INTRODUCTION TO PARASHAT HASHAVUA
In loving memory of Channa Schreiber (Channa Rivka bat Yosef v'
with wishes for consolation and comfort to her dear children
Yossi and Mona, Yitzchak and Carmit, and their families,
along with all who mourn for Tzion and Yerushalayim.
By Rav Zvi Shimon
The opening verses of this week's portion, parashat Vaera, are amongst
the most cryptic and intriguing in the Torah.
spoke to Moses and said to him, "I am 'Hashem' (Tetragrammaton, see glossary). I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob as 'Kel Shakkai', but by My name 'Hashem' was I not known to them "(Exodus
God reveals to Moses a hitherto concealed name unknown even to the
patriarchs. Several questions beckon
in response to these verses.
1) The verse states that God did not
reveal the tetragrammaton to the patriarchs.
There are, however, several instances in Genesis in which God uses the
tetragrammaton when speaking to the patriarchs.
God tells Abraham: "I am 'HASHEM' who brought you out from Ur Kasdim"
(Genesis 15:7) and reveals Himself to Jacob saying: "I am 'HASHEM' the God of
your father Abraham and the God of Isaac" (ibid. 28:13). In addition, Abraham apparently knew
this name, since Scripture states: "and [Abraham] called upon the name of
'Hashem' (12:8, see also 13:4).
These examples contradict our verse which implies that this name was concealed
until it was revealed to Moses.
2) What is the significance of God's
different names and why does God reveal to Moses a name which, according to our
verse, was concealed from the patriarchs?
We will begin with the first question.
Rasag (Rabbi Sa'adia Gaon, Persia, 892-942), apparently troubled by this
very question, interprets our verse differently.
He suggests that the verse is to be understood as follows: "I appeared to
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as Kel Shakkai, but I did not make Myself known to
them ONLY by My name' Hashem.'" God
indeed appeared to the patriarchs as 'Hashem.'
Our verse does not deny this.
The difference is only that God would also appear to them through other names
such as Kel Shakkai. However, when
revealing Himself to Moses, he appears as 'Hashem' using the name 'Hashem'
Bekhor Shor (Rabbi Yosef Ben Yitzchak Bekhor Shor, France, 12th century) reaches a similar conclusion to that of the Rasag, albeit
through a different interpretation.
According to Rabbi Bekhor Shor, the verse should be read: "I
appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as Kel Shakkai AND by my name 'Hashem,'
but I did not make Myself known to them."
Although God appeared to the patriarchs using different names including
Kel Shakkai and 'Hashem,' His revelation was nevertheless still limited. God will further reveal himself to
Moses. Both the Rasag and Rabbi
Bekhor Shor attempt to solve the contradiction between Genesis and Exodus by
re-interpreting the verse in Exodus in a somewhat forced manner, either by
suggesting that the verse should be understood through an insertion of the word
"only or by a change in the punctuation of the verse.."
The majority of the commentators, however, offer a different solution. They suggest that our verse does not
relate to the revelation of the name, Hashem, per se. The patriarchs were definitely
familiar with this name. What they
were unacquainted with is the significance of the name and what it represents. When God states: "but I did not make
Myself known to them by My name 'Hashem,'" He is not referring to the actual
name but rather to the divine attribute which the name represents. What, then, does the tetragrammaton
Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak, France, 1040-1105) explains the name
'Hashem' as He who is "faithful to recompense reward to those who walk in my
ways." God, by revealing his name to
Moses, informs him that the purpose of his mission is to fulfill the promises
which God made to the patriarchs of giving them the land of Israel. Rashi interprets the continuation of
our verse as follows:
APPEARED TO ABRAHAM, ISAAC AND JACOB AS KEL SHAKKAI - I made many promises to
the patriarchs and in all cases I said to them, I am Kel Shakkai BUT BY MY NAME
HASHEM WAS I NOT KNOWN TO THEM - It is not written 'but my name Hashem I did not
make known to them' rather it is written "but by my name Hashem WAS I NOT KNOWN
TO THEM" - I was not recognized by them in My ATTRIBUTE of faithfulness, by
reason of which My name is called 'Hashem' which denotes that I am certain to
fulfill the words [of my promise], since I made promises [to the patriarchs] but
did not fulfill them [during their lifetime]."
