Not For Appearance Sake Only
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
G-d spoke to Moshe and said to him: I am Hashem ... (Shemos 6:2)
This seemingly simple statement says everything, two Hebrew words (Ani
Hashem) that literally say it all.
For those who have forgotten, last week's parshah ended with Moshe's
question to G-d (paraphrasing a bit ...),
"You call THIS redemption?! Since I went to Pharaoh, the suffering of the
Jewish people has increased, not decreased!"
To which, G-d retorted,
"Now you will see what I will do! You want to see redemption? You will see
redemption, and then you will regret that you ever questioned My actions,
for (thus begins this week's parshah), I AM HASHEM!"
What did G-d mean by this statement? Why did G-d chastise Moshe by invoking
His holy four-letter Name? The same thing He as ALWAYS meant by this
statement, namely: Beware, "Capital R Reality" is about to come head on
with "Small R Reality," and the result is going to be the elevation of
good, and the destruction of evil! Biblical Reality is about to overtake
man's everyday reality, with very, VERY dramatic results.
Let me explain what I mean.
When it comes to belief in Tanach (Torah, Prophets, and Writings), there
are basically three groups (with some shades of gray in-between). One group
believes that the events of the Torah never occurred, that it is a mythical
collection of writings with no real basis in reality. "No Torah, no G-d, no
Objective Truth," is this group's motto, and therefore, they feel free to
guide history as they FEEL fit.
A second group believes (somewhat) that the Tanach is about real events
that once occurred, more or less. Its wisdom is appropriate for all
generations, but not without some kind of tweaking to bring
Biblical-thinking in line with modern-day thinking. The Torah, this group
holds, must stay "with it" -- "it" being wherever society is going at any
given moment in history.
The third group, it seems, is biding its time, and often appears, in the
eyes of the Western World, as social misfits. They don't seem anxious to
integrate whole-heartedly into Western Society. True, they may become
involved in everyday life and "play the game" to some degree, but,
something about this group gives one the impression that it believes more
in Biblical times than current ones.
The difference between each group is like the difference between night and
day. The first group only knows "Small R Reality" -- their own personalized
version of life -- and never look back. Life is for living, they preach,
and living is for maximizing pleasure in THIS WORLD, because, they believe
(and hope they're not wrong) that there's nothing worthwhile coming up
The second group walks with each foot in a different world. While
struggling to maintain a firm and beneficial position in This World, they
also try to remain connected to a higher and more spiritual plane. It is a
tiring act, and one that comes with plenty of compromises; so many, in
fact, that one from this group often loses clarity about what is compromise
and what is truly the honest path to follow. "Small R Reality" is strong
here as well.
The third group struggles to remain clear about "Capital R Reality" --
G-d's reality. They know that we are only "passing through" This World, and
only become involved in "it" up until the point that their clarity of G-d's
reality becomes weakened, and that they stand to lose their spiritual
footing. These are called the "G-d-fearing" of society.
All three groups can prosper in everyday life -- until G-d has had enough.
The goal is for all of mankind to see reality as G-d sees it, and to live
consistent with that vision. Creation is only worth it to G-d when mankind
is fulfilling its reason to exist, which means fulfilling man's reason to
exist. Otherwise, G-d steps into history and "rectifies" history -- that
is, He does something dramatic, something VERY dramatic, to bring man's
thinking in line with His own.
That is all implied in the words, "I AM HASHEM" that G-d used with Moshe
Rabbeinu. The name of G-d, "Hashem," is another name for G-d's vision of
reality, and invoking it here with Moshe was another way of revealing to
him what was coming up, as if to say,
"Moshe, you are complaining only because you look at the world through the
eyes of your own personal, subjective reality. However, this is HASHEM
working here -- "Capital R Reality" about to overtake everyone else's
"Small R Reality." And when it does, WATCH OUT! The result is going to be a
freed Jewish nation, and a decimated Egyptian oppressor.
And, to quote the Talmud: So will it be the case in the days of Moshiach as
well (Sanhedrin 111a).
