Va'era: "Ani Hashem" - Preparing for Redemption
This shiur provided courtesy of The Tanach Study Center In memory of Rabbi Abraham Leibtag
How much can (or should) God expect from a nation that had endured so many years of oppression?
Considering this suffering, shouldn't we expect for their redemption to be unconditional? Certainly, the opening lines of Parshat Va’era appear to leave us with this impression.
In the following shiur, we examine those opening pesukim (i.e. Shmot 6:2-9) a bit more carefully, and will arrive at a very different, yet significant conclusion!
According to God's original promise to Avraham Avinu at "brit bein ha-btarim" (see Breishit 15:13-15); which foresaw both Israel's bondage in Egypt as well their redemption, one would certainly expect for that redemption to be 'unconditional', i.e. their salvation should begin as soon as the four hundred year 'time limit' had expired.
On the other hand, when one considers the primary theme of Sefer Breishit - that Bnei Yisrael are chosen in order to become God's special Nation - it would also be logical to expect at least some sort of 'spiritual readiness' on the part of Bnei Yisrael - to be worthy of their redemption.
In the following shiur, we will project these two considerations on the events that unfold in Sefer Shmot, to show how and why Israel's redemption from Egypt emerges as a reciprocal process.
An 'Easy' Mission
In our study last week of Parshat Shmot, we explained how Moshe Rabbeinu received a 'double mission' (when God appeared to him at the 'burning bush'). God instructed him to:
- INFORM Bnei Yisrael that God has come to fulfill His promise to the Avot to take them to Eretz Canaan.
- ORDER Pharaoh to allow Bnei Yisrael to journey a three day distance into the desert - to worship their God.
At first glance, Moshe's mission to Pharaoh appears to be much more difficult than his mission to Bnei Yisrael. After all, Moshe must convince the Egyptian ruler to do something against his will; while Bnei Yisrael need only to be told 'good tidings'.
However, as the story continues, we will see how Moshe's mission to Bnei Yisrael becomes no less difficult. To explain why, we must first consider the setting as Parshat Va’era begins.
Recall from Parshat Shmot, how Bnei Yisrael immediately believed Moshe's tidings of their forthcoming redemption:
"...and the people believed that God had come to redeem His people..." (see 4:29-31).
However, this initial enthusiasm quickly turned into bitter disappointment when Moshe's first encounter with Pharaoh resulted in a 'double workload' (see 5:18-21). Instead of the redemption they had cried for (see 2:23-25), their plight only became worse. Understandably, the people accuse Moshe for this aggravation of their condition; whereupon Moshe turns to God in prayer, asking:
"Why have you made things worse for this people, why have you sent me! From the time I have gone to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name, their situation has only gotten worse, and You have not saved Your nation!" (5:22).
It is precisely at this point when Parshat Va’era opens, i.e. as Moshe awaits God's answer for the people - to what appears to be a rather 'legitimate' complaint.
With this in mind (i.e. looking for God's answer), we must read the opening pesukim of Parshat Va’era. As your review these pesukim (i.e. 6:2-9), note how God first provides Moshe with some preliminary information (see 6:2-5), and only afterwards tells Moshe what he must tell Bnei Yisrael.
[Our shiur will focus on God's answer to Bnei Yisrael (i.e. 6:6-8), while our additional shiur on Parshat Va’era will discuss why God first mentions brit Avot in 6:2-5.]
In God's answer to Bnei Yisrael in 6:6-8, take special note of the centrality of the phrase ‘ANI HASHEM’, as it forms the opening, closing, and 'central' phrase of God's message that Moshe must convey to Bnei Yisrael:
"Therefore, tell Bnei Yisrael: ANI HASHEM, and I will take them out from their suffering in Egypt... and I will save them from their enslavement, and I shall redeem them with an outstretched arm.... and I shall take them for Me as My Nation and I will be their God... then they shall know that: ANI HASHEM ELOKEICHEM who has taken them out of Egypt. And I will take them to the Land... and I will give it to them as an inheritance... ANI HASHEM." (see 6:6-8, read carefully!)
As these pesukim emphasize, God certainly wants Bnei Yisrael need to hear this statement of "Ani Hashem".
