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Posts Tagged ‘The Promised Land’

This week’s parashah, Va’eira, begins with God introducing a different name to Moses than God did to the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Exodus:6:2,3 states, “God spoke to Moses and said to him, I am יְהוָֽה (yod, hey, vav, hey).  I appeard to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make Myself known to them by My name יְהוָֽה .”  We generally read this name as “Adonai”.

The difference between the two name is significant and there is interesting discussion as to why the name revealed to Moses was not revealed to the Patriarchs.  The letters yod hey vav heyof the name revealed to Moses contain the root letters for the verb “to be (exist).”  In last week’s Torah portion, when Moses met God at the burning bush, and Moses asks what name should he reveal as God’s name, God answers, “ehyeh asher ehyeh,” which means, “I will be what I will be.” The implication is that God is to great to be defined by a name, rather the identity of Gd should be that which is eternally existent.  So we could then interpret God’s statement of “I am yod hey vav hey” as a statement, “I am Eternal.”

In the beginning segment of this parashah, God is informing Moses what God will be insuring is accomplished as Moses works to free the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt.  God makes the statement of  “I am Eternal” three more times in this opening segment of the Torah portion. This is not an unusual use of the statement in important interactions with Moses.  In Leviticus chapter 19, which reveals the holiness code, the phrase “I am Eternal” is a consistent ending piece to many of the commandments.

The Torah analyst Cassuto says the name of El Shaddai is often associated with the attribute of fertility, which is why it is so relevant to Abraham and Sarah, who end up with a child at such an old age (see Genesis 17:1,2).  The name of yod hey vav heyis more connected to the fulfillment of promises, exactly the context that Moses is being assured of in his first interactions with God.

In Exodus 6:6,7, and 8 there are indeed significant promises God makes to Moses about the future of the Isaelites.  Here they are:

  • hotzeiti– I will bring you out from the labors
  • hitzalti – I will deliver you from Egyptian bondage
  • ga’alti– I will redeem you with an outstretched arm
  • lakachti– I will take you to be my people
  • heiveiti– I will bring you to the promised land

Jewish tradition considers the first four to have been fulfilled.  Those four are the basis for the four part structure of our Passover seder.  The number 4 is also the basis for the four questions, the four sons of different style.  The fifth promise, “I will bring you to the promised land” connects to the fifth cup of wine left for Elijah, representing the hope for fulfillment in the future.

The typical question asked today is, how is the fifth promise not fulfilled with the existence of the state of Israel, our promised land?  A rabbinic explanation is that the fifth cup represents the messianic vision of an age of peace.  For now the promise is not fulfilled because Israel is not at peace.

There are two elements of conflict we can draw from this.  The obvious first one is the constant violent attacks by terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbullah.  Until that is resolved, we cannot say Israel exists in peace.  With the rise of anti-Semitism, we could add that this also applies to Israel as the name applies to all of the Jewish people in the world.  The second reality is the inability for Israelis, in fact Jews in general, cannot seem to be at peace with each other.  If we look at the five promises made at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, we must say that God did wonderful things by freeing us from slavery, the authoritarianism of Egypt, saving us from the Sea of Reeds, and by taking us into a covenantal relationship.  But wouldn’t God have done us a bigger favor by teaching just teaching us how to get along with each other?

The Torah exhibits a long history of our people not getting along with each other.  The Israelites doubted Moses would actually get them out of Egypt.  Just after they did and crossed the Sea of Reeds, watching the Egyptian army drown, they began to complain about not having water.  The Torah is filled with Israelites’ complaints: water, food, boredom with eating manna, the trip back to Canaan being too long.   Korach, being jealous of Moses’ relation with God, rebels against him and Aaron.  Did God really want to hear all the moaning of these children of God?  Perhaps that is why God seems to be the absentee parent and Moses the au pair.  The Israelites never learned to play well with each other.

Sadly, the lack of peace in the Jewish world exists today.  Politically, the general political polarization has created deeper divides in the American Jewish community.  Yet the deeper source of conflict is the incredible number of religious movements in our small world Jewish population.  There are a couple of dozen factions in the Chasidic world, some of whom completely condemn not only non orthodox Jews, but other Chasidic communities.  This is in addition to the general conflict between the Haredi and progressive Jews. There are even conflicts in the non orthodox Jewish world, as some who have more radical views condemn those who do not agree with them.

Rabbinic tradition recognizes this weakness, not just among Jews, but among all people.  Consider this teaching from Pirkei Avot 4:3 “Do not despise any man and do not discriminate against anything, for there is no man who has not his hour and there is no thing that has not its place.” In greater detail, there are teachings that the people of Israel (worldwide Judaism) must care for each other.

What generations of rabbinic teaching stress is that our coming to the Promised Land is not God’s failure, but our failure.  God has given us the opportunity to truly obtain it.  But the responsibility lies with us.  Moses’ life is one of growth, of getting the chance from God to help the people of Israel and doing it.  He left a narrow form of life caring for a flock of sheep to realizing the necessity he had.  Moses learned his life was transient and God was eternal, yet he accepted a path.  If we can model Moses just a little, we can move us towards our Promised Land.

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