Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 17 January 2015 / 26 Tevet 5775

Parshat Vaera

by Rabbi Pinchas Kasnett
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

The Parsha begins with the following verse: “G-d spoke to Moshe and said to him, ‘I am the L-rd. I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov as El-Shaddai, but with my name The L-rd I did not make Myself known to them.’” (Exodus 6:2-3)

Abarbanel points out that the problem with this verse is that G-d did already use the name ‘The L-rd’ (which is the four-letter ineffable name which signifies G-d’s attribute of mercy and Divine providence) many times earlier in prophetic communications, and in reference to the patriarchs. Some commentators explain that this verse is a reference to G-d not yet having fulfilled His promise to them of inheriting the Land of Israel. However, the promise itself was not in reference to them, but to their offspring. They also explain that perhaps the verse refers to the miracles in Egypt, something which the patriarchs did not experience. However, this is not a plausible explanation as the patriarchs also experienced numerous and equally miraculous manifestations of G-d’s intervention in nature on their behalf.

Rather, what G-d is telling the people is that the forthcoming exodus from Egypt is an absolute necessity which will demonstrate a whole new dimension of G-d’s providential relationship with Moshe and the entire nation. It is true that G-d appeared to the forefathers as ‘The L-rd’. However, their prophecies were never ‘face-to-face’. There was always the intermediary of a dream or a vision. This is what is meant by ‘I did not make Myself known to them.’ The exodus was necessary in order that Moshe and the people, according to their respective levels, would be able to receive prophecy ‘face-to-face’ in order to recognize and truly know G-d’s honor and greatness. In Moshe’s case this is indicated by the verse in Numbers 12:8, “Mouth to mouth do I speak to him, in a clear vision and not in riddles, at the image of G-d does he gaze.” Unlike all other prophets, Moshe received his prophecy in a state of full consciousness. In the case of the nation in general, the verse in Deuteronomy 5:4 states, “Face-to-face did G-d speak to you on the mountain from amidst the fire.” This is a reference to the dramatic events at Sinai which were witnessed and experienced first-hand by the entire nation. Secondly, the above verse continues, “Moreover, I established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan.” In order to fulfill His promise and further demonstrate His unique relationship with the Jewish nation, G-d has obligated Himself, as it were, to take them out of Egypt and give them the land of Canaan as an inheritance despite its being populated by seven powerful nations.

Finally, the Torah continues with the verse “Moreover, I have heard the groan of the Children of Israel and I have remembered My covenant.” (Exodus 6:5) This is the third reason for the necessity of the exodus from Egypt. G-d will demonstrate that He is the judge of the entire world. Having heard them groaning from their enslavement, it is proper for G-d to carry out a righteous judgment against the Egyptians. When G-d says that “I have remembered My covenant”, He is not referring to the covenant which He made with the patriarchs to give their descendants the land of Canaan. Rather, He is referring to the covenant that He made with Avram at the ‘covenant between the parts’, as the verse Genesis 15:13-14 states “And He said to Avram, ‘Know with certainty that your offspring will be aliens in a land not their own — and they will serve them and they will oppress them four hundred years. But also the nation that they will serve, I will judge, and afterwards they will leave with great wealth’.”

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