Parshat Va’eira תשפב

This week’s portion’s opening two verses contain four different holy names of Hashem.

(ב) וַיְדַבֵּר אֱלֹקִים אֶל משֶׁה וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אֲנִי יְדֹוָד  

(ג) וָאֵרָא אֶל אַבְרָהָם אֶל יִצְחָק וְאֶל יַעֲקֹב בְּקֵל שַׁקָּי וּשְׁמִי יְדֹוָד לֹא נוֹדַעְתִּי לָהֶם

2) Elo(k)him spoke to Moshe and said to him, “I am Hashem. 3) I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov as (K)El Sha(K)ddai, but with my name Hashem I did not make Myself known to them.” (Shemot 6:2,3)

            The first verse has the name Elokim (written with the k substituting for an h sound), along with Hashem ידוד(the ד is missing the foot which would make it a ה so that we have not printed the actual name), and in the second verse we have the names Kel, and Shakai, (the “K” substituting for an “E” and “d” respectively).

             (Because we may not say Hashem’s real names outside of when reading the Torah and in prayer, we use instead a nickname. The word “Hashem” means “the name” and is used instead of the שם הויהshem havaya – Hashem’s special name – comprising those four letters, but with the yud placed before the other three letters. In Hashem’s other names, we substitute a “ק” the “K” sound for one of the letters, so as not to pronounce the actual name.) 

            Hashem has a total of 10 holy names. This is very important because when a scribe writes a Sefer Torah, he must expressly sanctify each of the names. But why does Hashem have multiple names? Isn’t Hashem “One”? 

            Our Sages teach us that each of Hashem’s names represents a different modus operandi, a specific posture that Hashem has “donned” for His current or upcoming dealings.

            The holy name Elokim, in the first verse of our Parsha, is unusual. Instead of the usual:

וַיְדַבֵּר יְדֹוָד אֶל משֶׁה לֵּאמֹר:

“And Hashem spoke to Moshe,” we have “And Elokim spoke to Moshe.” Every other one of the 93 times Hashem spoke to Moshe, it was with the four-letter Name, Hashem. Why the change here? 

            Rashi explains: 

דבר אתו משפט על שהקשה לדבר ולומר למה הרעותה לעם הזה

He (Hashem) spoke to [Moshe] in a judging critical way because Moshe questioned Hashem when he asked, “Why have You done evil to Your nation?”

            The background for this Rashi is as follows. Hashem sent Moshe and Aharon to tell Pharoah that Hashem is taking His people out of Egypt and that Pharoah should let the Jewish people go. Pharoah alleged that the slaves had idle time on their hands and therefore were fomenting a revolution. To remedy the problem, he increased their workload by stopping to provide straw for the bricks. They would have to procure it themselves yet still produce their regular quota of bricks. This, reasoned Pharoah, would take care of the extra time they had on their hands and derail the revolution.

Pharoah, of course, missed the mark. The people were worked to the bone, and there was no “extra” time on their hands. They were not fomenting a revolution. Hashem sent Moshe and Aharon to take them out. But now, as a result of Moshe’s visit to Pharoah, they had to procure the straw themselves and still produce the same number of bricks, an impossible task. Their Jewish supervisors were beaten by their Egyptian taskmasters for falling short in their production quotas. 

Some people who met Moshe and Aharon after their visit to Pharoah complained to them. “What have you done to us? Since you visited Pharoah, things have only become worse! You have placed a sword in their hands to murder us!”

            Moshe in turn expressed the same complaint to Hashem: “Why have You done evil to your nation by sending me to Pharoah? All I did was make things worse for them!” 

            This is why Hashem responded with His name Elokim, Hashem’s name connoting strict judgment. Using this name represents a rebuke to Moshe for what he said. Rashi quotes the Midrash that explains Hashem’s criticism of Moshe. 

 הרהרת על מדותי! לא כאברהם שאמרתי לו (בראשית כא) כי ביצחק יקרא לך זרע ואח”כ אמרתי לו העלהו לעולה ולא הרהר אחר מדותי

You questioned My motives. Not like Avraham to whom I first said, “Yitzchak will carry forth your legacy,” and then I told him, “Sacrifice him,” and he didn’t question my motives.”

