The last Pasuk of Parshas Shemos states unequivocally that the show was about to begin. The stage design was finished. The props were all in place and the stunts were perfectly synchronized. The curtain had dropped on Scene One – Confrontation and Failure – and was about to lift on Scene Two – Miracles and Redemption.
The Ramban introduced the Book of Shemos as the Book of Redemption. The concept of redemption assumes a goal for humanity and creation that transcends simple survival and existence. It posits that humanity began pure and whole and then compromised itself through sin and failure. It further suggests that the failures were not corrected by subsequent generations. In fact, the concept of redemption assumes that the failings became the norms by which subsequent generations judged their own ethical standing.
Redemption is different than “starting all over.” Starting over was the purpose of the Mabul – Great Flood. G-d concluded that the humanity of then could not be redeemed; therefore, they had to be destroyed. However, following the Great Flood, G-d changed the basic nature of humanity to provide the possibility of change and redemption, rather than destruction and rebirth.
There are two natural factors fundamental to the human condition: a) time, b) free will. G-d does not tamper with free will. Free will is the raison d’e-tre for creation without which there is no cause or reason for redemption. Therefore, to facilitate redemption G-d altered the lifetime of humans. Instead of living hundreds of years human life was reduced to 120 years.
Rav Hirsch explained that reducing the span of human life allowed for evil to be replaced at shorter intervals with potential goodness. Had evil individuals continued to live for hundreds of years their evil would have grown stronger from generation to generation without there being a light at the end of the tunnel. However, with a shortened life span evil people must eventually die allowing society to heal and for good people to rebuild. That is the meaning of redemption.
If the meaning of redemption is the demise of evil and the ability for goodness to flourish, then the foundation of redemption is the human’s ability to do good. Goodness is defined as doing whatever G-d commands and whatever manifests His presence and intent. The children of Avraham and Sarah are supposed to be the source of blessing (meaning redemption) for all the families of the earth; therefore, their existence should unquestionably proclaimed G-d’s absolute dominion over the universe.
In the opening verses of this week’s Parsha, Rav Hirsch identifies the unique elements of Jewish national emergence and existence that supports the undeniable providence of the Creator of the universe.
At the end of last week’s Parsha, following Moshe’s disastrous first encounter with Pharaoh, Moshe questioned G-d’s plan for redemption. “What was your purpose in making worse the lot of this nation?” G-d responded, “Now you will see… by a strong hand will he let them go.”
The opening verses of this week’s Parsha continue G-d’s response to Moshe. The focus of G-d’s response is the different manifestations of G-d’s presence in the universe. “Elokim said, I appear to you (Moshe) as Adoshem… To Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yakov I appeared as Shakai, but not as Adoshem.”
G-d referred to Himself using three different names: Elokim, Adoshem, and Shakai. G-d’s names describe the manner in which He manifests Himself within nature and within society. At times He is the G-d of justice and nature. At other times He is the G-d of mercy and society. Sometimes He is the G-d Who makes promises and demands that we trust Him to fulfill them. At other times He is the G-d Who fulfills His promises through time, circumstance and occasional miracles.
Depending on how G-d presents Himself will depend humanities response. G-d’s expectation for Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yakov was not the same as His expectation for Moshe Rabbeinu. The Forefathers related to a G-d Who made promises about the future. “You will have children. You will inherit this land. Your children will be as many as the stars. You and your children will be a blessing for the rest of the world.” G-d’s expectation for the Forefathers was belief and trust because they never lived to see Him fulfill the promises. G-d’s expectation for Moshe was, “Sit back and watch. The show is about to begin. This is My show and only My show. I will fight for you. You must remain silent!”
“Using the name Shakai I promised the world to Avraham Yitzchak and Yakov. However, the history of the Jews up until this point would give anyone causes to wonder if I would or could fulfill My promises. Starting now the world will behold the power and majesty of the G-d Who promises and fulfills His promises. My name will be manifest through you and the children of Israel in a display of My undeniable, absolute control over every element in the universe. The time for revelation is upon you. The time for redemption is now!”
(Rav S.R. Hirsch Shemos 6:3) “You are wondering why things have become worse and worse for you, and why even your mission thus far has served only to push your misery to the utmost limits. But do you not see that, in fact, your entire history up until this point has been a downhill road?
Abraham was the ‘prince of G-d’ among the nations, but then came Jacob, the unfortunate, hard-working servant who had to toil in order to get himself a wife and then was forced to perform additional labor in order to keep her.
You know that I could just as easily have had your fortunes rise steadily without interruption. Instead of making Avraham wait until the 100th year of his life before giving him a son, I could have permitted him to have a family by the time he was seventy, and I could have permitted His progeny to grow into a people on their own soil in happy, favorable circumstances.
But then this nation would have never become the ‘the people of G-d,’ the people who are to reveal G-d in His quality of Adoshem – (The G-d Who is merciful. The G-d Who cares enough about humanity, society and the individual to intervene with miracles.) Then this people, too, like all the other nations, would have been rooted solely in the world of things that can be seen and touched; like them, they would have had only physical foundations and would have understood their greatness and might only in terms of physical size and strength, aspiring to spiritual and moral attainments only as long as these would have been compatible with, and beneficial to, their material ambitions.
But this people are not like the other nations. Unlike the others, this nation is to be founded solely upon G-d and upon the free-willed moral fulfillment of His will, and to derive even its earthly substance and foundation only from that G-d and from these endeavors.
Remember that the concept of a free-willed almighty G-d and of a humanity made free by that G-d had vanished from the earth; men and nations had become chained to materialism in both theory and practice. Through the emergence of the nation of Abraham this concept was to be revived and mankind freed from the bonds of materialism.
That is why this nation had to begin where the other nations had left off. It had to despair of itself, to lie prone, about to perish in its own blood, and it could rise to nationhood only through the Creator’s call, so that, by its very existence as a nation, this nation should proclaim to the other nations, “I am Adoshem!”
It was show time!
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.