Aharon took Elisheva, the daughter of Aminadav, sister of Nachshon, as a
wife ... (Shemos 6:23)
Being the wife of the Kohen Gadol, the first one and most famous of all, is
an unbelievable merit. Being the brother of the head of the tribe of
Yehudah, the famous Nachshon ben Aminadav who exhibited unbelievable trust
in G-d when he walked into the sea to make it split is another incredible
merit. From all sides, Elisheva had special merits, as the Talmud points
Five extra joys Elisheva had [at the time the Mishkan was set up] over
other daughters of Israel. She was the sister-in-law of the king (Moshe
Rabbeinu), the wife of the Kohen Gadol, her son (Elazar) was the
administrative kohen, her grandson (Pinchas) was anointed for war, and her
brother (Nachshon) was a prince of a tribe ... (Zevachim 102a)
On the other hand, the Talmud (and the Midrash) reminds us: she had to
mourn the loss of her two sons -- Nadav and Avihu, who died on the same
day, on the eighth day of the inauguration of the Mishkan.
In fact, the Midrash uses Elisheva and her "simchos" as an example of the
idea that Hashem will delight in the actions of the righteous in the
"Time-to-Come" (Vayikra Rabbah 20:2). This means that events can happen --
negative events -- to the righteous, even though they themselves don't
deserve such consequences. That is a function of this side of history.
The Midrash on Tehillim says that the following verse applies to Elisheva:
I said to the roisters, "Do not be wasteful ..." (Tehillim 75:5)
-- because she enjoyed four joys in one day, and then, in the end, had to
mourn the loss of two sons that very day. Hence, King David advises: don't
take too much pleasure in This World; it is fleeting and can go as fast as
Shlomo HaMelech, Dovid's son echoed the same thought in Koheles when he wrote:
Vanity of vanities -- it is all vanity.
-- except, for fear of G-d, Koheles ends off. Things, events, and even
people do not last forever, and may be taken away from us before we are
prepared to give them up. But that's life ... in This World at least. And,
Elisheva's rise to the heights of prominence, and then her sudden drop to a
state of mourning makes this point quite clear.
Another lesson learned out from Elisheva is from the fact that her
relationship to Nachshon is mentioned. From here the Talmud finds a source
for the idea of investigating the brothers of a potential bride. Says the
Talmud: most girls are very similar in nature to their brothers, and
therefore, looking at the brothers can provide crucial insight into the
nature of a potential wife. (Bava Basra 110a).
It may not be absolutely true. However, it does show, once again, that a
posuk that seems to have little to teach can be, in fact, a source of
tremendous wisdom and insight.
G-d told Moshe and Aharon, "When Pharaoh speaks to you, saying, 'Show a
wonder,' then tell Aharon, 'Take your staff, and throw it down before
Pharaoh,' and it will become a serpent." Moshe and Aharon went to Pharaoh,
and they did as G-d had commanded. Aharon threw down his staff before
Pharaoh and his servants and it became a serpent. Pharaoh called the wise
men and the sorcerers, and the engravers of Egypt; they also did the same
thing using their secret arts. Each one threw down his staff, and it became
a serpent ... (Shemos 7:8-12)
Talk about being upstaged! Here Moshe comes and does a fantastic miracle in
the midst of Pharaoh's court by having Aharon's staff become a serpent, and
Pharaoh's own people do the same thing! In fact, the Midrash says that
among the crowd making snakes were school children, as if to make the
point: Big deal Moshe!
True, only Aharon's snake was able to become a staff again -- a limitation
of black magic -- and swallow up the other snakes. However, that part of
the miracle was lost somewhat among the laughter and mocking of Moshe by
Pharaoh and his royal court.
But not for Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe left Pharaoh unfazed, because, he was
warned by G-d in advance that Pharaoh wouldn't buy into his plan for Jewish
freedom. No, this was not going to be an overnight job, Moshe understood,
and while Pharaoh and his court probably thought that they had just had the
last laugh, Moshe simply and calmly turned to Aharon, his brother and
assistance, and said, "Phase one complete, my brother. We can go now."
Moshe had learned from the beginning of the parshah that the geulah
(redemption) of G-d comes in phases, for the sake of free-will. The purpose
of creation is to provide mankind with the chance to make free-will
decisions; there has to be a phenomenally important reason for G-d to come
right out and suspend free-will with an obvious miracle.