            The name Elokim is also the only name of Hashem used in the Torah’s first chapter, the creation narrative, because as Hashem was creating matter, He was judging and determining the properties and limitations of all the materials and forces He was creating. 

Each element on the Periodic Table of Elements (that you studied in High School chemistry) has unique qualities and limitations, e.g., specific boiling point and freezing points. In its natural state the element may be a gas, a liquid, or a solid. When elements combine to form new products, the properties of that product is determined by the qualities of its components. This was all decided and set up when Hashem created them. 

Hashem also judged and put into place the laws in nature that govern how our world works. For example, the laws of physics, gravity, aerodynamics, thermodynamics, all of which make our world habitable and generally predictable. 

These rules of nature and the specific properties of the world’s various objects do not bend to accommodate the person using them. They apply all the time to everyone. If a person jumps off a building, gravity is going to pull him down every time – no exceptions! It makes no difference what his name is or how important he is. The world with its properties is a manifestation of Hashem’s דין – judgment. 

This also explains why Elokim is in the plural form. It means that Hashem is the בעל הכחות כלם  the Master over all of the world’s different forces and powers. While there are many different and even opposing forces that look like they are independent and in charge of themselves, in reality Hashem is in control of them all. 

Therefore, Elokim, the Judge, spoke critically to Moshe and told him, “I am Hashem (shem havaya)!” The shem havaya is Hashem’s original name, the source of everything, including all of Hashem’s other names. It is also Hashem’s special name because it comprises the three words that describe Hashem’s unique quality of past, present, and future existenceהיה הוה יהיה) ). As human beings governed by the rules of time, we perceive this as past, present, and future; but for Hashem Who is outside of time, it means that He is all three simultaneously. This is what Hashem was before creation: all of reality with no boundaries or limitations in what He could do. Perhaps the greatest proof to this is Hashem’s ability to create a material world. Hashem, who is completely spiritual with no material component whatsoever, is the complete antithesis of a material world, yet He effortlessly created a material world from nothing! 

The four-letter name, הויה – the shem havaya, also connotes infinite kindness. Since there is nothing other than Hashem and nothing can compel Him to do anything, whatever He decides to do must, so to speak, come “from the goodness of His heart.” Because, moreover, Hashem is perfect and can receive nothing in return for the kindness that He bestows, His kindness is 100% altruistic. So, what prompted Hashem to create the world? His desire to bestow His goodness upon others. The whole creation and everything in it, is the most eloquent expression of Hashem’s infinite goodness and lovingkindness. 

King David expresses this concept in Psalms (89:3), 

(ג) כִּי אָמַרְתִּי עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה

(3) For I have said, “The world is built on kindness.” 

In telling Moshe, “I am Hashem,” Hashem was telling Moshe not only was the question inappropriate but the wording was also wrong. “You said, ‘Why did You do evil for your nation?’ I am Hashem (shem havaya), and everything that I do is good. It is impossible for Me to do evil, for My very essence is infinite lovingkindness. It may be bitter or unpleasant, but it is, ultimately, good.”         

            The name Elokim, which connotes judgment, and the shem havaya, which connotes lovingkindness, are Hashem’s two most frequently used names. What of the other two, Kel and Shakai? 

            The Hebrew world אל (with the vowel tzere [..] under the א), when used generically and not referring to Hashem, means powerful and mighty. When, however, used in reference to Hashem, it becomes a holy name, which means the Most Mighty and Powerful One. When used with one of Hashem’s attributes, it means that Hashem is the most mighty and powerful in that attribute. 

            Nachmanides explains that Hashem’s name Sha(k)dai comes from the Hebrew root שדד, which means to plunder

            In what context does Hashem plunder? This refers to Hashem’s taking control, plundering if you will, the spiritual forces on high and forces of nature and overriding them to bring forth His will. All of this takes place behind the scenes with no open miracles apparent. 

