Parashat Vaera begins with God’s promise of redemption which He commanded Moshe to convey to Benei Yisrael, whose spirits were crushed by the newly-intensified workload to which Pharaoh subjected them with his edict requiring them to fetch their own straw with which to produce bricks. This promise consists of the famous “arba’a leshonot ge’ula” – the “four expressions of redemption,” the fourth of which is, “I shall take you for Me as a nation, and I shall be for you as a God” (6:7). Several commentators, including the Ramban and Seforno, explain that this refers to the Revelation at Mount Sinai, when Benei Yisrael formally entered into a covenant with God, such that they became His nation and He became their God.
After this promise, God adds, “and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who is taking you from underneath the suffering of Egypt.” The question obviously arises as to what Benei Yisrael would know then, at Mount Sinai, that they would not know previously. Would they not know before Ma’amad Har Sinai that it was God who brought them out of Egypt?
Several different interpretations to this verse have been offered by the commentators. The Ramban explains that the second half of this verse – “and you shall know that I am the Lord your God” – continues not the first half, which foretells the Revelation at Sinai, but rather the previous verse, in which God promises to release the people from bondage. God conveyed to the people that upon witnessing the miracles of the Exodus, they will realize that God overturned the laws of nature for them, because He has chosen them as His treasured nation. This process would show Benei Yisrael that the omnipotent Creator, who miraculously released them from bondage, was “the Lord your God” – the God who chose them to be His special nation.
Seforno suggests that the phrase “you shall know that I am the Lord your God” is a command, not a prophecy. According to Seforno, after God announced His promises of redemption, He told the people to realize that it is “the Lord your God” who is promising that He would be “taking you from underneath the suffering of Egypt.” As He was “your God” – the Divine Being who oversees and controls all events and all people – they could feel confident that He would fulfill His promises.
In truth, this verse is discussed already in the Gemara, which offers a different interpretation. In Masekhet Berakhot (38a), the Gemara cites different views as to whether the term “ha-motzi” (“who takes”) refers to the past – and means, “who has taken” – or the future – and means, “who will take.” (The context of the debate is the blessing recited over bread, the question whether the proper text is “motzi lechem min ha-aretz” or “ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz.”) One view draws proof from our verse, in which God says of Himself before the Exodus “ha-motzi etkhem” – that He would be bringing the nation out of Egypt – that the term “ha-motzi” refers to a future event. As this verb is used already before the Exodus, foretelling the events that would transpire, this verse would appear to prove that the word “ha-motzi” refers to the future. The other view, however, retorts that in this verse God promises the people, in the words of the Gemara, “When I bring you out, I will do something such that you will know that I am the One who is bringing you out of Egypt.” In other words, God here informed the people that after they leave Egypt, He would ensure that they would know for certainty that He was the One who brought them from Egypt, that this process occurred not through natural means, and not by any human force, but rather exclusively by the Almighty. The Gemara does not specify to what this refers, but we might speculate that it speaks of the splitting of the sea, which occurred a week after the nation’s departure from Egypt, or Ma’amad Har Sinai, when the people heard God pronounce, “I am the Lord your God who took you from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.” In any event, according to the Gemara’s reading, God in this verse informed the people that their freedom would be followed by an extraordinary event (or perhaps a number of extraordinary events) that would make it perfectly clear to them that it was He who brought them out of slavery.