Rashi's interpretation relates to both of the questions raised in
relation to our verse, i.e. the contradiction between the verses in Genesis and
Exodus as well as the significance behind God's names. Rashi points out that the verb at the
end of the verse is in the passive form, "not known" as opposed to "not made
known." God indeed revealed himself
to the patriarchs through the name 'Hashem.'
They, however, did not recognize the attribute of faithfulness, of truth,
which the name implies. There is
therefore no contradiction between our verse and the book of Genesis since it is
not the actual name but only its significance which our verse states was unknown
to the patriarchs. The name Kel
Shakkai relates to God's promises to the patriarchs, the name 'Hashem' to the
actualization of the promises. God's
words to Moses are a response to his complaint at the end of last week's
portion, parashat Shemot: "Why did You bring harm upon this people? Why did You send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak
in Your name, he has dealt worse with this people; and still You have not
delivered Your people" (5:22,23).
God responds that He is about to reveal the facet of 'Hashem,' the fulfiller of
promises. The verse immediately
following ours further specifies, "I also established My covenant with them [the
patriarchs], to give them the land of Canaan..." (6:4). God established the covenant and He
will now fulfill it.
The Ibn Ezra (Rabbi Avraham ben Ezra, Spain, 1092-1167) agrees with Rashi
that our verse does not relate to the name 'Hashem' per se but rather to the
attribute which the name denotes.
He, however, offers a different explanation of this attribute. God's names do not relate to the
making or fulfillment of promises.
They relate to the method by which God intervenes in the running of worldly
purport of the verse is that He appeared to the patriarchs by this name [Kel
Shakkai], which indicates that He is the victor and prevailer over the hosts of
heaven, doing great miracles for them except that no change from the
natural order of the world was noticeable.
In famine, He redeemed them from death, and in war from the power of the
sword, and He gave them riches and honor and all the goodness, just like all the
assurances mentioned in the Torah in the section dealing with the blessings and
It is not
[in nature] that man should be rewarded for performance of a commandment or
punished for committing a transgression but by a miracle. If man were left to his nature or his
fortune, his deeds would neither add to him nor diminish from him. Rather, reward and punishment in this
world, as mentioned in the entire scope of the Torah, are all miracles, but they
are HIDDEN. They appear to the
onlooker as being part of the natural order of things, but in truth they come
upon man as punishment and reward for his deeds....
said to Moses: 'I have appeared to the patriarchs with the might of My arm with
which I prevail over the constellations and help those whom I have chosen, but
with My name 'Hashem' with which all existence came into being I was not made
known to them, that is, to create new things for them by the open change of
nature. And Wherefore say unto the
children of Israel: I am 'Hashem' and inform them once again of the Great Name
[i.e., the Tetragrammaton], for by that Name I will deal wondrously with them,
and they will know that I am the Eternal, that maketh all things.'"
Ezra as formulated in the commentary of the Ramban).
Kel Shakkai represents a form of intervention which does not go counter
to the laws of nature. When God
wished to rescue the patriarchs, he did not do so through miraculous cataclysmic
means but rather by effecting the natural course of events. God now informs Moses that salvation
will come through a different mode of celestial intervention, through the name
'Hashem.' God will create miracles
which will defy all the rules of nature.
God as Kel Shakkai intervenes through natural means. God through the attribute of 'Hashem'
rises above nature. As creator of
the world he has the power to not only manipulate nature but also to negate it. Several verses later, God elaborates
on the imminent salvation: "Say therefore to the Israelite people: I am 'Hashem'
... I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through EXTRAORDINARY
chastisements" (6:6). God's
revelation to Moses as 'Hashem' is thus a foreshadowing of the ten plagues and
the supernatural manner of the salvation.
The Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, Spain, 1194-1274), building on the
interpretation of the Ibn Ezra offers another explanation of our verses. The Ibn Ezra points to the difference
between the verb used to describe God's revelation to the patriarchs as Kel
Shakkai and the verb used in relation to Moses.
With regard to the patriarchs Scripture states: " I APPEARED ("va-eira")
to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as Kel Shakkai."
However, in relation to the name 'Hashem' the Torah reads: "but by My
name 'Hashem' was I not KNOWN to them."
