This week’s parashat is taken from Exodus 6:2—9:35. Listen in as David dives deep into the first seven plagues that are unleashed upon the people of Egypt, following the suspenseful redemption from Egyptian slavery, for the children of Israel.
Follow along in the AUDIO PODCAST, by clicking on the play button below, and reading along with the notes, as you listen to today's Parashat:
In this week’s Torah portion, we are introduced to the first seven of the Ten Plagues unleashed by Hashem on Egypt. Up to this point, Hashem did not reveal precisely how He would redeem the Children of Israel from bondage in Egypt. In Genesis 15:14, He told Abraham: “The nation that will enslave them, I shall punish, and afterwards they shall leave with great possessions.” Fast-forward to the Burning Bush, and even there, Hashem did not give Moses much more detail (Exodus 3:20): “I shall send forth My hand and I shall strike Egypt with all My wonders that I shall perform in its midst, and after that he [Pharaoh] will send you out.” Only now, in this week’s parashah, does Hashem begin to elaborate, one by one, each of the plagues that He has in store against Pharaoh and his kingdom. This week, we see: 1) Water turned to blood; 2) Frog infestation; 3) Lice infestation; 4) Wild animal hordes; 5) Pestilence against domestic animals; 6) Boils upon humans and animals; and 7) Fiery hail.
As we see, Hashem initiated the plagues at such a level that Pharaoh’s sorcerers and necromancers were able to easily replicate, and this in turn caused Pharaoh to refuse to acquiesce to Hashem’s command that he must let the Children of Israel go out of Egypt. Yet, this was part of Hashem’s plan – on one level, these plagues were unleashed to show off His awesome power. Yet, on another level, the plagues rose steadily in severity so as to push Pharaoh into a state of hardening his heart. This, in turn, allowed Hashem to increase the severity further so that the plagues could reach such a heightened level that there was no way to deny that it all came from His hand. All of this was necessary to make a powerful statement to the entire world – that Hashem was the ultimate Source of all Creation, and the Children of Israel were His treasured people.
And so we open up this week’s parashah to the words of Exodus 6:2-3:
וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֵלָ֖יו אֲנִ֥י יְהוָֽה׃
וָאֵרָ֗א אֶל־אַבְרָהָ֛ם אֶל־יִצְחָ֥ק וְאֶֽל־יַעֲקֹ֖ב בְּאֵ֣ל שַׁדָּ֑י וּשְׁמִ֣י יְהוָ֔ה לֹ֥א נוֹדַ֖עְתִּי לָהֶֽם׃
“And God [Elohim] spoke to Moses and said to him, ‘I am Hashem.’ And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shaddai, but through My Name Hashem I did not become known to them.”
“Va’eira” means “I appeared”, in the context of Hashem telling Moses that He appeared to the Patriarchs through the title “El Shaddai”. This comes after He tells Moses: “I am Hashem.” And before this in the narrative, it is God (or Elohim) that is speaking. Here, we see three titles of the Creator referenced: Elohim, Hashem and El Shaddai. First and foremost, it must be pointed out that these three Names are in no way synonymous. Rather, they represent revelations of the various attributes of the Creator in His Creation. Back in Parashat Bereisheet, we did a study of the Names “Elohim” and “Hashem”, and back in Parashat Lech Lecha, we unwrapped the Name “El Shaddai”. If you haven’t listened to these teachings and don’t understand the difference between the Names, I encourage you to go back and check them out.
As a quick synopsis, “Elohim” represents His Strict Attribute of Justice, while “Hashem” represents His Strict Attribute of Mercy (“Hashem” is said in place of “Y-H-V-H” due to the awe and reverence attached to this particular Name). “Hashem” is the more prominent Name used for Him as mankind prefers to be associated to Hashem through His Strict Attribute of Mercy. Moreover, we learn in the first several chapters of the Book of Genesis that while Creation was created with the title “Elohim”, everything ultimately flows from His Strict Attribute of Mercy, and it is this Attribute that overrides His Attribute of Judgment. This is how the concept of “repentance” is possible – otherwise, His Strict Attribute of Justice would fall on us every time. As for “El Shaddai”, it means “All-Sufficient One” – that Hashem is all we need in this world; that through Him, we can accomplish everything we need.
Against this backdrop, we can understand what Hashem was saying here to Moses. Up to this point in the Torah, the Children of Israel and the rest of the world knew the Name “Elohim” – His Strict Attribute of Justice – through the Creation account and also through specific acts of judgment (e.g. the Flood, the Tower of Babel, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah). The Patriarchs knew Him through the Name “El Shaddai” as He was all that they needed. In this light, Hashem operated for them, providing for them, but He never contravened the laws of nature (dictated through the Name “Elohim”). And now, we open this parashah to Hashem saying to Moses: “I am Hashem.” Here, Hashem was about to reveal to Moses, the Children of Israel and the world the nature of this preferred title that corresponds with His Strict Attribute of Mercy, and it is this Mercy that ultimately supersedes all of His other titles, thereby making “Hashem” His prominent Name in all of Creation.
