Va-eira – Exodus 6:2 to 9:11
The opening eight verses of this week’s Torah text answer many questions that Moses asked in last week’s reading… and that many readers may have … What is God’s name? Why does God have many names? Why are the Israelites freed? Why did God wait several hundred years to free them? A look behind these eight verses supply the answers.
This week’s parsha begins the Ten Plagues, or as they are referred to in the text, “the ten signs or marvels.” But, before Moses confronts the Pharaoh, God speaks to Moses… and in this short passage (only eight verses) at the start of the parsha, God provides answers to many questions that Moses has… and that the reader of the text may have.
“God spoke to Moses and said to him,”
(1) “I am the Eternal.”
(2) “I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make Myself known to them by My name YHVH.”
(3) “I also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners.”
(4) “I have now heard the moaning of the Isrealites because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My Covenant.”
“Say, therefore, to the Israelite people:”
(4a) “I am the Eternal, I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver your from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements.”
(3a) “And I will take you to be My people, and I will be your God. And you shall know that I, the Eternal, am your God who freed your from the labors of the Egyptians.”
(2a) “I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession,”
(1a) “I the Eternal.”
“But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage.” (Exodus 6:2-9)
Nehama Leibowitz in her book, New Studies in Shemot/Exodus, shows how these short eight verses answer many of the questions that have been raised by both Moses and readers of Torah:
• What is God’s name?
• Why is God acting to free the Israelites?
• Why has God waited the hundreds of years to act?
• What was the relationship between God and the Israelites before Moses came to Egypt?
Leibowitz points out that in many ways these eight verses foretell the story of Exodus. The first four verses (1, 2, 3, and 4) present the events before the Exodus and giving of Torah at Sinai …. The Middle phrase above (“Say therefore to the Israelite people”) represents the events of the Exodus and Sinai …. The last four lines (4a, 3a, 2a, and 1a) tell how the events promised in the first four verses actually come to happen…. The last line (But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage.”) relates the condition of the Isrealites as Moses arrives in Egypt.
Now let’s look at this line by line….
(1) God tells us who is delivering this message. The fact that God is all powerful is expressed in these two Hebrew words (Anee Adonai).
(2) I am the God that appeared to your ancestors. They knew God as El Shaddai, “God Almighty.” Plaut in a commentary in The Torah, states that the patriarchs saw God as one of many gods worshipped in the world. The fact that there were other gods did not affect them. To the patriarchs, God, or El Shaddai, was the God to whom they were faithful. (Plaut, The Torah-A Modern Commentary, p. 382, 393)
However, the God who appears to Moses as YHVH, Adonai, is the most powerful God, and as stated in the following verses, is faithful, merciful, and compassionate. God’s new name should express this power to both the Israelites and the rest of the world.
(3) God reminds the Israelites of the covenants he made in the past.
(4) God acts because of the cries of the Israelites. Nowhere does it say God acted because of any actions other than these cries. We don’t know what level of faith the people had… based on the ninth, and last line, probably not much. God acted for two reasons … one, to fulfill the promises he made to the Patriarchs … and a second, to create a people that will worship God… a fact which is expressed in the last five lines.
The middle line can be seen as a division between events before and after the Exodus and Sinai.
(4a) It is stated that God will act to free the Israelites from Egyptian bondage.
(3a) Not only will God fulfill his covenant, God will take the Israelites to be His people, and they shall know YHVH as their God. Note that the word “shall” is used. This implies that events of the future will make this a reality. This faith is not present when Moses enters Egypt.
(2a) It is clear that the acts of freeing the Israelites from Egypt and the future possession of the land of Israel will be the direct result of the actions of God.
(1a) YHVH is the powerful God, the only God of the Israelite people for all time.
The ninth, and final line of the quote, presents the condition of the Israelite people. They are crushed by slavery and oppression. As stated above, YHVH must prove the power, compassion, and love for his people before they provide acceptance and real faith. This is the content for the rest of Torah.
That’s it…. Just eight verses. They are so easy to skip over. At first they may seem like a repetition of last week’s parsha; but, upon a closer look, they really contain a great deal of information.
Source: Nehama Leibowitz, New Studies in Shemot/Exodus, pp. 114-27
All Torah quotations appear in Blue type and are from The Torah – A Modern Commentary; Gunther Plaut, Editor; Revised Edition
Description of Text:
Va-eira–Exodus 6:2-9:11: The opening 8 verses answer many questions such as what is God’s name, why are the Israelites freed, why did God wait so long, and more.