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Parashat Va'era - The Revelation of YHVH

Revelation of YHVH

Further thoughts on Parashat Va'era

by John J. Parsons
www.hebrew4christians.com

Our Torah portion for this week (i.e., Va'era) begins:

    God (אֱלהִים) spoke to Moses and said to him, "I am the LORD (יהוה). I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shaddai (אל שׁדּי), but by My Name the LORD (יהוה) I did not make myself known to them" (Exod. 6:2-3).

 
This is a puzzling statement, especially since it is apparent that each of the avot (i.e., the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) called upon the Name of the LORD (for example, see Gen. 12:7-8, 26:25; 28:16, 32:9, 49:18, etc.). Traditionally understood, the sacred Name YHVH (יהוה) reveals God's attributes of compassion and immanence, whereas the name Elohim (אלהִים) reveals God's attributes of justice and transcendence. According to most of the sages, the Name YHVH is directly revealed in God's compassionate redemptive activity, especially as it relates to Exodus from Egypt. Indeed, consider how the phrase, "I AM THE LORD" (אֲנִי יְהוָה) is directly connected to God's personal revelation and deliverance given to the enslaved Israelites (Exod. 6:6-8):
 

  1. "I AM THE LORD (אֲנִי יְהוָה). I will free you (hotzeti) from the burdens (sevalot) of the Egyptians." Note that according to midrash the oppression and slavery stopped on Rosh Hashanah, six months before the Exodus that occurred on Nisan 15. The word translated "burdens" can also refer to "tolerance," "acceptance" or "dragging along," i.e., the psychological state of being a slave (Exod. 16:3). The LORD would free the people not only from physical bondage but also from regarding themselves as slaves.
  2. "I AM THE LORD (אֲנִי יְהוָה). I will deliver you (hitzalti) from their bondage." This refers to the physical drawing out, snatching away, and escape of Israel from the clutches of Egypt.
  3. "I AM THE LORD (אֲנִי יְהוָה). I will redeem you (ga'aliti) with an outstretched arm and great judgments." This refers to the ten plagues and especially the Passover sacrifice.
  4. "I will take you (lakachti) to be My people, and I will be your God.  And you shall know that I AM THE LORD YOUR GOD (וִידַעְתֶּם כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלהֵיכֶם) who freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians." This refers to the adoption of Israel as God's particular nation and the giving of the Torah at Sinai.
  5. "I will bring you (heveti) into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession. I AM THE LORD (אֲנִי יְהוָה)." This refers to the eventual conquest of the land of Canaan and the original covenant promise made to Abraham that his descendants would inherit this land forever.
     

In this regard the patriarchs did not directly experience the "greater power of YHVH," even though they indeed knew His Name.  The Name El Shaddai (as I've written about before) refers to God's sufficiency and care for the fledgling nation, that is, to the families of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Though the first patriarchs called upon the Name of the LORD, they did not directly experience his revelation and saving acts since these were uniquely given to Moses (and to the Israelites) at the time of the Exodus.

It is interesting to note that when Moses and Aaron came to the elders of Israel to announce this news, the Torah reports that the Israelites did not listen to them because of "shortness of breath" (מִקּצֶר רוּחַ). Part of the reason for this (besides the cruel bondage and hard labor imposed on them) was that the Israelites did not know how to calculate the duration of their 400 year exile (as was prophesied to Abraham during brit bein ha-besarim, "the covenant between the parts" in Genesis 15:12-14). According to midrash, 30,000 members of the tribe of Ephraim tried to escape from Egypt some 30 years before the redemption but were all killed by the Philistines (Shemot Rabbah, 20:11). Many of the Israelites then began to lose hope and accept their status as perpetual slaves...


 

There is an old story of the Magid of Brisk who each year would bring proof from the Torah that the Messiah would come that year. Once a certain Torah student asked him, "Rabbi, every year you bring proof from the Torah that the Messiah must come that year, and yet he does not come. Why bother doing this every year, if you see that Heaven ignores you?" The Magid replied, "The law states that if a son sees his father doing something improper, he is not permitted to humiliate him but must say to him, 'Father, the Torah states thus and so.' Therefore we must tell God, who is our Father, that by keeping us in long exile, he is, in a sense, causing injustice to us, and we must point out, "thus and so it is written in the Torah," in hope that this year he might redeem us." This same principle, of course, applies to those of us who eagerly await the second coming of the Messiah Yeshua. We should continue asking God to send Him speedily, and in our day, chaverim...

During their initial encounter with Pharaoh, Moses and Aaron said, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel (אֱלהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל), 'Let my people go..." But Pharaoh replied, "Who is the LORD (יהוה) that I should obey him? (Exod. 5:2). The Talmud (Chillin 89a) states that God said to Israel, "I love you because even when I bestow greatness upon you, you humble yourselves before me. I bestowed greatness upon Abraham, but he said to me, 'I am mere dust and ashes'  (Gen. 18:27). I did the same to Moses and Aaron, but they said, 'We are nothing' (Exod. 16:8). But the heathen react differently. I bestowed greatness on Pharaoh, and he said, 'Who is the LORD that I should obey Him?'

In the case of Pharaoh (and all those who harden their hearts in pride), God's attribute of mercy (YHVH) is revealed as the attribute of justice (Elohim), whereas for the Israelites (and those who humble themselves), God's attribute of justice would be revealed as the attribute of mercy...  When we bless the LORD we "bend" (barekh) our knees before Him. "The prayers of the tzaddikim (righteous) turns Hashem's mind from the attribute of strict justice to the quality of mercy" (Ibn Ezra, Sotah 14).

The Hebrew word Va'era (וארא) means "I appeared" and has a numerical value of 208, the same value as the name Yitzchak (יצחק). This suggests a connection between the Akedah (the sacrifice of Isaac) and the redemption (גְּאֻלָּה) of YHVH that culminated in the original Passover ritual given in Egypt.  The ultimate Passover sacrifice of Yeshua as the Lamb of God finally and forever reconciled the attributes of God as Elohim (justice, holiness, transcendence) and God as YHVH (mercy, love, compassion).  Only at the Cross of Yeshua at Moriah may it be said: חֶסֶד־וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ - "mercy and truth have met, justice and peace have kissed" (Psalm 85:10).

Recall from last week's Torah (Shemot) how the midwives "feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but kept the male children alive" (Exod. 1:17). Later, despite the persecution and bondage of the Israelites, the Torah notes that because the midwives did so, "God made them houses" (וַיַּעַשׂ לָהֶם בָּתִּים, Exod. 1:21). The sages note that when someone fears a person, they cannot remain calm, because fear is the opposite of being calm. But the fear of Heaven (yirat shamayim) brings calm to the soul. Because they feared God, "He made them houses," implying calm. The fear of heaven eliminates the fear of Pharaoh and his decrees... During the cataclysmic judgments of God upon Egypt, the Israelites dwelt safely in Goshen. Likewise, today we can direct our fear to the proper Source -- thereby finding peace and saftey in the midst of the judgments coming upon the princes of this world... Yeshua prepares a place for us, chaverim....

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