Furthermore, God's opening statement to Moshe begins with this very same phrase:
"And Elokim spoke to Moshe, and told him: ANI HASHEM" (see 6:2).
Even though this statement appears to be superfluous, for Moshe already know who God is, nonetheless, God emphasizes this point, as He employs it to preface His remarks.
Clearly, the primary focus of God's message to Bnei Yisrael is His repeated statement of ‘ANI HASHEM’.
But how was this statement supposed to answer the people's complaint? Did God think that by simply repeating this phrase, and/or by repeating once again His promise of redemption - that Bnei Yisrael would stop complaining? It certainly didn't help, as we are told in the next pasuk:
"But they did not listen to Moshe..." (see 6:9).
To answer this question, we must take a closer look (in Hebrew) at this concluding pasuk:
"ve-lo SHAM’U el Moshe mi-kotzer ruach u-meavoda kashah" [And they did not LISTEN to Moshe, due to their crushed spirits and hard work.] (see 6:9).
In our quotation of this pasuk, we have translated the phrase of "ve'lo shamu" as they did not 'listen'. However, as we shall now explain, this translation is problematic.
'To Believe' or 'To Obey'?
What does ve-lo SHAM’U’ mean?
Let's consider several possible translations, based on the various meanings of the Hebrew verb ‘lishmoa’:
- They did not HEAR what Moshe said.
That can't be its meaning in this pasuk, as they obviously (physically) heard what Moshe said.
- They did not COMPREHEND what he said.
This would also seem unlikely, for nothing in Moshe's statement seems particularly complex or intellectually demanding.
- They did not PAY ATTENTION to what Moshe told them.
Based on its context, this seems to be the simplest understanding, the problem only being that this is not what the word "sham’u" means.
- They did not BELIEVE (or accept) what Moshe told them.
Even though this is the popular understanding of ‘ve-lo sham’u’ (in this pasuk), this translation is problematic as well, for the Torah should have used the Hebrew word ‘ve-lo he'eminu’, as it did to describe Bnei Yisrael's original belief in God's first promise of redemption - see 4:30-31.
* They did not OBEY what Moshe told them.
Although this is the most common translation of ‘ve-lo sham’u’ elsewhere in Chumash [see for example Devarim 28:15 & Vayikra 26:14], such a translation in our context seems entirely untenable, as Moshe's remarks contained no commandment or imperative for the people to obey!
[Or maybe there was, as we will now see.]
Based on this analysis, the best translation for "ve-lo sham’u" would be - that the people did not 'obey' - but if so, it would require that we identify some sort of commandment in God's statement to the people, as recorded in 6:6-8.
To explain how and why the statement of ANI HASHEM could be understood as a commandment, we must study a parallel source in the book of Yechezkel.
A Proof from Yechezkel
[Before continuing, it is recommended that you first read Yechezkel 20:1-12 and carefully compare it to Shmot 6:2-13; noting the obvious textual parallels, e.g. 20:5-6 w/ 3:6-8.]
Yechezkel chapter 20 opens in the seventh year [from the first wave of Exile from Jerusalem ("galut Yehoyachin")], as the elders of Yehuda (the leaders of the Exile in Bavel) visit Yechezkel to inquire in regard to their predicament (see 20:1).
[Based on chapter 28 in Yirmiyahu, we can assume that rumors of Bavel's imminent fall are spreading (as Egypt will come to their rescue/ see also Yirmiyahu 37:1-10), kindling [false] hope among the people that God may soon redeem the Exile and return them to Jerusalem.]
In response to their inquiry, God tells Yechezkel that the people need to hear rebuke (rather than 'good tidings' /see 2:4).
[Study 20:2-8 carefully, noting how God is basically telling them "don't ask what God can do for you (i.e. for your redemption), ask rather what you can do to deserve redemption!" / This was a few thousand years before JFK.]
