In This Issue:
Rabbi Chaim Poupko
Rabbi Chaim Jachter
Parashat Vaeira begins with a surprising statement. God tells Moshe that He has told him something that He had not told the patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov: that His name is Yud Kei Vav Kei. God revealed Himself to the patriarchs with the name Keil Shakkai, but not with the four-letter name. There are two difficulties which arise from these Pesukim. First, it says in Bereishit that God says both to Avraham and to Yaakov the very same declaration made to Moshe, "I am Hashem," and both Avraham and Yaakov call out in the name of God using the four-letter name. So why does God say that He did not make Himself known to them with this name? Second, does this statement imply that the revelation to Moshe was different or more intimate than those of the patriarchs?
Rashi, based upon the Mechilta DeRashbi, comments that God is saying that the patriarchs did not know Him as One who is faithful to fulfill His commitments, represented by His four-letter name. Since God had promised them that He would redeem their descendants from Egypt but had not fulfilled this commitment during their lifetimes, they did not experience God as the fulfiller of promises. As we know from the Baruch SheAmar prayer, one of God's attributes is that He is Gozeir UMekayeim, that He decrees and fulfills. This is one of the ways in which God relates to people in this world and how we experience God's presence. In this regard, the patriarchs did not experience God, since they did not see the ultimate fulfillment of the covenant He made with them.
This answer is broadened by a comment of the Baal HaTurim. When the Pasuk says that God appeared to them as Keil Shakkai, it means that God related to them to promise them a great nation from their numerous children. When God related to them with the four-letter name, it was to promise them the land of Canaan.
Looking through the different revelations of God to the patriarchs, we find that the Baal HaTurim makes an astute observation. Each time that God revealed Himself with the name Keil Shakkai, it was to promise them many children making up a great nation. Regarding Avraham, the verse says, "I am Keil Shakkai, walk before Me and be perfect…and I will increase you plentifully" (Bereishit 17:1-2). By Yaakov, the verse says, "And Keil Shakkai will bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you" (28:3). Both of these citations indicate that the name Keil Shakkai accompanies the promise of children. Each time God says "I am Hashem" with the four-letter name, it is to promise the patriarchs the Land of Canaan. To Avraham, God says, "I am Hashem (four-letter name), who took you out of Ur Kasdim to give you this land as an inheritance" (15:1). And to Yaakov, God says, "I am Hashem (four-letter name)…the land upon which you are lying I will
give to you and to your descendants" (28:13). Both times that God says "I am Hashem," it is to guarantee that the land of Canaan will belong to their descendants.
What emerges from this explanation is that the promise of children was a promise that was fulfilled to the childless Avraham and Sarah, to Yitzchak and Rivkah, and to Yaakov and Rachel. Each received the fulfillment of the promise expressed with Keil Shakkai. The promise of the redemption and settlement in the land of Canaan had not yet been fulfilled, and therefore they did not experience the fulfillment expressed with the four-letter name.
What the Baal HaTurim adds is that while Rashi (based on the Mechilta) says that the patriarchs did not experience the revelation of a particular attribute of God - that He is faithful to fulfill promises - it was not an entire attribute that they didn't experience. Rather, they didn't experience the fulfillment of the promise of the land of Canaan expressed using that attribute. God did fulfill other promises made to them, such as the one expressed with the name Keil Shakkai that they would be given children. Although Hashem didn't fulfill his promises completely to the Avot, by Parashat Vaeira he was ready to completely fulfill His promises to redeem Bnei Yisrael with open miracles.
In Parashat VaEira, the Torah tells us, "Hu Aharon UMoshe Asher Amar Hashem Lahem Hotziu Et Bnei Yisrael MeiEretz Mitzrayim Al Tzivotam Heim HaMedaberim El Paroh Melech Mitzrayim LeHotzi Et Bnei Yisrael MiMitzrayim Hu Moshe VeAharon," "These are the [same] Aharon and Moshe to whom Hashem said: 'Bring out the Children of Israel from the land of Egypt according to their hosts.' These are the ones that spoke to Paroh, king of Egypt, to bring out the children of Israel from Egypt. These are the [same] Moshe and Aharon" (Shemot 6:26-27).
