And Hashem said to Moshe: Now you shall see what I will do to Paroh; for by a strong hand he shall send them forth, and by a strong hand he shall drive them out of his land. And the L-rd spoke to Moshe, and said to him: I am Hashem; and I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov, as L-rd Almighty, but by My name Hashem I was not known to them. (Sefer Shemot 6:1-3)
Moshe’s failure and protest to Hashem
The above quote is composed of three passages. The first of these passages is the final passage of Parshat Shemot. In this passage Hashem responds to the question posed by Moshe in the preceding passages. In order to understand this dialogue between Hashem and Moshe, its context must be identified.
Hashem directed Moshe to demand of Paroh that he permit Bnai Yisrael to travel into the wilderness and serve Him. Moshe and Aharon followed Hashem’s instructions. They came before Paroh and told him Hashem commanded that he release Bnai Yisrael so that they may worship Him in the wilderness. Paroh rejected this request. He also implemented measures that he believed would discourage any future requests for respite. He commanded those who oversaw the oppression of Bnai Yisrael to suspend supplies of straw – a necessary ingredient for producing bricks – but to continue to demand the production of the same quota of bricks.
Moshe was astounded by this outcome. Hashem had sent him back to Egypt in order to bring about the liberation of Bnai Yisrael. He followed Hashem’s instructions completely. Instead of initiating a process leading to liberation, the implementation of Hashem’s instructions led to an increase in the oppression of the people. Moshe protested to Hashem. He asked Hashem, “Why did You send me? Why have You not rescued Your nation?”
The first of the above passages communicates Hashem’s response. He tells Moshe that Paroh will release the people. He will send forth Bnai Yisrael. Paroh will drive them out of Egypt!
Hashem’s response is divided between two sections of the Torah
Hashem’s response continues in the second and third passages above. These are the opening passages of Parshat VaEyra. In other words, the Torah divides Hashem’s response to Moshe between Parshat Shemot and Parshat VaEyra. The first passage of the response concludes Parshat Shemot and then, the response continues in Parshat VaEyra. Why does the Torah interrupt the response, begin a new section, and in it complete the response?
This question suggests that Hashem’s response is composed of two discrete elements. Apparently, the Torah divides the response between these two sections in order to communicate that it is composed of the two distinct elements. But what are these elements? Let us begin by considering more carefully the second element of the response – the element contained in Parshat VaEyra.
Hashem did not completely reveal Himself to the patriarchs
The precise meaning of these passages is discussed by the commentaries. Various interpretations are suggested. The general meaning is more easily identifiable. Hashem tells Moshe that He was not known to the patriarchs by His true name – the Tetragrammaton. What does this mean?
The apparent meaning of this statement is that Hashem did not fully reveal Himself to the patriarchs. In some respect He was hidden from them. Now, He was prepared to reveal Himself more fully. In what respect was Hashem concealed from the patriarchs and how would He now more fully reveal Himself?
Therefore, say to the children of Israel: I am Hashem, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments; and I will take you to Me for a people, and I will be to you a L-rd; and you will know that I am Hashem your L-rd, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you into the land, that I swore to give to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov; and I will give it to you for a heritage. I am Hashem. (Sefer Shemot 6:6-8)
Hashem will reveal Himself in Egypt
In these passages Hashem concludes His response to Moshe. He tells Moshe that He is prepared to deliver Bnai Yisrael from their oppression in Egypt. He will do this with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Malbim explains the meaning of these terms. Hashem will stretch forth His arm to perform great wonders. He will perform great judgments to exact from the Egyptians punishment for their wicked oppression of Bnai Yisrael. In other words, Hashem tells Moshe that He will reveal Himself to humanity as ruler over the material universe. He will bend its laws to His purposes. He will also reveal Himself as the judge of humanity. The oppressed will be redeemed and the oppressor will be severely punished.
But this is not the full extent of Hashem’s response. Hashem tells Moshe that He will take Bnai Yisrael to Himself as a nation and He will be to Bnai Yisrael as their L-rd. What does this mean? Was not Hashem already the L-rd of Bnai Yisrael and the entire universe? Were not all people already His? Nachmanides and others respond that this is a reference to the Sinai revelation. Hashem will manifest His sovereignty through giving the Torah to Bnai Yisrael. He will forge a unique relationship with this nation. He will not be the remote ruler abiding in the heavens. He will forge with Bnai Yisrael a relationship of intimacy. He will command the people, and His presence will be palpable in the midst of the nation.
In short, Hashem told Moshe that he was now prepared to reveal Himself and to engage with Bnai Yisrael in a manner that would surpass even His relationship with the patriarchs. But how precisely did His relationship with the patriarchs differ from the forthcoming relationship? Was He not present at their side? Did he not perform wonders for them, protect them and save them from those who would harm them?
Also, I established My covenant with them to give to them the Land of Cana’an – the land of their wanderings, wherein they sojourned. (Sefer Shemot 6:4)
Hashem’s relationship with the patriarchs focused on the future
In this passage, Hashem explains to Moshe that the wonders that He will soon perform and the relationship into which He will enter is the fulfillment of His covenant with the patriarchs. This passage also identifies the difference between Hashem’s relationship with the patriarchs and the relationship that will now emerge. Hashem’s relationship with the patriarchs was focused upon the future that He promised them. It is true that He protected them and performed wonders on their behalf. But these were not the focus of His relationship with our forefathers. They were necessities of the moment. These wonders were not intended as a revelation of Hashem’s omnipotence. Hashem’s relationship with our forefathers focused upon His promises regarding the destiny of their progeny – they would be the nation of Hashem and that they would possess the Land of Cana’an. He provided the patriarchs with a vision of a future that would be realized through their descendants. Bnai Yisrael would be the realization of that vision. Rashi summarizes this distinction. Hashem made promises to the patriarchs. But they did not experience the fulfillment of these promises. Now, those promises will be fulfilled.
Hashem’s response deals with the what and why of redemption
We have focused on the portion of Hashem’s response that opens Parshat VaEyra. With this understanding of that portion of the response, let’s return to our opening question. Why is Hashem’s response divided into two sections? Why is it divided between Parshat Shemot and Parshat VaEyra?
The first portion of the response is a direct and limited reply to Moshe. Moshe was astounded that obedient execution of Hashem’s instructions had evoked further suffering for the people he had been sent to redeem. Hashem responds that this is part of the plan. Paroh has demonstrated his obstinacy, his animosity toward Bnai Yisrael, and his dismissal of Hashem. Yet, in the end, he will be compelled to put aside all of these attitudes and he will send forth Bnai Yisrael; he will drive them out of his land. In other words, Hashem provides Moshe a description of His strategy; He describes what He is doing.
In Parshat VaEyra Hashem is no longer describing what He is doing. He is not dealing with the details of His strategy. He is communicating to Moshe the reasons for His actions – their why. He is providing Moshe with insight into the meaning of the strategy, its importance, and its metaphysical purpose. This redemption is the fulfillment of the promise to the patriarchs and through it Hashem will reveal Himself to Bnai Yisrael and to humanity.