In that rebuke, God instructs Yechezkel to remind the people that they are not worthy of redemption, just as their forefathers in Egypt did not deserve redemption! [See 20:5-10.] Without entering a detailed study of that time period. (for the sake of our shiur), we will simply focus on how Yechezkel describes the set of events that took place at the time of the Exodus:
"And you shall say to them... on the day that I chose Israel ... [va-ivada lahem -] when I made Myself known to them in the land of Egypt... and I stretched out My Hand to them saying ANI HASHEM ELOKEICHEM" . [Compare with Shmot 6:3 & 6:6]
"... on that same day ["nasa’ti et yadi"] I lifted out My Hand to take them out of Egypt into a land flowing with milk and honey" (Yechezkel 20:5-6), [Compare with Shmot 6:8 and 3:8].
Review these pesukim, noting the numerous parallels to the opening pesukim of Parshat Va’era. Note especially the repetition of the phrase of ANI HASHEM as well as "ve-lo avu l'shmo'ah".
Now (i.e. in the next pasuk) we find some critical information, that (for some reason) Sefer Shmot never tells us about - that God had also made a COMMANDMENT to Bnei Yisrael at that time, one that Bnei Yisrael do not OBEY:
"And I said to them [at the time of Yetziat Mitzrayim]: - “Each man must rid himself of his detestable ways and not DEFILE himself with the fetishes of Egypt - [for] ANI HASHEM ELOKEICHEM” (see 20:7). “But they REBELLED against Me -'ve-lo avu liSHMOA eilai' - and they did not want to listen to Me (i.e. obey) - for no one rid himself from his detestable ways, nor did anyone give up the fetishes of Egypt, and I resolved to pour out My anger upon them..." (see 20:8).
It becomes quite clear from Yechezkel, that when God told Moshe to tell Bnei Yisrael ANI HASHEM (as recorded in Parshat Va'era), this included an implicit COMMAND as well - to rid themselves from Egyptian culture- a command which Bnei Yisrael DID NOT OBEY.
Much to our amazement, Sefer Yechezkel states explicitly that which Sefer Shmot only alludes to. God had called upon Bnei Yisrael to repent prior to the Exodus, to cleanse themselves from the ‘tum’a’ of their Egyptian culture in preparation for their redemption. Unfortunately, at that time Bnei Yisrael did not OBEY [“ve-lo avu liSHMOA" / see 20:8] and thus deserved to be destroyed in the land of Egypt.
Nevertheless, as Yechezkel explains in the next pasuk, the redemption process did continue, but it was only for the 'sake of His Name' (see Yechezkel 20:9-10).
[These pesukim in Yechezkel support the popular Zohar that explains how Bnei Yisrael in Egypt had reached the 49th level of ‘tuma’ before the redemption began. See Further Iyun section for additional sources that are based on (or quote) these pesukim in Yechezkel.]
Thus, these pesukim in Yechezkel can help us understand the deeper meaning of the phrase ‘Ani Hashem’ in Parshat Va’era. God's instruction to Moshe to tell Bnei Yisrael – ‘Ani Hashem’ - implies not only that they must accept God, but they must also reject any other gods (and/or culture). Basically, God is telling His nation that He will indeed redeem them from Egypt, as they request; but this redemption demands that they become a 'loyal partner' in this relationship.
If this understanding is indeed correct, then Bnei Yisrael's response of "ve-lo sham’u el Moshe" would definitely mean that they did not OBEY!
A Logical ‘Kal Va-Chomer’
Additional proof of this interpretation of ‘ve-lo sham’u’ can be inferred from the next three pesukim that follow in Parshat Va’era:
"Then God told Moshe, go speak to Pharaoh... that he should SEND Bnei Yisrael from his land. [Clearly, a command!]
Then, Moshe retorted [employing a ‘kal va-chomer’], saying:
"If even Bnei Yisrael - LO SHAM’U eilai - didn't 'listen' to me – ve-eich YISHMA'ENI Pharaoh - why should Pharaoh 'obey' me?" (see 6:10-12).
Note how the Torah uses the word ‘sham’u’ on each side of the ‘kal va-chomer’. In the context of Pharaoh's refusal to comply with God's command - ‘sham’u’ definitely means to OBEY - for Moshe commands Pharaoh to grant Bnei Yisrael permission to leave Egypt (to worship their God).