This is the modus operandi that Hashem adopted when dealing with our forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Hashem provided them with everything they needed by intervening and manipulating the various forces involved. Avraham was not destined to have a child according to what was written in the stars. But Hashem lifted him “above the stars,” overriding them and removing their influence. When Hashem wanted the forefathers to be wealthy, He made the weather conditions and soil quality perfectly suited to bring forth abundant and excellent crops. When Yaakov requested his pay from his father-in-law Lavan and was going to collect it via specifically colored cattle and sheep, Hashem saw to it that the cattle and sheep give birth only to the correctly colored offspring so that Yaakov would receive great wealth. Once again, no open miracles; just Hashem intervening and controlling nature to bring about the desired result. 

The Ibn Ezra, in his Torah commentary, explains that this is what Hashem was telling Moshe in these verses. 

והנה אמר האלהים למשה נראיתי לאבות בכח ידי אשר אני שודד בו המזלות ועוזר לבחירי, אבל בשמי של יו”ד ה”א אשר בו נהיה כל הווה לא נודעתי להם לברוא להם חדשות בשנוי התולדות, ולכן אמור לבני ישראל אני ה’, ותודיע להם פעם אחרת השם הגדול כי בו אני עושה עמהם להפליא, וידעו כי אני ה’ עושה כל

Hashem was telling Moshe that I appeared to the forefathers through My Name Kel Shakai, where I control the spiritual forces to help My chosen ones. But my name Hashem- ידוד, the name through which all came about and with the power to create and change nature, I did not reveal to them. Therefore, tell the Jewish people, “I am Hashem, ידוד, and tell them again about this great Name, because with it I am going to do wonders, and all will know that I am Hashem.

This is also the mode of Hashem that Pharoah denied when he said (Exodus 5:2), 

(ב) וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה מִי יְדֹוָד אֲשֶׁר אֶשְׁמַע בְּקֹלוֹ לְשַׁלַּח אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא יָדַעְתִּי אֶת יְדֹוָד וְגַם אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא אֲשַׁלֵּחַ

(2) Who is Hashem that I should heed His voice to send out Yisrael. I don’t know Hashem, nor will I send out Yisrael. 

Pharoah had learned about Elokim from Yosef, but he had never heard of Hashem -the shem havaya. When Yosef was brought before Pharoah to interpret his dreams, Pharaoh said to Yosef (Genesis 41:15), “I heard it said of you that you comprehend a dream to interpret it.” Yosef responded, “That is beyond me; Elokim will respond with Pharoah’s welfare.” After Yosef interpreted the dreams to Pharoah’s satisfaction, Pharoah declared (41:38), “Could we find another like him- a man in whom is the spirit of Elokim?”  

Pharoah was able to perceive Hashem’s work behind the scenes helping Yosef by giving him the knowledge to interpret the dreams and the foresight as to how to deal with the years of plenty and famine, which were all within the parameters of the natural world. But to claim that Hashem can also control and change the laws of nature, that’s impossible.  

This is what Hashem would prove through the ten plagues that He would bring upon Egypt. The miracles of the plagues would show clearly that Hashem is the Creator of the world. 

Here are a few examples. 

In the plague of blood, all water in Egypt turned to blood, including the Nile River, all other rivers and brooks, the water in cisterns, and even previously drawn water stored in vessels. Yet all the blood of the Egyptians was water for the Jews, who were unaffected by any of the plagues. If an Egyptian bought water from a Jew, it would not turn to blood. Indeed, if a Jew and an Egyptian were drinking water from the same glass with straws, the Jew would draw water through his straw, while the Egyptian would draw blood up his. How can that be? What’s in the cup, water or blood? The answer is water for a Jew and blood for an Egyptian, at the same time! How can that be? It’s no problem for the Creator of the water and the blood.

In the seventh plague hail, the Torah tells us: (Exodus 9:24)

(כד) וַיְהִי בָרָד וְאֵשׁ מִתְלַקַּחַת בְּתוֹךְ הַבָּרָד 

24. There was hail, and fire flaming amid the hail 

Once again, this seems to be impossible! How could fire exist inside a hailstone that is made out of frozen water? And how could a hail stone remain a hailstone if there is fire inside of it? Only the Creator, who gave fire and water their properties to begin with, can control those properties and allow these two opposing forces to co-exist within one hailstone. 