Why does the Torah say Aharon's name first in Pasuk 26 and second in Pasuk 27? Rashi answers that Moshe and Aharon were equal, so their names are interchangeable. But, as many Rishonim, including the Rambam note, Moshe was the greatest prophet of all time. How could Moshe and Aharon be equal?
Rav Aharon Soloveitchik answers based on a Midrash that states, "Kindness and truth met, and righteousness and peace kissed." The Midrash elaborates that kindness and peace refer to Aharon, while truth and righteousness denote Moshe, as each pair of characteristics was the most noteworthy for each person.
Based on this, we can understand Rashi. The contradiction in the Pesukim does not imply that Moshe and Aharon were equal, but rather that their primary attributes in fact were quite interrelated, as truth and righteousness cannot function without remaining in harmony with kindness and peace. Moshe makes it quite clear that he felt himself unable to deal with both Paroh and Bnei Yisrael single-handedly (6:10-12), whereupon Hashem speaks to both Aharon and Moshe, telling them to confront, as a unit, both Paroh and Bnei Yisrael (6:13).
Thus, we see that Moshe and Aharon were actually equal in the amount that each contributed during the various interactions with Paroh and Bnei Yisrael. From here we learn that one needs to employ both truth, like Moshe, and peaceful and kind mannerisms, like Aharon.
Despite Moshe's protests, Hashem commands him to approach Paroh and demand Bnei Yisrael's emancipation, as the Torah records, "VaYdabeir Hashem El Moshe VeEl Aharon VaYtzaveim El Bnei Yisrael VeEl Paroh Melech Mitzrayim LeHotzi Et Bnei Yisrael MeiEretz Mitzrayim," "Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon and commanded them regarding the Children of Israel and regarding Paroh, king of Egypt, to take the Children of Israel out of the land of Egypt" (Shemot 6:13). Clearly, Hashem sent Moshe and Aharon to command Paroh to free the Jews from their repressive Egyptian masters, but what did Hashem command Moshe and Aharon regarding Bnei Yisrael? How does Moshe and Aharon's discourse with Paroh have any effect "regarding the Children of Israel?"
Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev explains that Moshe and Aharon were commanded by Hashem to tell the Jews to make the necessary preparations for leaving Egypt. This reveals a cardinal cornerstone of Hashem's generosity: that Hashem - the All Merciful One - constantly, profoundly, wants to bestow His kindness upon all of Bnei Yisrael whenever circumstances allow. Whenever Bnei Yisrael's actions merit Hashem's kindness, Hashem inundates Bnei Yisrael with benevolence. Chazal intended this when they said, "The reward of a Mitzvah is a Mitzvah" (Avot 4:2), since it is a Mitzvah in itself to give Hashem the satisfaction of being compassionate to us whenever we do a Mitzvah. Therefore, Moshe and Aharon were sent "regarding the Children of Israel" to "take the Children of Israel out of the land of Egypt" by telling them to make preparations for their exodus, since Hashem wished to bestow kindness upon them.
The Sefat Emet suggests that although the Jews did not listen to Moshe due to their unbearable slavery, Hashem instructed him to continue speaking to them. Yeshayah describes Hashem's omnipotent words, "Ki KaAsher Yeireid HaGeshem VeHaSheleg Min HaShamayim VeShammah Lo Yashuv Ki Im Hirvah Et HaAretz VeHolidah VeHitzmichah VeNatan Zera LaZoreia VeLechem LaOcheil Kein Yihyeh Devari Asher Yeitzei MiPi Lo Yashuv Eilai Reikam Ki Im Asah Et Asher Chafatzti VeHitzliach Asher Shelachtiv," "For just as the rain and the snow descend from heaven and will not return there, unless it waters the earth and causes it to produce and sprout, so shall be My word that emanates from My mouth, it shall not return to Me unfulfilled, unless it will have accomplish what I desired and brought success where I sent it" (Yeshayah 55:10-11). Hashem's words always will leave their mark - if not immediately, then eventually. Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzk learned this message
from the words of the Shema's first paragraph, "VeHayu HaDevarim HaEileh Asher Anochi Metzavecha HaYom Al Levavecha," "And these matters that I command you today shall be upon your heart" (Devarim 6:6). The Torah states that the words should be on your heart as opposed to in your heart. Often, our hearts are not receptive to the Torah, unprepared to absorb Hashem's words and the Torah's messages; nonetheless, Bnei Yisrael are commanded to place the words upon their hearts, to not ignore or forget them, and though the Torah may not currently be welcomed, we eventually will open our hearts and let it penetrate our souls. As the first half of the school year comes to a close, teachers and Rebbeim usually are frustrated, in retrospect, that the messages that they teach their students often seem to fall upon inattentive ears; nonetheless, they must (and do) persist and continue to teach their students, since if the Torah or any other information is placed upon their
hearts, students ultimately will understand and internalize it.