However, for this ‘kal va-chomer’ to make sense, the verb ‘sham’u’ in both halves of the pasuk must carry the same meaning. Thus, if ‘sham’u’ in the second half of the pasuk means 'obey', then ‘sham’u’ in first half of the pasuk - in reference to Bnei Yisrael - must also mean to OBEY.
In other words, the ‘kal va-chomer’ should be translated as follows:
"Why should Pharaoh OBEY me, if Bnei Yisrael did not OBEY me!"
Once again, we find proof that the phrase ‘ve-lo sham’u’ in 6:9 should be understood as: Bnei Yisrael do not obey.
To Know or to Internalize
When we first encountered the statement of ANI HASHEM, it was understood as a 'statement of fact' - i.e. something that needs to be known. However, based on our analysis, one could suggest that knowing ‘Ani Hashem’ encompasses much more than pure intellectual knowledge. This statement is not simply a fact that must be understood, it is a precept that must be INTERNALIZED. In other words, a true recognition of ‘Ani Hashem’ generates an immediate, inner drive to perform God's will and thus, a willingness to OBEY any command He may request.
Hence, the internalization this statement obviously requires the rejection of any other god
From this perspective, the statement of ANI HASHEM in Parshat Va'era constitutes a commandment, implicitly demanding that Bnei Yisrael prepare themselves spiritually for their redemption - to perform proper ‘teshuva’, and hence reject their Egyptian culture.
The First Two ‘Dibrot’
This interpretation can help us appreciate the deeper meaning of the first two commandments that Bnei Yisrael receive at Matan Torah. Recall that when Bnei Yisrael finally arrive at Har Sinai to receive the Torah, the first commandment is simply another format of the ANI HASHEM statement
"ANOCHI HASHEM ELOKECHA asher HOTZEITICHA me-eretz Mitzrayim..." (see 20:2-3, compare w/6:6!).
Furthermore, this also explains why the next commandment:
"Lo yihiyeh lachem elohim acherim al panai..." - not to have any other gods.
In fact, this also explains why some commentators consider Anochi and Lo Yihiyeh as one commandment, for the first statement automatically implies the second (like two sides of a coin)!
Even though Bnei Yisrael did not internalize this message of ANI HASHEM before they left Egypt (as 6:9 implies), their redemption process would not be complete until that message was totally accepted. [We will soon cite several examples.]
A Difficult Mission
From this perspective, Moshe's mission to Bnei Yisrael is no less difficult than his mission to Pharaoh. His assignment involves not only informing the people, but also EDUCATING them, teaching Bnei Yisrael how to prepare themselves for their redemption. Just as Pharaoh must be convinced to recognize God, so too Bnei Yisrael must be convinced that it is indeed God who is coming to redeem them. Accordingly, they must perform proper ‘teshuva’ in order to be worthy of that redemption.
In this manner, Moshe's "shlichut" to Bnei Yisrael, just like his mission to Pharaoh, is also a 'mission' in the fullest sense of the word. Not only must he INFORM Bnei Yisrael of their forthcoming redemption, he must also COMMAND and TEACH them to perform proper ‘teshuva’.
This interpretation can also explain the interesting wording of God's response to Moshe's objection in 6:11-12:
"And God spoke to Moshe & Aharon, and COMMANDED them [va-yetzavem] TO Bnei Yisrael AND TO Pharaoh the king of Egypt to take Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt" (6:13).
God once again gives Moshe a double mission - to command Pharaoh to allow them to leave, AND to command Bnei Yisrael to 'become worthy' of that redemption.
[See Ramban's interpretation of this pasuk!]
Some Help from Sefer Vayikra
So what were Bnei Yisrael doing in Egypt that was so terrible? Considering that these events took place before the Torah was given, what did they need to do ‘teshuva’ from?
A possible answer can be found in Parshat Acharei Mot, where we find once again an interesting textual and thematic parallel to Yechezkel chapter 20 and Shemot chapter 6.
