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Parshas Va’eira – Faith

By: Rav Dov Lipman

Last week’s Parsha ended with G-d telling Moshe that “now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh because with a strong hand he will be forced to send you out.”  One would expect, therefore, that this week’s Parsha would begin with the plagues as G-d seemed to indicate would happen next.  However, instead of the plagues beginning, we find G-d opening a new dialogue with Moshe where he talks about our forefathers and the destiny of the Jewish people.  Why does this seemingly unnecessary speech find its way in between G-d’s declaration that the plagues will begin “now” and their actual commencement?

The commentaries take note of the peculiar language which opens this week’s Parsha.  On the one hand it says “Vayidaber Elokim.”  The root for “Vayidaber” is “d b r” which connotes a harsh mode of speech.  “Elokim” denotes G-d’s attribute of justice.  Why is Moshe being addressed by a G-d of justice in a harsh manner?  Even more puzzling is the fact that the verse then states, “Vayomer…Ani Hashem.”  “Vayomer” is a softer mode of speech and “Hashem” reflects G-d’s attribute of compassion.  Which version of this communication is actually correct?

The Ohr HaChayim explains that Moshe had just spoken to G-d in a somewhat disrespectful manner.  Moshe stated (5:22), “why have You done bad for this nation…?”  Thus, in a sense, he was challenging G-d.  Moshe was able to speak this way because G-d had been communicating to Moshe in a soft manner until this point.  This gentle approach breeds a certain level of comfort.  Now G-d must make sure that even when he speaks (“Vayomer”) and is being manifested with his attribute of mercy (“Hashem”), there exists a reminder of the fact that he is also “Elokim” who speaks with the root “d b r.” 

While the Ohr HaChayim’s approach explains the language in the verse beautifully, there is a question on his understanding.  Moshe finished his complaint against G-d in the second to last verse of last week’s Parsha.  If G-d was rebuking Moshe for this complaint, this rebuke should have come right after Moshe’s complaint.  Instead, the verse immediately after Moshe’s complaint is the one we quoted above in which G-d informs Moshe that the plagues are about to begin.  Why would this verse separate between Moshe’s complaint and G-d’s rebuke? 

I would like to suggest an approach to deal with the language of the first verse in the Parsha and to answer our original question while making use of the Ohr HaChayim quoted above and a comment from Rav Hirsch.  G-d tells Moshe in verse three, that “I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, and the name ‘Hashem’ I did not make known to them.”  Rav Hirsch explains:

“It really means to understand G-d’s methods of planning and ordering which are  implied in this Name.  An understanding that can only be completely achieved out of the collective experience of all the ages, and the Patriarchs stood at the beginning of the ages.”

G-d, perhaps as part of the rebuke the Ohr HaChayim saw taking place in this verse, is telling Moshe that even his forefathers did not understood the plan of this G-d of mercy.  As we navigate through the travails of life it is often difficult to see the merciful hand of G-d and understand His plan.  Again, why does G-d stress this point to Moshe after the verse in which He said that He was going to carry out the plagues?

Perhaps we can suggest that Moshe had a negative reaction to G-d’s pronouncement that He was going to be forceful with Pharaoh.  Let us keep in mind that Moshe Rabbeinu grew up in the King’s Palace and certainly had a relationship of some kind with Pharaoh.  Add to this the fact that Moshe just spent decades in Midian living amongst non-Jews who treated him well and he had not experienced first hand the viciousness of this Pharaoh.  In addition, we must take into account that our Sages teach that Moshe’s greatest trait was that of being a caring and a compassionate person.  Now he has just returned to where he grew up and he became filled with all of the emotions this must have aroused.  Perhaps when G-d told Moshe that it was time to begin punishing Pharaoh Moshe reacted in some kind of a hesitant or negative manner.  Perhaps Moshe wondered why this was really necessary.  Why couldn’t G-d simply redeem the Jewish people without putting the Egyptians through this suffering? 

To that G-d answers with a rebuke as indicated by the harsh tone and the attribute of justice.  In the rebuke he clarifies that despite what it might seem, He is still the Merciful G-d but Moshe should not try to understand this.  Even our forefathers could not grasp this point and did not understand the plan.  G-d then indicates that this is all part of the overall plan as the Jews are redeemed, formed into a nation, and ultimately enter Israel.  Moshe, however, is not going to understand why it must occur in this manner.  Moshe’s responsibility is to follow the will of G-d which, in this case, means starting the plagues. G-d will take care of all else that His plan entails.  Moshe accepts this and now the plagues can begin.

This is a critical message for us to take with us throughout our lives.  We can  do only what G-d has commanded us to do.  As much as we might try to understand, G-d, as  Yeshaya states in the context of the ultimate redemption, “Therefore, my nation knows My name.”  (Yeshaya 52:6) It is only then, at the end of history, explains Rav Hirsch, that we can understand.  For now, our job is to emulate Moshe and learn to do just what G-d asks of us. The rest is up to Him.