This is why, back in last week's parshah, the following came up:
[G-d then] said, "Put your hand into your chest again." He [Moshe] put his
hand into his chest again, and brought it out -- it returned like the rest
of his skin. "If they will not believe you, nor listen to the first sign,
they will believe the latter sign." (Shemos 4:7-8)
An obvious question: Why not just skip the first sign and perform the
second sign, a sure bet? If G-d already knows that the first sign might not
work (read: G-d KNOWS that it will not work), then why bother going through
the motions of the first sign?
A less than obvious answer: Because, the first sign, being less miraculous,
was a sign from G-d that redemption was coming, but not too miraculous that
free-will would be suspended or reduced significantly. There WERE Jews who
would believe in the first sign and know that redemption was coming, and
prepare for it. However, the bulk of the nation would not be impressed by
the first miracle, and would still require the second, more obvious miracle
to make the point -- at the cost of reward in the World-to-Come.
Yet, even the second sign, apparently, was not enough for four-fifths of
the population, who remained unconvinced that the redemption from Egyptian
oppression was at hand. Not even eight plagues was enough to convince these
millions, and by the ninth plague, the Plague of Darkness, it was too late.
The very redemption that saved their brothers became the very source of
their own deaths.
And that is the way it has always been, and will always be for each and
every redemption. May we learn from our past, and save our future, and see
the "signs" clearly, and early.
G-d will have ruled, He will have worn grandeur; G-d will have worn might
and girded Himself; even established the world that it should not fall.
This is the last tehillah of Kabbalos Shabbos each week, and, as Rashi
explains, it refers to the time of Moshiach when all men will recognize
that G-d has been, is, and will always be King of creation. This is also
why this tehillah is the "Psalm of the Day" for Friday, the day on which
G-d finished creating all of nature, which He wears, so-to-speak, like a
mantle of grandeur.
As we testify each day in the "Shema," G-d runs the worlds -- the Upper
World and the Lower World. In the Upper World, this is never in doubt, and
hence the angels continuously sing praises to G-d to affirm this immutable
reality. In the Lower World, it is easy to become deluded, since the gift
of nature can also become the curse of nature, when man uses its
consistency as an excuse to disregard G-d's ownership of everything.
This is why, as Kabbalah explains, we whisper the second posuk of the
Shema, "Boruch Shem Kevod ..." The first verse refers to G-d's rulership
over the Upper World, which is clear as day. However, with the exception of
certain unique times in history when G-d made His Presence manifest to man,
it is possible NOT to feel G-d in everyday life, as if His being here is a
"secret." This is why we whisper the second verse -- except on Yom Kippur
when we become like angels and see everyday life through their eyes.
However, the "secret" may be ending before our very eyes. A neighbor of
ours told us that her mother was in Venezuela at the time of the
catastrophic mud slides which have caused the death of over THIRTY-THOUSAND
PEOPLE! She related how, at that time, there was supposed to have been an
election, and how unexpected rains were dampening people's voting spirit.
So, one of the men running for office (strangely, his name is "Shabbos"),
in order to inspire the voters to come out said something like:
"We will have the election and people will vote, and we will win, and not
even G-d will stop us!" (Seemingly, he forgot how the people of the Titanic
strung a banner across the deck before setting sail, which read, "A ship
even G-d can't sink!")
Well, He did stop him -- big time! That night, the rains came down in a
torrential downfall (during the dry season yet!), and the mud slides began,
and with them, the tragedy of horrible deaths. Remarkably, especially for
this day-and-age, the politician who brazenly "challenged" G-d the day
before went on national radio, and sincerely apologized to G-d.
It is not that G-d goes around killing innocent victims just to make a
point; there are other reasons involved in such major decisions. However,
when nature and our attitude toward it interferes with our acceptance of
the King of Kings as our unique ruler, then, nature itself becomes His
vehicle to turn our opinion around. It is, according to the Talmud, a
condition built into creation itself.
However, only up until the time that Moshiach comes, because then, the
reality of G-d becomes the same for one-and-all; evil will cease to exist
with the death of the yetzer hara, and the veil of nature will be no more,
and all will recite the second posuk of the Shema loudly, with love, and
with fervor. G-d will then appear to US, as He did to our Forefathers: with
perfect clarity (Shemos 6:3; Sanhedrin 111a).