Rabbi Chanoch Levin links this Pasuk (Shemot 6:13) to the next one, which speaks about the Jewish leaders. Hashem told Moshe and Aharon to focus the people on their roots and to tell them that they are the holy patriarchs' progeny, and therefore slavery and its degrading mentality are not befitting of such people. I believe that Rav Chanoch, as the accepted Chassidic leader and the disciple of the three greatest Chassidic leaders of his era, knew optimism's importance. He lived in Aleksander, in Congress Poland, and as many secular writers have noticed, there was a steep gradient of fervent anti-Semitism in that area. Like his successor, the Sefat Emet, Rabbi Levin used this Pasuk to show the greatness of the fortunate Bnei Yisrael, who needed moral support in a dark era.
Alternatively, the Talmud Yerushalmi (Rosh HaShanah 3:5) states that Moshe and Aharon taught Bnei Yisrael the laws regarding freeing Jewish slaves. This was hinted to when the Pasuk says, "And He commanded them regarding the Children of Israel and regarding Paroh…that he send the Children of Israel," showing that both Paroh, currently, and Bnei Yisrael, in later years, must send away the Children of Israel. But why was studying these Halachot an imperative at this specific moment?
The Meshech Chochmah explains that the Shevatim of Reuven, Shimon, and Levi had Jewish slaves in Egypt, so how could Moshe possibly demand that Paroh free the Jews while there were Jews who were subjugated under their own brethren?! The Mikdash Mordechai supplements this thought by quoting the Pasuk, "Lo'eig LaRash Cheireif Oseihu Sameiach LeEid Lo Yinakeh," "One who mocks a pauper insults his Maker, one who rejoices over another's misfortune will not be exonerated" (Mishlei 17:5), teaching us that one should not mock the helpless. Accordingly, Hashem seems to be teasing the Jews when He commands them to free their servants while they themselves are slaves, suffering under the yoke of excruciating servitude. The Mikdash Mordechai explains that this actually was the perfect time to address the issue. The natural desire for power is so strong that people tend to abuse their authority and treat their subordinates harshly, since a master views
himself as the exclusive owner of his slave's body and soul. Therefore, specifically then was the opportune time to emphasize the Torah's standards about how one must treat his servants, since the Jews were experiencing the cruel taste of oppression on their own bodies. While slavery's bitter taste was in Bnei Yisrael's mouths, they would best be able to understand the Gemara's words, "One who buys himself a servant in truth buys himself a master" (Kiddushin 22a), making it the perfect time to imprint upon them the laws of Jewish slaves.
The Zekan Aharon explains that the Jewish masters freed their Jewish slaves to establish unity among the Jews, since as long as the caste system composed of the upper-class masters and lower-class servants remained, the necessary unity for redemption could not be achieved. Rav Zushe of Anipoli also believes that this Pasuk relates to creating unity within the nation, since he interprets "VaYtzaveim" as "unite them," similar to the word Tzavata, which means companionship. Hashem told Moshe to bring a spirit of unity into the nation by bringing their hearts closer together and uniting them in their quest for freedom, thereby forcing Paroh to free them. The Simchat Aharon adds that every Jew should pray that his fellow Jew be freed, because whenever an individual prays on behalf of the nation, the prayers will be answered, since Hashem never rejects the prayers of the nation; furthermore, every Jew's individual prayer will be answered, as Chazal
say, "If one prays on behalf of his friend when he himself is in need of the same thing, he himself will be answered first" (Bava Kamma 92a). Current events introduce a tragic exemplification of this idea. Last year, three Israeli reserve soldiers, Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser, and Eldad Regev, were brutally abducted by Arab terrorists: Gilad by Chamas and Ehud and Eldad by the Lebanon-based and Iran-funded Chizbollah. We know that Gilad is still alive, and there is still hope for the other two soldiers as well.
