Yesterday, we noted a number of different approaches that have been taken to explain God’s promise to Benei Yisrael towards the beginning of Parashat Vaera (6:7), “I shall take you for Me as a nation, and I shall be for you as a God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who is taking you from underneath the suffering of Egypt.” As we saw, the second half of this verse sounds like a promise that after God takes Benei Yisrael as His nation (which is explained by some as a reference to the Revelation at Sinai), they would know that He took them from Egypt. The question naturally arises as to why such a promise was necessary. Seemingly, upon witnessing and experiencing the miracles of the Exodus, it would be plainly obvious to Benei Yisrael that it was God who was releasing them from bondage.
Netziv, in his Ha’ameik Davar commentary, avoids this problem by contending that the word “vi-ydatem” (“you shall know”) refers to a much higher level of “knowledge” than simply the recognition that the miracles of the Exodus were performed by God. According to Netziv, this promise speaks of “deveikut ve-da’at Elokim” – “attachment and knowledge of God.” This refers to focused attention on God’s power and providence, and a deeply entrenched emotional connection with the Creator. According to Netziv, God promised Benei Yisrael that after He would forge a covenant with them at Mount Sinai, a segment of the population – the scholarly elite – would be privileged to “know” God on an especially exalted level.
A much different explanation is suggested by Rav Moshe Pollak, in his Va-yedaber Moshe. The Name of God used in this phrase, the Name known as “Havaya” (spelled “yod,” “hei,” “vav” and “hei”), is commonly associated specifically with God’s attribute of compassion, as opposed to the attribute of justice. In this verse, God tells the people that in the future, they will recognize that the Exodus was an act of great mercy and compassion. At the time the process unfolded, after suffering the pain and humiliation of bondage for so many years, they likely felt that redemption was something they rightfully deserved. In their minds, they had earned the right to be freed. But in the future, after they receive the Torah and begin to learn what God expects of us, how great we are capable of becoming and how great the Almighty wants us to become, they will realize how they were wholly unworthy of the miracles they experienced. They will thus recognize after receiving the Torah that “I am the Lord your God who is taking from underneath the suffering of Egypt” – that the Exodus was wrought by the Name of “Havaya,” God’s attribute of mercy, because on the level of strict justice, they were not truly deserving of the miraculous Exodus from Egypt.
The more we learn and the more we grow, the more we realize just how much we have yet to learn and yet to grow. We might feel content with our current level of knowledge and observance – and, indeed, we all can and should take pride in what we’ve accomplished – but we always have higher levels to reach and more ambitious goals to pursue. Our eyes should always be set on loftier standards, and we should never feel completely comfortable with our current standing, recognizing instead that as much as we’ve achieved, we can be so much better and achieve so much more, and we are expected to maximize our potential to its very fullest.