To reiterate what was said earlier, all of our Creator’s Names are the revelation of His various attributes to mankind. However, it is impossible to see Hashem in all the fulness of His glory, as Hashem said to Moses on Mount Sinai in Exodus 33:19: “You shall not be able to see My face, for no human can see Me and live.” Why can’t we see Hashem’s fulness? Because our minds are incapable of comprehending any dimension beyond what we perceive in this world. Moreover, we are incapable of transcending our limited and broken state in this world to a level of pure holiness, only found in Hashem. Why then does Hashem reveal His Attributes in Creation? He only does so when He needs to reveal something to mankind that points mankind to Him without overriding man’s free will. Moreover, the capacity of Hashem’s revelation is based on mankind’s capacity to rely on Him. This is why He told Moses that He revealed Himself as “El Shaddai” – “the All-Sufficient One” – to the Patriarchs, and not by the Name “Hashem”. This is because the Patriarchs did not need more from Hashem than what was sufficient for their needs. In other words, they did not need a host of supernatural acts or wonder to solidify their relationships to the Creator.
Interestingly, we find that the statement “I am Hashem” (“אֲנִי יְהוָה”) is used quite consistently here on out throughout the account of the Ten Plagues.
In this week’s parashah, we see it first in Exodus 6:2-3 (as we covered earlier), saying to Moses: “‘I am Hashem.’ And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shaddai, but through My Name Hashem I did not become known to them.” In Exodus 6:6, Hashem then said to him: “I am Hashem… I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt; I shall rescue you… I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.” In Exodus 6:7: “I am Hashem your God, Who takes you out from under the burdens of Egypt.” And again in Exodus 6:8: “I shall give it [the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob] to you as a heritage – I am Hashem.” In all of these cases, Hashem was telling Moses that all the mighty acts that were about to be done in Egypt would be the revelation of Him through the Name of Hashem – all for the sake of the Children of Israel as promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
With that having been said, what does the Name “Hashem” – which represents the Strict Attribute of Mercy – have to do with the awesome power He was about to display in Egypt? He had to because the Children of Israel had lived for so long in Egypt to the point of assimilation, and had lost sight of the relationship that their forefathers had with Hashem – one that only required Him to reveal Himself under the title “El Shaddai”. As such, He had to reveal a greater extent of His essence to them, and at this point in time, this required supernatural acts and wonders. And what does this have to do with Mercy? It is all about perspective – while these acts could be characterized as acts of Justice towards Pharaoh and the Egyptians, with respect to the Children of Israel, they were powerful acts of Mercy. Why? As I just said, they had lost sight of the relationship that their forefathers had with Hashem. So why did they deserve to be saved? Because of the great merit of their forefathers.
As such, Hashem’s plan to take them out of Egypt by His mighty hand through supernatural acts was not His standard operating procedure, and neither would it become such thereon out. This was a once-for-the-history books phenomenon given the situation for His chosen people in the midst of bondage. Not because they deserved it, but because of His covenant with the Patriarchs, and His plan for their future and that of the world. This plan certainly would start with the Children of Israel – with them coming back into relationship with Him, but the ultimate goal was that of Hashem revealing Himself through this Name on a greater level to the entire world. These events would precede the Children of Israel as they moved towards the Land of Canaan, driving fear into the inhabitants as they drew closer to the Land.
So, at this point in time, supernatural acts and wonders were necessary to wake up both the Children of Israel and the rest of the world to Hashem. These mighty acts most certainly caused unbelievers to believe in Hashem – whether amongst the Children of Israel, the Egyptians and the Canaanite nations – which is a notable act. However, if it is not Hashem’s standard operating procedure to use supernatural acts and wonders, what happens when they cease? What does it mean to believe in Him? Does it mean that He no longer exists, or doesn’t care? Not at all! It just means that there is more to His essence than just mighty acts and wonders. Supernatural acts, wonders and miracles have their place – to open the eyes of those that wouldn’t otherwise come into the knowledge of Hashem. If all mankind was built of the same, strong faith-based essence as that of the Patriarchs, there would be no need for these supernatural acts!
Hashem desires ever so much for us to know Him – not by Him forcefully revealing Himself to us, but rather by our pursuit of Him. What do I mean by “to know Him”? This means to understand His true essence – how He operates in His Creation. By knowing Him, only then can we replicate Him. How does He operate? We learnt this last week, that Hashem gives without expectation to receive anything back from us. We replicate Him by receiving from Him only what we need so that we can use it to elevate Him in His Creation. As a result, we become conduits of Hashem in Creation.