In Vayikra chapter 18 (which just so happens to be the Torah reading for Yom Kippur afternoon, and not by chance), God bids Bnei Yisrael not to follow the corrupt lifestyle of the Egyptians. Note once again the repetition in these pesukim of the phrase ‘ANI HASHEM’:
"And God spoke to Moshe: speak to Bnei Yisrael and TELL them ANI HASHEM! Do not act as the Egyptians do... and do not follow their customs. Follow My laws instead... for ANI HASHEM ELOKEICHEM. Keep My laws, for by them man lives... ANI HASHEM" (see Vayikra 18:1-5).
This short introduction is followed by a long list of forbidden marital relationships [better known as the ‘arayot’], which had apparently become common in the Egyptian and Canaanite cultures (see 18:24-25!). Thus, God's call for ‘teshuva’ may have included a demand that Bnei Yisrael's refrain of their decadent Egyptian lifestyle, as well as their preparedness to accept whatever mitzvot God may command.
A Theme in Sefer Shemot
This interpretation not only helps us understand the phrase "ve-lo sham’u el Moshe" in 6:9, it also explains a whole series of events that take place up until Bnei Yisrael arrive at Har Sinai.
Recall that God had originally planned (at the ‘sneh’) for Bnei Yisrael to travel a three-day journey directly to Har Sinai immediately after the Exodus (see 3:12-18). Instead, they arrive at Har Sinai only some six weeks later. Why?
Based on the excerpt quoted from Sefer Yechezkel, the answer is quite simple. As the prophet explained, God saved Bnei Yisrael for the 'sake of His Name' - even though they were undeserving at that time (see 20:8-9). Hence, the redemption process could not continue, i.e. Bnei Yisrael cannot travel on to Har Sinai, until something is done to improve their spiritual readiness.
Therefore, even before Bnei Yisrael leave Egypt, they must offer a special Korban [Pesach] to affirm their faithfulness. [See shiur on Parshat Bo.] Then, after their first 'three-day journey' into the desert, they must pass the test at 'Mara' (see 15:22-26), where they are given one more chance to accept what they had earlier rejected in Parshat Va’era. Note what God commands Bnei Yisrael at MARA:
"And He said - IM SHAMO’A TISHMA - If you OBEY the voice of the Lord your God, do what is upright and listen to His commandments, then the afflictions that I brought upon Egypt [which you deserved as well!] I will not bring upon you, for ANI HASHEM, your Healer" (16:26). [This topic will be discussed in greater detail in our shiur on Parshat Beshalach.]
Finally, immediately upon their arrival at Har Sinai, God again demands as a PRE-REQUISITE for receiving the Torah a similar 'pledge of allegiance':
"And now, IM SHAMO’A TISHME'U BE-KOLI - if you agree to obey My instruction and keep My covenant..." (see 19:3-6).
Of course, this time Bnei Yisrael agree to follow God and 'listen' [obey] to whatever He may command them (see 19:7-8).
Finally, as we explained above, this explains why the very first DIBUR of the Ten Commandments is "ANOCHI [=ANI] HASHEM ELOKECHA who took you out of Egypt - LO YIHIYEH... Do not have any other gods INSTEAD of Me" (see 20:2).
As we saw in Sefer Yechezkel, these two statements - ANI HASHEM and LO YIHIYEH - act as 'two sides of the same coin' - for the statement of ANI HASHEM automatically implies that you shall have no other gods.
Eliyahu at Leil HaSeder
In closing, the conclusions of this week's shiur can also help us appreciate our custom to ‘invite’ Eliyahu ha-navi to our 'seder table’. On Pesach night, as we commemorate the events of Yetziat Mitzrayim, we conclude the SEDER with our hope for the final redemption. However, before we begin Hallel & Nirtzah, we first invite Eliyahu. Most likely, this custom is based on the final pasuk of Malachi, which promises:
"Behold I am sending you Eliyah the prophet, BEFORE the great and awesome day of the Lord, and he will return the hearts of sons to their fathers, and the hearts of fathers to their sons, lest I come and smite and land instead."
In the final redemption, just as in the first redemption, our obligation to perform ‘teshuva’ is as important an ingredient as God's readiness to redeem us. After all, what purpose would there be in our redemption if we were not ready to fulfill our covenantal obligations?
In order for redemption to succeed, a constant recognition of ANI HASHEM must become not only a 'frame of mind’, but even more so, it must become a 'way of life’.