This is not the first time that enemies have resorted to kidnapping our boys. But I live in a constant state of guilt: we sit as very privileged Jews, with wonderful lives, here in America. Still, life is a series of seemingly accidental fates, and each one of us easily could have been that soldier. They were defending our country; even saying "our Jewish country" is such a Zechut. Thus, not losing or even loosening the bond between us and Israel is imperative. There is a reason we were born in the epoch we were, an era with an Israel.
Sadly, I watch as, for some, a connection to Israel is reduced to an annual visit, then to a check, then to "nothing really" at all, maybe eating a blue-and-white frosted cupcake on Yom HaAtzmaut without realizing the significance of the day or the frosting color. The importance of reading and learning our Torah and our history is to understand ourselves in the scheme of our history, the longest history in the world. If we went back to any point in Jewish history, we would be going back to a Jew hiding under a table during the Spanish Inquisition, a cowering Jew shivering and bloody in a corner during the Crusades, a half-alive Jewish haftling in Aushwitz. If we were to tell them that we have a Jewish country of bustling streets, parks, schools, health care systems, capitalism, gorgeous infrastructure, and a military that stands tantamount to the only superpower - they wouldn't believe you. They would laugh at the prospect of a Jewish
country: dozens of mentions of Yerushalayim in davening, it cannot be true! But they also would cry, and take your hand, kissing it, because they would believe you were from the Yemot HaMashiach.
We live in that time. If any of us went back, our hands would be kissed. Our status would seem unbelievable. Do not be discouraged if you see that you cannot get our boys out of Lebanon. Continue doing everything you can. Do not be discouraged if you feel too small to make a difference. Pray to Hashem. As aforementioned, God wants to grant the prayers of the nation; hopefully, those prayers are ours.
After relating the story of Hashem commanding Moshe to ask Paroh to let the Jews leave Mitzrayim, the Torah takes a brief break from the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim and relates the descendants of Reuven, Shimon, and Levi. There are a number of differences between the way that Reuven's and Shimon's respective descendants are articulated as opposed to those of Levi's. One difference between the lists is that by Reuven and Shimon, the Torah immediately begins to list their descendants, giving no introduction, while in relating the children of Levi, the Torah prefaces the list with, "These are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations" (Shemot 6:16). Why the distinction?
The Shelah answers this question by pointing out that Sheivet Levi was not enslaved in Mitzrayim. The Gemara (Taanit 11a) states that while Klal Yisrael is in a state of suffering, it is forbidden for any individual to partake in any unnecessary and extravagant enjoyment. The Shelah explains that despite the freedom that the Leviim retained, they wished to empathize with the suffering of their brethren. Levi therefore gave his children, Gershon, Kehat, and Merari, names that implied slavery. The Shelah explains that Gershon was so named because Klal Yisrael "lived in a land that was not theirs" (see Shemot 2:22); Kehat was named because, literally, "the teeth of Klal Yisrael were dulled (Nikhu, from the root Kuf Hei Hei) from the hardships of Galut;" and Merari was so named because the Mitzrim "embittered (VaYmareru) the lives of the Jews" (1:14). In order to emphasize this point, the Torah specifically says, "These are the names of the sons
of Levi;" as Klal Yisrael at large was suffering, the Leviim identified with them through the naming of their children.
An obvious problem exists with this explanation of the Shelah. Levi named his children when he was still in Eretz Yisrael, long before going down to Mitzrayim. I have been offered two possible answers for this problem with the Shelah's answer. Rabbi Chaim Jachter suggested that perhaps Levi anticipated the slavery, based on the Brit Bein HaBetarim, and named his children accordingly. Rav Moshe Mordechai Bloom suggests an alternative answer. There is a well known idea that parents have Ruach HaKodesh (divine inspiration) when naming their children, so perhaps Levi unknowingly gave his children names that would be apropos of their future enslavement. (See Berachot 7b, where such a concept is articulated.)
We live in a time when, perhaps more so than ever before in Jewish history, animosity exists between Jews, be it between Chassidim and Misnagdim, Zionists and anti-Zionists, or any other groups. We often live our lives in a box, disregarding the hardships and views of others. We must learn from the acts of Levi and the naming of his future children to care for and accept every Jew.
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