This brings us to the importance of the human element. As we spoke at greater length last week, Moses was the chosen redeemer to bring about Hashem’s plan of redemption for the Children of Israel. There had to be a human element because the rectification of this world is due to a human problem, and requires the human agent to rectify it. This is why Hashem revealed Himself in such a powerful way to the extent that He did only once in history – because it was needed to jump-start the process of rectification. At that point in time, it called for such a great move of His mighty hand. Turning back to Moses, we read in Exodus 7:1: “Hashem said to Moses, ‘See, I have made you “Elohim” to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet.” This just meant that Moses would be the conduit of Hashem’s power – His Strict Attribute of Justice – in the form of the Ten Plagues over Pharaoh and all of Egypt. Hashem most certainly could have operated by His own power without the use of Moses or any other human agent, but as said just now, we play a pivotal role in our own redemption in this world. Hashem had to use a model for His power to flow through – and at that point in time, it was Moses.
Furthermore, the Children of Israel needed a leader to guide them and nurture them in the ways of Hashem. A righteous and humble leader who was a sound vessel for Him to operate through. This is the human way. We all look to our leadership – whether in the household, community, work or government – to lead us in our lives. We look for sound leadership so that we may have confidence in what the future holds. In the case of the Children of Israel, this is why their first leader had to be a great and powerful beacon for them. This is why Moses was chosen by Hashem to reveal His awesome power. Moses would set a lofty model for those that would follow in his footsteps – to lead the Nation of Israel forward. This wasn’t just about political or military leadership for the nation, this was more importantly about spiritual leadership – to draw the Children of Israel closer to Hashem. To bring them back to where their forefathers were in their walk with Him. Not just for their sakes, but ultimately for the world at large. This was the model that Hashem had in mind. First, the Children of Israel needed help to get them back on the right path using a human agent (Moses), but thereafter, it would just be the human agent. Yet, there was an even greater human agent that was to come!
The ultimate human agent through whom Hashem revealed His full essence was the Messiah, whom we recognize as Yeshua. When Yeshua ministered amongst his people, he performed many great miracles in their midst – healing all forms of ailments, casting out demons, and raising others from the dead. These were all amazing signs of Hashem’s power operating through Yeshua. Yeshua was the perfect conduit for Hashem to operate through because he was completely unified with Hashem. Just like Hashem operating through Moses to bring forth signs and wonders in Egypt, Yeshua performed miracles to reveal Hashem’s essence to his people that had once again lost sight of what it meant to walk with Hashem as the Patriarchs did. In one instance, a man came to him to plead for Yeshua to heal his son who was on the brink of death, and Yeshua said to him (John 4:48): “If you do not see signs and wonders, you will not believe!” Here, Yeshua hammered home the point. Throughout his ministry, people came to him in droves so that he could heal them, never seeming to get past the signs and wonders to understand that this was merely intended to supercharge them to turn back to Hashem.
Yet, more than that, Messiah Yeshua’s mandate went beyond the Nation of Israel alone to bring the light of Hashem to the entire world. For rectification of Creation is a global one, involving all of humanity – to draw all nations of the world in a unified manner to Hashem through Israel. While this mandate was not realized entirely while Yeshua taught and ministered to his people in his days, we certainly see the fruition of this work today. The name of Yeshua has reached to the farthest reaches of the earth, and through him, the Name of Hashem has been elevated. Yeshua is that bridge to Hashem through which much of the world has come to the knowledge of their Creator! And more is to come. We look eagerly to the horizon for the Messiah’s return – a moment in the future when he will return as King to finally set everything in order to reign in an era of peace. We also know that this time will be characterized by great and mighty acts and wonders similar, if not greater than, what was witnessed in Egypt – all for the purpose of opening the eyes of the world one last time to ultimately bring glory to the Name of Hashem.
What about us? Where is our faith today? Where is our trust in Hashem as our "El Shaddai" – our "All Sufficient One"? When things fall apart in our lives we cry out to Him for a miracle – just as the crowds in the days of Yeshua cried out – to get us out of the difficulties in our lives. Not to say that we shouldn't cry out, quite the contrary – Hashem wants us to cry out, because it reveals our dependence on Him. But rather, we tend to grow expectant on Him to get us out of our circumstances by a miracle rather than picking ourselves up by our bootstraps and trooping onward… rather than giving Him thanks for both every good and bad circumstance that comes our way. What are we waiting for? The expected return of the Messiah and the great acts and wonders that will accompany him to give ourselves completely to Him? If we are, then we are missing the point completely. Hashem has revealed Himself in Creation in so many clear ways over the past near-6,000 years – whether through mighty supernatural acts and wonders or through the life of a human agent – that we really have no excuse anymore. Further than that, for those of us who claim to have a relationship with Hashem, how much are we replicating Him through those that have gone before us? Are their lives in line with what is revealed about Hashem in Scriptures? Our perfect model to replicate is the life of Yeshua, which we find in Scripture as well. Though he lived 2,000 years ago, if one claims to have a relationship with Hashem, their life must line up with that of Yeshua. Yeshua should be our model!
May we look past the supernatural acts and wonders of Hashem to search out His essence – that of His Mercy and His ultimate desire for us to know Him completely. For by knowing Him, only then can we draw closer to Him and replicate Him in our lives. May we recognize that we have a perfect model right before us in the life of Yeshua who’s only desire is to draw us back into relationship with Hashem. Amen.