mean when He says that He was revealed to the Patriarchs as El Shaddai but not as Hashem [A-do-nai]? [**Note that this Author refrains from writing A-do-nai and instead refers to Hashem, and in most instances in other vorts refrains from writing G’d and substitutes Hashem]

Even on a factual level, Hashem’s claim is problematic. The text repeatedly refers to G’d by the name Hashem during the narrative of the Patriarchal era. On two occasions G’d directly says to the Patriarchs “I am Hashem.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 15, posuk 7 and Perek 28, posuk 13)

How then, could G’d assert that He was not known to the Patriarchs by that name [meaning Hashem]?

The Rabbis maintain that, by contrasting the names El Shaddai and Hashem, G’d references a qualitative distinction between two aspects of His own being. Until now, G’d appeared to man only as El Shaddai. The name Hashem was known to the Patriarchs but the Divine aspect which the name represents was not realized in their time.

The scholars, however, are not uniform in their understanding of the different aspects of G’d represented by these two titles.

An early Midrashic tradition maintains that the name El Shaddai refers to G’d in His role as a “promise-maker”, while the name Hashem refers to G’d in the role as “promise-keeper.”

G’d’s message to Moshe at this critical moment, says the Midrash, is far from benign: “….In spite of all of these disappointments, the Patriarchs never questioned my ways nor asked Me My name (inquired into the nature of My being). You, on the other hand, immediately asked Me My name at the burning bush and, now, with the first setback you experience, you doubt your mission. Your faith pales in comparison to the faith of those who came before you. (Rabbi Goldin citing Midrash Rabbah Breish’t 6:4, Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 111a)

While accepting the Midrashic contention… Rashi maintains that the Midrashically suggested rebuke of Moshe does not fit the flow of the text,”

The Rashbam, Rashi’s grandson, following his grandfather’s lead, explains G’d’s message to Moshe as follows: “Moshe, you are about to experience momentous events, I made numerous promises to the Patriarchs which, nevertheless, remained unfulfilled in their time. Now you and the B’nei Yisrael will experience the fulfillment of those very promises. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rashi on Sefer Shemos, Perek 6, posuk 3, Rashbam ibid)

Other scholars offer alternative explanations for the distinction between the titles El Shaddai and Hashem.

Both the Ibn Ezra and the Ramban maintain that these titles are used by G’d to reflect a change that is about to occur in the quality of His interface with the physical world. Throughout the Patriarchal era, G’d, as El Shaddai, worked his will within the laws of nature. Now, however, as Hashem, G’d will transcend the boundaries of natural law. (Rabbi Goldin citing Ibn Ezra ibid, Ramban ibid)

The Sforno carries this thought one step further by asserting that the name El Shaddai refers to G’d as Creator of the universe, while the name Hashem refers to G’d as Sustainer of that creation. Hashem tells Moshe: “Because I have not changed the course of creation until now, I have only been perceived as El Shaddai, the Creator. Now, however, as I work the miracles of the going out of Mitzrayim and Revelation, all will know that I am Hashem, that I continuously sustain the world and can change the course of nature at will.”

Rabbi Goldin concludes (ibid, page 43):

We are… challenged to put the pieces together and gain a view, albeit distant, of the whole of G’d’s essence, to recognize that in the realm of the Divine, conflicting forces combine without a weakening effect.

By using G’d’s names to reveal pieces of His essence in partial fashion, the Torah ironically underscores the complexity of the whole. In the final analysis, the glimpses of G’d provided to us in the Torah text only serve to heighten His mystery.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them, that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes and the oft-destroyed Yeshiva buildings in Homesh be rebuilt, all at total government expense; due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now in his third year at home in Eretz Yisrael and has embarked on a new chapter in his life. May Esther Yocheved bat Yechiel Avraham have an aliyah in Shemayim and may her spirit and memory continue to lift Jonathan to at least 120 years. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of eight years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos and Chodesh Tov!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.