Parashas Vaeira

Parashas Shemos ends with Moshe crying out to Hashem over the increased severity of the Jewish People’s slavery: “My Lord, why have You done evil to this people, why have you sent me? From the day I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name he did evil to this people – You surely did not rescue them.” Hashem answers by saying that he will chastise Pharaoh and induce him to let the Jews free.
Parashas Vaeira begins with the continuation of Hashem’s answer: “I am Hashem. I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov as God Almighty (El Shaddai), but with My Name Hashem I did not make Myself known to them. Moreover, I established My covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their sojourning, in which the sojourned. Moreover, I have heard the groan of the Children of Israel whom Egypt is enslaving, and I have remembered My covenant. Therefore, say to the Children of Israel, saying: ‘I am Hashem, and I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt; I shall rescue you from their service; I shall redeem you with an strong hand and an outstretched arm. And I shall take you unto Me for a people, and I shall be a God unto you ….”
The Maggid explains this interchange as follows. Ideally, man should be governed under a regime of strict Divine justice, under Hashem’s Attribute of Justice, so that he may become purified and thereby made able to enjoy the spiritual pleasures of the world to come. Hashem applies his Attribute of Mercy (associated with the Name “Hashem”) only to soften the force of justice, because man is too frail to withstand the full force of strict justice.
When a person has the wherewithal to withstand strict justice, Hashem relates to him with strict justice alone. Thus it was with the holy forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. This is what Hashem meant when He told Moshe: “I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov as God Almighty (El Shaddai), but with My Name Hashem I did not make Myself known to them.”
Hashem sent the Jewish People into slavery in Egypt in order to subject them to strict justice and thereby purify them, thus bringing them to loftiness. But Hashem saw that the Jewish People were unable to withstand the full 400-year term of enslavement that He described to Avraham at the Covenant Between the Parts. As the Torah puts it (Shemos 12:39): “They were unable to tarry.” Hence He had to begin relating to them through His Attribute of Mercy. Before doing so, however, He gave them one last extra dose of justice. It is like a doctor who realizes that his patient cannot endure the full course of treatment; he tries to get as much in as possible before he must stop.
Moshe, at first, did not understand Hashem’s actions. Moshe assumed that the since the slavery was about to come to an end, it would lighten, just as workers begin to wind down as a job nears completion. Instead, just the opposite happened. The reason is as we just explained: Hashem was terminating the enslavement before its planned end. When workers are suddenly informed that the time for working on a certain job is being cut short, they work doubly hard to get as much done as they can before the new deadline arrives. It was the same here.
All this is reflected in Hashem’s words. Hashem declared: “I established My covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan.” He was saying that He had committed Himself to making the Jewish People suited to live in the Land of Israel. Hashem then continued: “I have heard the groan of the Children of Israel whom Egypt is enslaving.” The Jewish People’s groans was a sign that they could not withstand continued enslavement: they could not tarry further. Hence, the enslavement had to be made harsher, so that it could be put to an early end.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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