Posted on January 20, 2023 by Jim Lavranchuk
Parashat Va-eira; Exodus 6:2-9:35
This week’s Torah portion Va-eira begins in the book of Exodus chapter 6, verse 2. In Hebrew this book is called Sh’mot – the Book of Names. The fifteenth century Italian commentator Ovadia ben Jacob Sforno teaches that “a name describes the individual features of a person. And these individual features are the essential reasons for the actions of a person.”
“God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am Adonai.” [Vaera] – I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as El Shaddai but I did not make Myself known to them by My name Adonai.”
Rabbi Dina Rosenberg explains that “God’s proper name written Yud-Hey-Vuv-Hey in the original Hebrew contained no vowels. Yud-Hey-Vuv-Hey appears in the Torah 6828 times. Though the Name was almost certainly pronounced in early times, by the 3rd century BCE the letters were regarded as so sacred that they were never articulated. Instead, the convention came to be to read the letters as ‘Adonai.’”
In biblical times Adonai was not just used for God. It was a common honorific for kings, slave-masters, and even used by wives for husbands (at least that is how all the male historians remember it). The “i” at the end of Adonai signifies possession, in fact, Adonai is a plural form literally meaning “my lords.”
Why use a plural form when referring to “Adonai Echad” – the One Jewish God? While it has been suggested that the plural form is a remnant of ancient polytheistic beliefs, most scholars believe that it was taken from the Canaanite language. The Canaanite word for a god was El. They had many gods – or Elohim in the plural form. El-Elyon was the lord over all the gods. When the Jews took possession of the Promised Land (oops – did I spoil the ending?), it was natural for them to adopt the title El-Elyon for God.
“I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as El Shaddai.”
According to Midrash it means “The One who said ‘dai’” – which means ‘enough’, and it comes from the creation story: God created the universe and created for six days until God said “DAI!” Shaddai is also the Name written on mezuzah scrolls and thus has also been interpreted as an acronym. Shin Dalet Yud stands for Shomer Daltot Yisrael – Guardian of the Doors of Israel.
The book of Names opens by recounting the names of all of Jacob’s family. Then
“A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.”
The king did not know the name of the second most powerful human in the Egyptian empire. By eliminating Joseph’s name the king was able to disconnect our people from their forbears, and enslave the Children of Israel and “deal shrewdly with them.” The oppression became increasingly worse over time. To control the growing population of Israelites the King attempted to kill every male child at birth, but the Israelite midwives thwarted his efforts.
“And God dealt well with the midwives;”
God has a documented and special relationship with the midwives as we see in verse 21 of the first chapter:
“And [God] established households for the midwives, because they feared God.”
I think there is a reason why we pray in our t’filah: “Elohei Avraham, Elohei Yitzchak, v’Elohei Ya’akov, Elohei Sarah, Elohei Rivkah, Elohei Leah, v’Elohei Rachel.”
It reminds us that God has an individual relationship with each of our patriarchs and matriarchs – each relationship matched to the persons unique features… and similarly, with each and every one of us.
Having failed with the midwives, Pharaoh enlisted the whole Egyptian population against the newborn Israelite males. Perhaps at some point the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was once again El-Shaddai the One who said “Enough!”
God is about to create again… Like separating light from darkness, sky from sea, and dry land from water God reaches into the midst of Egypt and through Moses and Aaron and some divine special effects, extracts the Israelites and, in the desert, at the foot of Sinai, mold them into Am Yisrael – a nation who would bring light to all nations.
It has been a long time since God sent prophets to kings and followed up on their prophesy… or is it? Some may believe Nietzche was right – God no longer acts in the world. The free will we received on the sixth day of creation allows us to, like Pharaoh, shut God out of our lives completely. But there are uncountable ways to let God into our lives… if we don’t harden our heart to the invitation.
In 1973 the esteemed commentator Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra reminds us: “It ain’t over, ‘til it’s over…”
So as we leave here tonight, let us take these thoughts with us: Each day we are created anew. The point of the plagues and the stubbornness of Pharoah, the increasingly terrible signs and wonders, is all meant to reveal that “the one who spoke and caused the world to be” is El-Elyon – The King of kings. The more often and deeper that we let God into our own lives… the more we “do justly, love goodness and walk humbly with God,” the more God will be manifest in the world through each of us. Each of us… and all of us can move the world closer to the ideal that we wish it to be.
Open your heart, and let ‘em in!
“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh”
It ain’t over…
ישראל רונן בן אברהם ושרה