Why does the Torah once use the verb appear in relation to revelation and
then switch to the verb to know? The
Ramban gives the following explanation:
of the Truth, the verse can be explained in consonance with its plain meaning
and intent. He is saying: 'I the
Eternal appeared to the patriarchs through the speculum of Kel Shakkai,' just as
is the sense of the verse, 'In a vision do I make myself known to him' (Numbers
12:6). But Myself, I the Eternal did
not make Myself known to them, as they did not contemplate [Me] through a lucid
speculum so that they should know me,' just as is the sense of the verse, 'And
there hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the
Eternal knew face to face' (Deuteronomy 34:10).
The patriarchs did know the Proper name of the Eternal, but it was not
known to them through prophecy.
Therefore, when Abraham spoke with God, he mentioned the Proper Name together
with the Name Adnut- Lord or Adnut alone.
The purport thereof is that the revelation of the Divine Presence and His
communication with them came to them through an ameliorated attribute of
justice, and with that attribute was His conduct towards them. But with Moses, His conduct, and His
recognition to him were by the attribute of mercy, which is indicated by His
Great Name [i.e., the Tetragrammaton].
The Ramban notes two related differences between God's revelation to the
patriarchs and His revelation to Moses.
The first difference relates to the medium of the revelation, the second
to its content. The verb APPEARED is
used in relation to the patriarchs because God's revelation to them was not
direct, "face to face," but rather through visions. Moses, however, received direct
revelation from God and was thus able to have a closer grasp of the essence of
God (compare to the Rambam's analysis in the Guide to the Perplexed part 1,
chapter 61). The patriarchs
recognized God through the attribute of Kel Shakkai which, according to the
Ramban, represents the attribute of justice.
Moses recognized God through his name 'Hashem' which denotes mercy. God in revealing himself to Moses and
freeing the people of Israel from bondage is bestowing goodness upon Israel
beyond that which justice would require and thus revealing His mercy.
To summarize, we have so far seen three explanations of the attributes
which the names Kel Shakkai and 'Hashem' represent. According to Rashi Kel Shakkai
represents God's promises to the patriarchs while Hashem represents their
actualization. According to the Ibn
Ezra Kel Shakkai represents divine intervention through natural means while
Hashem represents supernatural miraculous intervention. According to the Ramban, the name Kel
Shakkai symbolizes indirect revelation through visions and the attribute of
justice while the name 'Hashem' indicates direct revelation and the attribute of
Whichever explanation is adopted, one question still remains to be
answered; why does God reveal to Moses an attribute which was concealed from the
patriarchs? Did not the patriarchs
merit the actualization of God's promises or His performance of greater miracles
or direct revelation as experienced by Moses?
Were the patriarchs inferior to Moses?
Opinions differ in regard to this question. [The answer to this question of
course depends upon which explanation of God's names we adopt.]
The Ibn Ezra comments that the miracles performed through Moses are proof
that he reached a greater attachment to God than the patriarchs. The patriarchs did not have a
sufficient grasp of the attribute indicated by the name 'Hashem' to merit the
performance of such overt cataclysmic miracles.
This is also the position of the Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, Egypt,
1138-1204) in his analysis of the uniqueness of Moses's prophecy (see the Guide
to the Perplexed, part 2, chapter 35, and the Code of Law, 'Yesodei Ha-Torah'
7:6). Moses' direct prophecy is
unique and unmatched by any other prophet.
All the prophets received revelation through visions and metaphoric
symbols. They received revelation
while sleeping and through an angel but not through God Himself. Prophecy was for them an emotionally
and physically stirring experience.
Moses, by contrast, received direct revelation from God and prophecy was for him
a natural experience. Moses had
miracles performed before all of Israel.
The other prophets only had miracles performed before small numbers of
people. All this is proof of Moses's
greatness and hid superiority over all other prophets.
An opposite opinion to that of the Ibn Ezra and the Rambam is raised by
our Sages as cited in Shemot Rabba (a compilation of homiletical interpretations
of our Sages):
Holy One blessed be He to Moses: Alas for those who are gone, never to be
replaced (in reference to the patriarchs)!
