Vort from the Rav: Vaera

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Exodus 6:2

וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אֲנִי ה׳
and He said to him, “I am the Lord.

Chazal point out that God was very critical of Moses’ argument in v. 5:23 – since I have come to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has harmed this people, and You have not saved Your people. A similar criticism was leveled against Solomon (Shemos Rabba 6:1). The Midrash explains that the Torah enjoined Israelite kings from having too many wives so they would not sway the king from wholeheartedly serving God (Deut. 17:17). Solomon however maintained that this rationale did not apply to him; his belief in God was ironclad and could never be weakened no matter how many women he wed. Chazal indicate that at the moment Solomon decided to violate this command of the Torah, the letter yud from the word יַרְבֶה in the phraseוְלֹא יַרְבֶה לוֹ נָשִים (and he should not take many wives for himself) complained to God that Solomon ignored this mitzvah. In the Hebrew language the yud is the letter prefix for a verb that indicates the future tense. The yud argued that while initially Solomon’s heart would indeed be unaffected, Solomon did not recognize that in the future this situation could change. When he became older and weaker and his mental abilities were no longer as sharp, we learn that his wives indeed swayed Solomon’s heart (1 Kings 11:3) and that altars to false gods were built in his palace by those wives. The yud demonstrated that even Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, could fall prey to what he was certain he could avoid.

This same yud criticized Moses because in his argument with God, Moses made a mistake that involved this same letter. When God sent Moses to Pharaoh for the first time, He did not reveal Himself via the Shem Havaya, the Tetragramaton, representing all three tenses: היה הוה ויהיה: past, present and future. God only told Moses of the past: “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (v. 3:6) and the future, אהיה: I will be (v. 3:14). By omitting the part of His name which represents the present, God in effect said that while Jews were still being persecuted, the present cannot be understood.

At the Burning Bush, God had already warned Moses that Pharaoh would not let the people go immediately (v. 3:19), that there would be much tribulation until the redemption. Moses should accustom himself to relating to God only via the yud, the promise of the future redemption and the heh representing the past. Despite being warned, Moses did not accept this idea. When Pharaoh rejected Moses’ message Moses returned to complain to God using the name י-ה-ו-ה (v. 6:22). The Torah used this name here because Moses was not satisfied with the name אהיה; he wanted immediate redemption, arguing “Why have You dealt badly with this people, and why did you send me? Since I have come to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has harmed this people, and You have not saved Your people (v. 5:23). Both Moses and Solomon emphasized the present over the future. God, through his attribute of justice would have killed Moses due to his apparent impudence. However, since Moses was merely reflecting the anxiety of the Israelites, the Divine attribute of mercy had pity on Moses, and God forgave him. He would now reveal Himself in the present, through open miracles, i.e. via the name י-ה-ו-ה.

God however first reproved Moses, telling him that the forefathers had not demanded such instant gratification. They remained satisfied with a promise that would only be fulfilled in future generations. While God told Moses that he would begin the redemption immediately, He at the same time contrasted Moses behavior unfavorably with the forefathers (see Rashi v. 6:3). (Mipninei Harav, pp. 367-9)

About Arnold Lustiger

Dr. Arnold Lustiger is a research scientist and has edited multiple volumes of the Rav's Torah, including the recently published Chumash Mesoras HaRav.

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