In this week’s Parashah, Moshe Rabbeinu is at the peek of his frustration with his new position as leader of Bnei Yisrael. Moshe, at this point, is frustrated, as all of his efforts serve only to worsen Bnei Yisrael’s condition, causing Bnei Yisrael to question him. Moshe voices his frustration, “VaYdabeir Moshe Lifnei Hashem Leimor Hein Bnei Yisrael Lo Shame’u Eilai VeEich Yishma’eini Pharoh VaAni Aral Sefatayim,” “And Moshe spoke before Hashem saying, ‘Behold, Bnei Yisrael did not listen to me, how then will Paroh listen to me, for I am of uncircumcised lips?’” (Shemot 6:12). Hashem’s response to Moshe’s frustration is to reassure Moshe, “Ani Hashem VaEira El Avraham El Yitzchak VeEl Yaakov BaKeil Shakai UShmi YKVK Lo Nadati Lahem,” “I am the Lord, and I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov as Keil Shakai, and my name YKVY was not known to them” (6:2-3).
There are a number of questions that arise from these Pesukim. First, what is the significance of the different names of God? Additionally, how do these various names relate to the promise made to the forefathers? And finally, how does this statement address Moshe’s concerns?
To address these questions, one must look toward a story about the Ibn Ezra. The Ibn Ezra often travelled from one place to another, dependent on others for food and shelter. One Friday night after Davening had ended, the Ibn Ezra stood and waited at the back of the Shul, hoping someone would see him and invite him for Shabbat. However, the wealthy congregants of the Shul walked right by him and paid him no attention. Finally, a poor man noticed him and wished him a good Shabbat and invited him over for Shabbat dinner. However, this poor man had barely enough food for himself, having only two small rolls, some wine for Kiddush, and a little food to last all of Shabbat. During the meal, the Ibn Ezra requested more food. The poor man explained that if he gave the Ibn Ezra any more food, he and his wife would not have any for the next day. The Ibn Ezra replied that the poor man should not worry, as Hashem would take care of him. During Shacharit the next day, the Ibn Ezra walked to the front of the Shul and sat down in the Rabbi’s seat. Not knowing who he was, the congregants were outraged. The Rabbi attempted to force him out of the seat but to no avail. It wasn’t until he stepped up to the Bimah and delivered a sermon that they realized who he was and the honor he deserved. After Davening, many congregants invited the Ibn Ezra to their houses, but he declined and returned to the poor man’s house. Many congregants followed, offering the poor man’s family food for the Ibn Ezra, providing his family with provisions for the rest of Shabbat.
This idea is seen in the interaction between Bnei Yisrael and Moshe. The Avot of old did not need displays and miracles to recognize God’s presence and the honor he deserved. However, in Moshe’s time, Bnei Yisrael had fallen out of touch with Hashem. They needed Hashem to display His might before recognizing Him, just as the congregants needed to hear the Ibn Ezra speak before realizing who he was.
This idea is conveyed through the changing names of God. The title and appearance of Keil Shakai is reserved for those that could intuit God and His greatness. However, Bnei Yisrael, who cannot see and believe in Hashem without a flashy show, need to see Hashem as YKVK, a God of miracles, as He displays Himself during the ten plagues. As such, it is clear that over time, the status quo changed, and Hashem’s appearance had to adapt. Nowadays, we should all strive to see Hashem in our daily lives, even without the miracles and grand scenes provided for Bnei Yisrael in Mitzrayim.
- Adapted from a Dvar Torah by Rabbi Yehoshua Lamb