I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchok, and to Yaakov as Kel Shakai, but with my name Hashem I did not make Myself known.
Chazal see the beginning of our parshah as a continuation and response to Moshe’s apparent failure in his initial meeting with Paroh. Moshe had directly challenged Hashem. “My L-rd, why have You done evil to this people? Why have You sent me?” Hashem answers Moshe in part by contrasting the behavior of the avos with his. They, too, experienced apparent contradictions between what Hashem had promised them, and what they were forced to do. G-d had told Avraham that his progeny would continue after him – but later asked Avraham to slaughter Yitzchok. Hashem promised Avraham the entire Land – but Avraham was forced to pay top dollar for a simple burial plot for his wife. Nonetheless, Avraham never questioned G-d as Moshe did. As Chazal put it, none of the avos entertained doubts or second thoughts about “Hashem’s midos.”
This approach, however, only takes us half of the way there. We still want to know why Moshe acted so differently than the avos! To explain that, we have to look deeper into the roles of the avos and of Moshe.
We call them “avos” in a decidedly different manner than some peoples speak of their “founding fathers.” Those founders are hailed for their contributions in the past. No one sees them of continuously animating the lives of future generations. Their descendants can honor them and acknowledge their debt to laying a foundation for the future. But those figures do not directly participate in that future.
Our avos never finished the work of being avos! By that we mean that they are constantly producing progeny and kedushah that began with their lives. The gifts they brought to the world keep on giving, and continue to pour into their descendants and their times.. They are perpetual fathers, not remnants of the past. They represent the potential for all of their future generations; those generations actualize the potential they created. Seen this way, no other people have “fathers” of this sort. Other nations do not have a common inner core shared by all. Lacking it, there is no way to link the essence of someone in the past to people living centuries later.
The banim operate in a different framework than the avos. The avodah of the sons is within the realm of midos – those of people, and the concomitant display of Divine midos in response to that avodah. (That avodah began with addressing the pride and arrogance of the early generations, which was coupled with stubbornness and the will to dominate. These evil characteristics blocked people from the illumination of Divine sechel. They powered the building of the Tower of the dor ho-haflagah; they continued to shape the form of religious life available to the ancients. Their pride would not allow them to admit of anything greater than Man, so they disparaged and dismissed the possibility. Yet, they detected a spiritual sensitivity and yearning within them, that urged them to attach themselves to a source of spirituality. Their worship therefore had to be of objects like wood and stone that were clearly beneath where they imagined themselves to be. That way, they could slake their thirst for pursuing spirituality, without having to diminish their self-image.)
Working as they did in a world of midos, they could not help but notice the contradiction at times between the ways in which HKBH was relating to them. There was no place for them to hide from these inconsistencies.
Not so the avos. Their avodah was in a different realm – at the source of those midos. In that realm, there are no contradictions! What appear to us to be divergent ways of Hashem relating to the world all converge within HKBH. Closer to Him, there is no substantive difference between these midos. The avos saw nothing to call out.
Hashem related to the avos with the name Kel Shakai – the G-d who says “enough,” who placed limits on the further expansion of Creation. This implies that the world was ideally meant to expand further! Such expansion would have meant further revelation of HKBH. Very few people, however, properly relate to what HKBH did reveal. Hashem therefore had to limit His revelation, and leave many layers of depth hidden, rather than open. He said “dai” / enough! to the process of revelation within Creation.
The avos could sense and feel the Will of HKBH. They therefore could understand the place and purpose of everything in the world around them. Apparent contradictions in Hashem’s actions were, to them, part of the hidden universe about which we are instructed, “Do not inquire about what is hidden from you.”
Moshe, however, was one of the banim, not the avos. Additionally, he represented Torah, through which would be revealed the dimensions that had previously remained sealed and hidden. The task of the avos was to appreciate everything in Creation for what it really was meant to be. Moshe’s task, however, was to clarify that which had not been made part of revealed Creation.
To the avos, there were no questions. For Moshe, however, questioning was his trademark and a chief tool of his trade.
- Based on Mei Marom, Shemos, Maamar 9 ↑
- Shemos 6:3 ↑
- Sanhedrin 111A; Rashi 6: 9 ↑
- Shemos 5:22 ↑
- See Chagigah 13A ↑