Parashat Vaera begins with God’s response to Moshe after he questioned why God had sent him to Pharaoh, which had the effect of worsening Benei Yisrael’s condition, rather than achieving the goal of releasing them from bondage. God said to Moshe, “I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov as ‘Kel Sha-ddai,’ but I never made known to them my Name, Y-H-V-H.” Rashi explains that God here criticized Moshe for questioning Him, contrasting Moshe with the patriarchs, to whom He made promises which they never saw fulfilled, and yet they did not complain or question His actions. According to Rashi, when God told Moshe that He never appeared to the patriarchs with the Name, Y-H-V-H, this means that He never overtly showed them how He fulfills His word – which is signified by this Name – and they nevertheless placed their full trust in Him.
Rashi does not explain how the Name of “Sha-ddai” is relevant in this context. Why is it significant that God appeared to the patriarchs specifically with this Name?
The Gemara in Masekhet Chagiga (12a) comments that the Name “Sha-ddai” refers to the fact that “amarti la-olam dai” – God “said to the world: Enough!” The specific connotation of “Sha-ddai” is delimitation and the designation of boundaries, God’s limiting the size and contents of the universe. This Name is associated not with God’s creating the world, but specifically with His stopping the process of creation, His setting limits on existence.
Rav Menachem Bentzion Sacks, in his Menachem Tziyon, suggests explaining on this basis the particular relevance of the Name of “Sha-ddai” to the context of God’s response to Moshe in the opening verses of Parashat Vaera. God here was telling Moshe that the patriarchs felt content with what God gave them, even if they had been promised more. They followed God’s example of “Sha-ddai,” of limitation. Just as God set a limit on creation, so did they accept the limits on what they possessed and enjoyed. Their lives were not an insatiable quest to expand. Like God Himself, they recognized the limits of their world, that people need to be able to say, “Enough” and feel content with whatever they have been given.
Rav Sacks suggests explaining in this vein the request we make in the Aleinu prayer, asking that God bring us the final redemption “le-takein olam be-malkhut Sha-ddai” – so that the world will be “repaired” under the rule of “Sha-ddai.” We mention this specific Name of God, Rav Sacks explains, because the world’s ultimate “tikkun” (“repair,” or “perfection”) will be achieved when all people embody the quality denoted by “Sha-ddai,” the quality of contentment, of accepting limitations. As long as we are plagued by chronic dissatisfaction, by the constant desire to accumulate more, without ever feeling that we have enough, the world cannot reach the state of “tikkun” that we hope for. To “repair” the world, we must develop the mindset of “Sha-ddai,” of joy and contentment, accepting limitations and recognizing that we do not always need more than what we have.