Many times I revealed Myself to Abraham Isaac and Jacob as God Almighty,
but I did not make known to them that My name is the Lord as I have told thee
and THEY DID NOT QUESTION MY WAYS. I
said to Abraham: (Gen. 13) 'Arise and go forth in the land the length and
breadth ... for to thee shall I give it' - He sought to bury Sarah and did not
find where, until he purchased a place with money - YET HE DID NOT QUESTION MY
WAYS. I said to Isaac (ibid. 26):
'Dwell in this land ... for to thee and thy seed shall I give all these lands' -
He sought to drink water and did not find, 'And the shepherds of Gerar strove
with the shepherds of Isaac' - YET HE DID NOT QUESTION MY WAYS. I said unto Jacob (ibid. 29): 'The
land which thou liest on, to thee will I give it and unto thy seed' - He sought
a place to pitch his tent and did not find, until he acquired it for a hundred
kesita - YET HE DID NOT QUESTION MY WAYS, and did not ask Me what was My name as
thou didn't ask. Yet you at the
beginning of My mission did say to Me, 'What is His name?' And at the end you did say, (Exodus
5:23): 'Since I came to speak in Thy name, he hath done evil to this people."
(Shemot Rabba 6:4)
The patriarchs' faith was actually greater than that of Moses. The patriarchs were fully confident
that God would fulfill his promises to them even when reality presented a
contradictory picture. God promised
to give the patriarchs the land of Israel but they always had to struggle with
the native inhabitants over their rights to the land. They nonetheless never questioned
God's faithfulness. By contrast,
Moses, at the first sign of difficulty on his mission immediately protests:
"Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has dealt worse with
this people; and still You have not delivered Your people" (Exodus 5:23). According to this interpretation, it
is Moses' lack of faith which demands God's immediate fulfillment of His
promises. Moses needs the evidence
of overt miracles to buttress his faith.
The patriarchs, by contrast, possess a pure and absolute faith. They are not deterred by a delay in
the fulfillment of the divine promise; their faith is unswerving. Even if reality is harsh and even
while they suffer the patriarchs' faith stands firm.
(Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Germany,
adopts a different approach to the question. The difference in Moses' revelation
is not a sign of superiority or inferiority.
It is rather a product of a divine plan for the creation of the Jewish
people. It is not due to Moses, the
individual, but to his mission of redeeming the people of Israel:
revelation of God has been prepared from the very beginning of Jewish history.
surprised that up till now things have become worse and worse
equally well have led you on a upward path.
Instead of letting Abraham get a son in his hundredth year, I could have
caused a family to be raised by him by the time he had reached seventy, and
allowed his descendants to flourish in happy favorable circumstances to a
powerful nation on its own native soil.
But then that nation would not have been the nation that reveals God as
'Hashem.' Then this nation would be
no different from all other nations, would have developed like them from
ordinary natural causes, like them, stand on material visible firm ground, would
find the source of power and greatness in material power and greatness, and only
aspire to the spiritual and moral, as far as their materialism left space for
it, and as far as it fitted in with their materialism. But, in contrast to the other
nations, this nation is to get its land, and have its foundation, solely in
God wished to save the people of Israel through unnatural means to stress
their unique essence and mission.
The people of Israel will not develop naturally like the rest of the nations. They will inherit their land through
divine intervention. Their right to
the land is intricately connected to their commitment to fulfill their destiny
as the people of 'Hashem.' The
history of Israel does not follow the natural route of the other nations of the
earth; it is a history governed by the covenant with God. Not only is our connection to the
land related to the covenant, our whole experience and existence stems from our
relationship with God. Moses is
embarking on a mission to save the people of Israel, take them to the promised
land and establish them as an independent nation.
This mission will not be accomplished through 'Kel Shakkai,' through
natural means. It will be
accomplished through 'Hashem,' divine intervention which negates the laws of
nature. Through this divine
intervention the people of Israel become the people of 'Hashem.'
The Tetragrammaton, the four-letter-name of God, is not pronounced but is
rather read as the name of 'Adnut' - Lord, another of the names of God (see
Rambam, Code of Law, 'Yesodei Ha-torah' chapter 6). When not reading full verses from the
Torah, in order to avoid having to pronounce the holy name, it is referred to as
'Hashem' which literally means 'the name.'