Two Attempts at Redemption

  • Harav Yehuda Amital
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Student Summaries of Sichot of the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion


This shiur is dedicated in memory of Arthur Merdinger, z"l, of Rye, NY.  We send our deepest condolences to his wife Joan, his children Susan, Karen and Michael, and his brother Edward.  May his memory always remain a blessing to those who were privileged to know him, and may the Almighty comfort his family among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

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PARASHAT VAERA
SICHA OF HARAV YEHUDA AMITAL SHLIT"A

 

Two Attempts at Redemption

 

Summarized by Matan Glidai

Translated by Kaeren Fish

 

 

Last week's parasha ended with Moshe's complaint to God:

 

Lord, why have You done evil to this nation; why, indeed, did You send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name, things have become worse for this nation; You have not delivered Your nation at all! (Shemot 5:22-23)

 

Ramban expresses surprise at Moshe's reaction, for God had told Moshe explicitly that redemption would not come about quickly:

 

I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go, nor even with a strong hand. So I shall send forth My hand and strike Egypt with all of My wonders that I shall perform its midst, and thereafter he will let you go. (3:19-20)

 

Ramban contends that when Moshe complained to God, much time had passed since he had originally been sent to Pharaoh. Moshe understands that redemption takes time, but at some stage he begins to feel that it is taking too long, and questions why he was sent at all if his mission is completely fruitless. Ramban bases this opinion on the midrash:

 

"The taskmasters of the nation and their officers went out [and told the nation, 'Thus says Pharaoh: I shall not give you straw']" (Shemot 5:10) – When [Pharaoh] decreed thus, Moshe went to Midian and spent six months there, while Aharon remained in Egypt. At that time Moshe took his wife and sons back to Midian… After six months God was revealed to Moshe in Midian, and told him, "Go again to Egypt." So Moshe came from Midian, and Aharon from Egypt, and the officers of Israel met them as they came out from before Pharaoh. (Shemot Rabba 5, 19-20)

 

According to the midrash, six months passed between Moshe's first mission to Pharaoh and his complaint to God. Thus, Moshe's second mission to Pharaoh – with which our parasha opens - took place about half a year after the first.

 

In this context, Ramban quotes a different midrash:

 

"My beloved is like a gazelle" – just as a gazelle is visible, [then disappears,] and then is seen again, so the first redeemer came into sight, then was concealed from them, and then became visible again." (Shir ha-Shirim Rabba 2, 22)

 

This redemption, then, is supposed to come about in stages, with a period of "concealment" in between each stage and the next. The Maharal (Gevurot Hashem, chapter 30) likewise speaks of two stages of redemption, with a lengthy period of the "concealment of God's face" in between, and he connects this to the dual expression, "pakod yifkod," "God shall surely remember you" (Bereishit 50:25).

 

This concept requires some explanation. Why does redemption come in two stages? Why did the first attempt at redemption not bear any fruit, while the second was crowned with success?

 

We may point to the difference between the two attempts at redemption on the basis of God's words at the beginning of the parasha:

 

I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzhak, and to Yaakov as "E-l Sha-dai," but My Name Hashem (YKVK) I did not make known to them (6:3)

 

Ramban (ad loc.) explains the difference between these two Names:

 

What the text means to say is that God appeared to the forefathers with a name signifying that He rules the systems of heavenly bodies and that He performed great miracles for them that did not nullify the laws of nature: during famine He delivered them from starvation; during war He spared them from the sword, and He gave them wealth and honor and all manner of good.  Like all the outcomes promised by the Torah, blessings and curses, these came about through a miracle, for a person could never receive goodness as reward for fulfilling a commandment, nor evil as punishment for a transgression, except via a miracle … yet these miracles appear to those who witness them as the way of the world; yet in truth, for the person concerned, these are reward and punishment. Here God tells Moshe: I appeared to the forefathers via the power of My Hand, by which I rule the constellations and help My chosen ones. But My Name of Hashem, by which all of existence came into being, I did not make known to them – to create new phenomena for them by changing nature….

 

Thus far, God had been revealed to the forefathers through the attribute of "E-l Sha-dai," which is the Divine attribute of guiding the world via concealed miracles. On the basis of this guidance, God helped the forefathers with whatever they needed, without changing the order of the world and deviating from the laws of nature. This is precisely the Divine guidance behind the system of reward and punishment: the Torah promises, for example, that "if you will diligently listen to My commandments," then "I shall give rain to your land at its time" – even though there is no natural connection between man's actions and the weather. The connection between observance of commandments or committing transgressions, on one hand, and the weather, on the other, is a "concealed miracle;" it represents covert involvement by God in the world. Likewise the entire system of reward and punishment. The attribute of "Hashem," on the other hand, means God's exercising providence via revealed miracles and changes in the order of the world.

 

Hence, God is telling Moshe that until now He has guided the world by means of hidden Divine providence, while from now on He will utilize revealed miracles: "Say unto Bnei Yisrael: I am Hashem" (verse 6).

 

We can also understand why the first attempt at redemption was unsuccessful. The problem, obviously, did not lie with God, but rather with Am Yisrael. Divine guidance by means of hidden miracles is such that it is dependent on human action: "If you will walk in My statutes… I shall give your rains at their times" (Vayikra 26:3-4). The Holy One wanted to redeem Israel through hidden miracles, but Am Yisrael proved unworthy, and so God moved on to providence exercised via open miracles, which are not dependent upon human action.

 

In fact, this is described explicitly in Sefer Yechezkel:

 

On that day that I lifted My hand for them to bring them out of the land of Egypt, to a land that I had spied out for them – flowing with milk and honey, an adornment for all lands. And I said to them: "Let every man cast away the abominations of his eyes, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the Lord your God." But they rebelled against Me, and would not listen to Me: each person did not cast away the abominations of his eyes, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt. Then I planned to pour My fury upon them, to finish My fury among them in the midst of the land of Egypt. But I acted for My Name's sake, that it should not be desecrated before the eyes of the nations amongst which they were, in whose sight I made Myself known to them, to take them out of the land of Egypt. And I took them out of the land of Egypt, and brought them to the desert. (20:6-10)

 

The Holy One wanted to redeem Israel, but they refused to part with their idolatry, apparently remaining unmoved in the face of the signs performed by Moshe. Therefore, God did not deliver them; on the contrary, He sought to destroy them. But ultimately, God did not want His Name to be desecrated, and so He changed His mode of guidance of the events and brought about the redemption of Israel through open miracles, which were not dependent on any human action. Indeed, we see that the expression, "I am Hashem (= the Tetragrammaton)" appears four times at the beginning of the parasha. God emphasizes the fact that He has changed His mode of guidance, moving to the attribute of Hashem. He had wanted to redeem Israel as "E-l Sha-dai" – i.e., through hidden miracles – but Am Yisrael proved unworthy, and therefore God chose to operate as "Hashem" – through open miracles.

 

Beyond contributing to a better understanding of what happened in Egypt, this teaches us an important lesson: redemption through open miracles can happen even when the nation is unworthy. This explains what happened in the previous generation: at the time of the establishment of the State of Israel, the spiritual situation of Am Yisrael was certainly no better than it had been in the preceding generations. Apparently, we merited the establishment of the State and the assumption of its place among the nations not by virtue of our own actions, but because the Holy One acted "independently," via the attribute of "Hashem." The Holocaust had represented a great desecration of God's Name, and God chose to act and redeem Am Yisrael through open miracles, despite the nation's spiritual stature.

 

(This sicha was delivered on leil Shabbat Parashat Vaera 5756 [1996].)