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 have not rescued 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. … 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 ….
The Maggid offers several commentaries on this interchange. We previously presented some of them, and here we present another. The starting point is a Midrash in Shemos Rabbah 3:6 concerning Moshe’s encounter with Hashem at the burning bush. Hashem told Moshe to return to Egypt and tell the Jews that He was going to redeem them. Moshe asked which Divine Name he should use when conveying this message. The Midrash says that Hashem replied as follows:
You wish to know My Name. The way I am called depends on the way I am acting. … When I am judging My creations I am called Elohim, and when I wage war against the wicked I am called Zevaos. When I arrange to punish a person for his sins (תולה על חטאיו של אדם), I am called El Shaddai [Maharzav explains this Name as indicating that Hashem punishes in a measured way in precise accord with the person’s sin, and when the quota has been fully meted out, He says “enough” (dai)], and when I show mercy toward My world I am called Hashem.
The Maggid explains what was taking place as follows. The Gemara in Bava Kamma 50a says that anyone who says that Hashem vacates sins deserves to have his life vacated. Rather, as Shemos 34:6 indicates, Hashem is long-suffering, but He does not gratuitously wipe the record clean – eventually He metes out punishment. At present this fact is not apparent, for Hashem is long-suffering even toward the wicked, but in the final era Hashem will impose all the punishments that He previously postponed. The Maggid draws an analogy to the way a merchant operates. So long as a merchant is in business, people can buy from him on credit and postpone payment. But when a merchant closes his business, there is no more postponing payment: either the customer pays, or the merchant forgoes the debt. Hashem operates in a similar way. In Koheles 12:1, Shlomo HaMelech describes the final era as a time when there will be no desire, and in Shabbos 151b the Gemara interprets this statement as meaning in the final era there will no more reward or punishment. In particular, so long as the world runs as it does now, Hashem postpones punishment, but in the final era there will be no more postponements. In the end, Hashem will settle all accounts.
In this vein, later on in the Midrash in Shemos Rabbah 3:6, the Sages relate that Hashem revealed to Moshe that the redemption from Egypt would not be the final redemption – in the future, the Jewish People would undergo further exiles. Hashem told Moshe that the only reason He was redeeming the Jews after only 210 years of exile in Egypt, rather imposing on them a 400-year exile as He told Avraham He would do (Bereishis 15:13), was because they could no longer bear continued suffering. He explained to Moshe that He was not completely forgoing the other 190 years, but rather He was planning to arrange for the Jews make up these years later.
The Maggid now continues the discussion with a parable. Reuven owed his neighbor Shimon a large sum of money, and when the due date for paying the debt arrived, he did not have the money to pay the entire sum. Reuven offered Shimon a portion of the sum, and Shimon took it without complaint. This scenario can be viewed in two different ways. Perhaps Shimon was foregoing the rest of the loan, so that the debt was now fully discharged. Or perhaps Shimon was simply assenting to late payment of the remainder, planning to approach Reuven later and demand that he pay it. If Reuven thought that Shimon might forego the rest of the loan, he would try to make the partial payment as small as he could. But if Reuven knew that Shimon would later demand payment of the remainder, he would exert himself to make the partial payment as large as possible, so that he would have less hanging over his head.
With this, the Maggid says, we can understand the interchange between Hashem and Moshe. Hashem was hastening the redemption of the Jews because they could not bear enslavement any longer. Hashem told Moshe that the Jews would be exiled again, but Moshe thought that Hashem would ultimately show mercy and regard the 210 years in Egypt as fully satisfying the quota of exile. Moshe did not realize that the way Hashem was exercising His mercy was by granting the Jews a postponement, but not forgoing the rest of the quota. Moshe was therefore perplexed when he saw Hashem intensifying the Jewish People’s suffering. And so he asked Hashem: “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 have not rescued them.” Hashem responded: “Your view of the situation is not the same as Mine. I am not completely forgoing the rest of the quota of exile and suffering, but rather I am only postponing the remainder to another time. I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov as El Shaddai – the One who metes out suffering precisely as needed to cleanse a person of his spiritual grime (תולה על חטאיו של אדם). And since I am only temporarily suspending [תולהto suspend] the suffering, it is in the people’s best interest that I impose as much suffering as possible now, so that they will have less to endure in the future.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.