The ninth plague, darkness, is a real mind bender. This plague lasted six days, with two stages to its intensity. From the onset, the darkness was darker than night, and during the first three days, no one could see anyone else. In today’s world, which has many forms of artificial light, we have little experience with absolute darkness. There is a museum in Israel called “Dialogue in the Dark,” which gives people who are gifted with sight an idea of what it is like to live without light, as blind people do. They have created an environment of complete and total darkness. Experiencing it is like no other darkness you ever experienced. The darkness is so complete that you literally feel like you have no eyes to see. The initial plague of darkness for the Egyptians was like that. 

For the next three days, the darkness intensified until it was so thick that the Egyptians could not even move. If they were seated, that is how they remained for the full three days. 

The Jews, however, throughout the six days of darkness, had light! In the very homes of the Egyptians where they were plunged into a darkness so thick you could feel it, the Jews saw with light as if nothing unusual was going on! 

When Hashem told Avraham that his children would be slaves in a foreign land, He also told him that his children would leave with great wealth. Before leaving, Moshe asked the Jewish people to ask the Egyptians for their gold and silver, to satisfy Hashem’s promise to Avraham. To be sure that they would leave with the Egyptian’s wealth, during the six days of darkness, the Jews were busy going from Egyptian house to Egyptian house locating their hidden treasures. This way, if the Egyptians denied having it, the Jews would know where it was and retrieve it. 

Think about it: the Jews could see while the Egyptians were incapable of moving because of the intensity of the darkness. How could two people standing in the very same room, experience a completely opposite reality? This is clearly something that only the Creator could accomplish. 

These are a few examples of how the plagues revealed Hashem as the Creator of the world. Since the plagues affected only the Egyptians and not the Jews, this proved the second tenet, that Hashem knows who each person is and that He is involved in their lives, since He tailored the plagues to each person. 

Being in Egypt under the influence of the Egyptian culture and belief system, had weakened the Jews in the basics of their belief in Hashem. Therefore, at the very inception of the Jewish nation, Hashem wanted to teach the Jewish people the most important and fundamental truth about Himself; that He created the world, He controls it and that He is involved in each person’s life. They would now see open miracles the likes of which only the Creator could perform. They would clearly see their Creator.

Hashem’s “miraculous mode” continued for over 40 years, until the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel. During those miraculous years, they experienced miracles daily. Their food fell from heaven in the form of manna, their water came from a rock that travelled with them, and they were enveloped by clouds that led them on their journey and protected them from all harm. This deeply embedded the foundations of the Jewish religion into the souls of the Jewish people. Hashem created the world, controls it and that He is involved with each person. 

Our Sages teach us:  ישראל הם מאמינים בני מאמינים, the Jewish people are “believers the children of believers” – belief in Hashem in part of their makeup. It is engrained in their souls. 

As believers, if we open our eyes and perk up our ears, we can clearly perceive Hashem’s involvement in our lives behind the scenes. 

But we are also up against a powerful public voice that echoes Pharoah’s words, “Who is Hashem that I should heed his voice?” Perhaps the world culture we live in today is worse than the culture that the Jews dealt with in Egypt. In Egypt, at least Pharoah acknowledged Elokim, a spiritual force behind nature, controlling the world within the parameters of nature. Our culture, however, denies the need for Hashem altogether. They claim the world came about “by itself,” without the help of any spiritual forces, and that there is no Elokim either.

The antidote to this is to remember the plagues that Hashem brought against the Egyptians, where He showed the world that He is the creator, that He controls the world, and that He is involved in each of our lives. 

How do we know it is true? Did you celebrate a Passover Seder last year? Did your grandfather celebrate one in his day? How about his grandfather? The chain extends back to the very first Seder that the Jews held the night before they left Egypt. Parents have told their children and grandchildren the story of the exodus at Passover seders from the exodus until now. Appreciating this should give us the perseverance to deflect the destructive influence of the denying world around us. 

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