Friday, December 31, 2010

Vaera: A Complicated Transition

In last week’s Parsha, Am Yisrael fully entered into Galus. As the generation of Yaakov Avinu, Yosef HaTzadik and all the tribes die out, the slavery turns up a notch and the oppression goes into full swing. Even after HaKadosh Baruch Hu selects Moshe Rabeinu to be the redeemer of the Jewish People and he goes forth to negotiate with Paroh, things go from terrible to horrific.

But this week things are totally different. God breaks all the rules. One decimating blow after another befall the Egyptian enslavers. Water turns to blood. Exploding frogs, wild beasts of all kinds, plague and nature bending fire/ice meteors tear Mitzrayim to shreds. How does this transition happen? Let’s explore.

Very often, the name of any given Parsha is determined by a unique word or phrase that appears in the first Passuk of that Parsha. There are exceptions, and this Parsha is one of them, being as the word Va’era only appears in the second Passuk. Our Parsha begins, like some others, with an introductory verse. The catch is that such an introduction appears nowhere else in the Torah.

(Note: When we say ‘Hashem’ we mean the four letter name of Yud-Kay-Vav-Kay which we hereby often refer to as Shem Havaya.)

VaYidber Elokim El Moshe VaYomer Eilav Ani Hashem .” – “And Elokim spoke to Moshe saying ‘I am Hashem’.” Only after this introduction does HaKadosh Baruch Hu begin giving Moshe Rabeinu the pep-talk that precedes his upcoming face-off with Paroh and the inspiration required to start the miraculous onslaught that’s about to begin.

We simply could ask why is such an introduction needed in the first place; but a further analysis of the verse begs for a much deeper explanation. On a cursory level there is a discrepancy in the terminology of the verse. The Passuk begins, ‘VaYidaber Elokim’ And God, via the title Elokim spoke. He spoke to Moshe, and He did so by, VaYomer Eilav ‘Ani Hashem’ - by saying to Moshe, I am Hashem, this time introducing Himself with Shem Havaya.

What happened here? We began the verse with Dibur - speaking, and with the name of Elokim; then we move into Amirah - saying, with the name of Shem HaVaya. Why can’t the Passuk keep to one form? If the verse starts with the name of Elokim speaking, then why can’t the Passuk finish by Hashem saying to Moshe, ‘Ani Elokim’?

And if that weren’t enough, Chazal make things more complicated. VaYidaber/Dibur versus VaYomer/Amirah are not merely two ways of saying the same thing. VaYidaber, Chazal tell us is used in cases where God wants to convey something in strict or terms. This is called Lashon Kasheh. When Hashem says something that starts with VaYomer, it’s Lashon Racha, a style of compassionate speech. So now our question is one layer deeper: How does the Passuk start with Lashon Kasheh and end with Lashon Rachah? What happened here? God, within a matter of a few words dramatically switched His mood? God switches moods?

And we also need to analyze; at least on a cursory level, the differences between Shem Havaya and Elokim. What is the Passuk telling us by using two distinct names of HaKadosh Baruch Hu? We will take two approaches, which in essence will both point us in the same direction.

The holy Rebbe Aharon MiZilichov in his Sefer Ohr HaGanuz LaTzadikim explains that Yud-Kay-Vav-Kay, Shem Havaya is coming from Lma’alah MiDerech HaTeva - Above the forces of nature. It’s explained that the intention needed when saying Hashem’s name (we pronounce it in a way that begins with Ado and ends with Noi) is Haya Hoveh V’Yihiyeh - God was, is, and always will be. He’s not intrinsically bound to time, or anything in this universe for that matter. Elokim’s intention, on the other hand is Ba’al HaKochos Kulam - the Controller of all forces. This is God’s hand inside the world. The push that make the fire burn, the wind blow, the energy that forces lighting to flash.

If Elokim is inside nature, and Shem Havaya is above it then we can begin to shed some light on our verse.

The Midrash tells us that no one, not a single slave in Egyptian history ever escaped bondage there. Mitzrayim was sealed shut. The Jews were weak and psychologically tormented. They had no means of defending themselves against their taskmasters who were armed to the teeth. Nature dictated that there was no escape. And for two hundred and ten years there wasn’t. But that was until now.

The first Passuk of this week’s Parsha is the transition from exile to redemption. The Passuk begins with Elokim - God’s hand in nature – connecting us back to last week where the natural order of things dictated to us that there was no hope. The second half of our Passuk, on the other hand, is where Shem Havaya moves into center-stage and miraculous wonders can begin to occur. No matter what the circumstance, an energy that comes from a place much loftier than this world begins to shine. And from there the redemption from the menacing Egypt can begin.

There is another (but not contradictory) difference between Elokim and Yud-Kay-Vav-Kay. Rebbe Yaakov Abuchatzeirah, Zechuso Tagen Aleinu in Pituchei Chotam brings down that Elokim is God’s name in times of Midas HaDin and God uses Shem Havaya in times of Midas HaRachamim. Midas HaDin could be approached as strict justice, God’s harsh dealings with the world. This explains its connection in the Passuk to VaYidaber which we already explained is Lashon Kasheh. Shem Havaya and it’s connection to Midas HaRachamim are a display of mercy and God’s love. If this is so, we now see clearly why the Passuk ends by connecting Lashon Racha to Midas HaRachamim.

With everything we‘ve said, we can being to piece together why the Torah uses this Passuk as the transition from the slavery which escalates in Parshas Shemos to the Geulah which commences in Parshas Va’era. That verse beings with VaYidaber Elokim - Elokim, Midas HaDin in the natural world - spoke, with Lashon Kasheh to Moshe, and with Lashon Racha He told Moshe I am Shem Havaya, Midas HaRachamim, Lma’alah MiDerech HaTeva. This Passuk is the switch. Says Hashem to Moshe, ‘Until now the Jewish experience in Egypt has been Midas HaDin. And according to the way the world looks, there is no getting out. I know. But you need to know something too. Right now we’re beginning the turnaround. Right now we’re starting a revolution. You and Me are going to pull this people out of here. And we’re going to it with love, and with compassion and with big, amazing miracles’ - “VaYidber Elokim El Moshe VaYomer Eilav Ani Hashem .”

Says the Sfas Emes, Geula means knowing that even the Galus, even the exile itself comes from a higher source. On the historic and personal level, when I begin to realize that all difficulties come straight from Hashem, I’m already shining God’s presence into the situation and that is the start of the redemption itself.

And if this is true we understand another beautiful nuance in the Passuk. VaYidber Elokim El Moshe - Elokim is doing the talking here - VaYomer Eilav Ani Hashem, and Elokim says Ani Shem Havaya - it’s all coming from one place. Which is why Elokim shares the same Gematria, numerical value as the term Ani Hashem.

This is the most empowering thing that a Jew can know in his life if he wants to overcome a struggle. All the Midas HaDin situations that I encounter in my life, they are all really coming from a place of Midas HaRachamim. Hashem doesn’t send me challenges because He wants to torment me. He wants me to grow. All of my difficulties are meaningful. Every tension, headache, test of patience and every saddening experience that comes my way is there so that I can become a better person as a result of it. Only when Moshe hears this Passuk can he begin to be an active participant in the redemptive process. And I need to internalize it if I want to be a part of my own microcosmic Geulah as well.

B’Ezras Hashem we should all be Zocheh to live with such a clarity of mind. For if we can, thereis no doubt that we will live lives of Shleimus and Simcha, moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and ultimately the Geulah Sheleimah!

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