Passover

Va’yeda Elokim – What did God Know?

March 19, 2009

Based on a commentary in the new Haggadah, The Seder Night: An Exalted Evening, with the commentary of “the Rav”, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik . Compiled by Rabbi Simon Posner.

For the Rav, one of the themes that resonates throughout the Haggadah is the eternal spark of holiness in the Jewish soul that is never extinguished even though the Jew may be immersed in sin, a spark that sometimes only the Almighty, in His divine wisdom, can perceive. In his commentary on Kiddush in the Haggadah, the Rav, with his inimitable insight, detects this theme in the phrase in the Havdalah portion of Kiddush where we praise God for He “separates between the sacred and profane, between light and darkness.” The separation between light and darkness is perceptible and clear to everyone; even animals feel the contrast between light and dark. The separation between sacred and profane is entirely different. The eye no longer sees the border between them; the senses cannot feel what is holy and what is mundane.

Deep in the Jewish soul, no matter how sunk in sin it is, there is something holy and mysterious which cannot be erased or eliminated, and upon which there lies the seal of individuality and originality. But in order to perceive this separation, one must be capable of peering into the depths of the soul. In Egypt, the Almighty had to distinguish between Israel and the nations at a time when there was hardly any contrast between Jew and Egyptian. Only God, the knower of thoughts, He who distinguishes inner things, saw the difference. “God saw the children of Israel and God knew” (Ex. 2:25). He saw sanctity in the abyss of the Jewish soul, even though it was full of profanity and sin, and therefore He saved His people.

The Rav sees another expression of this theme in the passage, “lo al yedei malach” – that the redemption was carried out by the Almighty Himself, not by any angels or messengers. God did not send an angel because the Jews were not yet deserving of redemption; the conditions had not been met. From the viewpoint of justice and truth, the redemption should have been postponed for many years. Only God Himself, with His midat ha-chesed, His quality of loving-kindness, knew that a Jew, no matter how low he falls, has a crisis capacity; in times of distress, he becomes a great and wondrous human being. He begins to act heroically. He can fall to horrible depths, yet he also is capable, under pressure, of reaching the stars. Only God could precipitate the ge’ullah. If left to emet, truth, the redemption would not have occurred.