Shiurim by Menachem Leibtag
In Memory of Rabbi Abraham Leibtag

PARSHAT VA'YERA - shiur #2

In our first shiur on Parshat Vaeyra, we noted how God prefaced his instructions to Moshe with some complicated psukim. That shiur focused primarily on God's message of "Ani Hashem..." that Moshe was to convey to Bnei Yisrael. In the following shiur, we return to God's preface, in an attempt to understand why and how God mentions "brit Avot".


Not only does the word "brit" appear twice in the beginning of Parshat Va'eyra and numerous other times in Sefer Shmot, it also emerges as a central theme at Ma'amad Har Sinai (see Shmot 19:5 and 24:7). However, whenever this word is mentioned, it is not always clear precisely what 'covenant' is being referred to.

To enhance our understanding of how "britot" relate to the events of Yetziat Mitzraim, we trace the word "brit" in Parshat Va'eyra back to its roots in Sefer Breishit.

Clearly, a primary theme of Tanach is God's relationship with man, especially His special relationship with Am Yisrael. However, relationships by their very nature exist in numerous realms and at various levels. In our study of Sefer Breishit, we saw how the concept of a "brit" [covenant] played a key role in the 'formative' stages of God's relationship with Avraham Avinu. Those "britot" formed the basis of the future relationship between God and Avraham's offspring.

Likewise in Sefer Shmot, when Bnei Yisrael first cry out for salvation, God heard that cry and "remembered His BRIT with the Avot" (see 2:23-25). Hence, to appreciate the nature of Bnei Yisrael's redemption from Egypt, we must consider how this process relates back to the covenants that were forged in Sefer Breishit.


As Parshat Va'eyra opens, we find "brit Avot" once again (in fact a double mention), as God reassures Moshe that despite his original setback (see 5:4-23), the redemption process will continue. We begin by quoting this double mention of "brit" in these psukim:

"And Elokim spoke to Moshe, telling him I am Hashem. And I appeared to Avraham...

And also I had upheld My BRIT with them [the Avot] to give them the land of Canaan...

And I have also heard the cries of Bnei Yisrael, for Egypt is oppressing them, and I have remembered My BRIT.

[Therefore, tell Bnei Yisrael that I AM GOD, and I will take them out..."] (see 6:4-6)

What specific "brit" is God referring to in these psukim? To answer this question, we must return to our study of Sefer Breishit and recall that God had established two covenants with Avraham Avinu:

* Brit Bein ha'Btarim (see Breishit 15:1-20);

[Recall how this covenant was given in God's special Name - shem Havaya.]

* Brit Milah (see 17:1-14),

[Recall how this covenant was given b'shem Elokim.]

Even though both covenants focused on God's promise to Avraham of "zera" [numerous offspring] and "aretz" [the Land of Israel], each covenant related to a different aspect of God's future relationship with Am Yisrael.

Let's review the main aspects of each covenant.


To appreciate "brit bein ha'btarim" we must first consider its setting. After his military victory over the 'four kings', Avraham expressed his worry that even though he had practically conquered the land, God had not yet kept His promise to grant him children. God allays those worries by showing him stars in the sky and re-assures him that one-day, so will be his offspring (see 15:1-7). Avraham then inquires concerning how (and when) this will take place (see 15:8). Note how God answered this question:

"And Hashem (b'shem Havaya) said to Avram: Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a LAND NOT THEIRS, and they shall be ENSLAVED and OPPRESSED, for 400 years...and that nation that oppresses them I will punish, and afterward they SHALL GO FREE with GREAT WEALTH... On that day covenant to Avram: To your offspring I assign this land..." (see 15:13-18)

Even though God had earlier promised Avraham that he would become a great nation (see 12:1-3) and inherit the land (12:7), God now informs Avraham that this won't happen in his own lifetime! Instead, this promise will only be fulfilled after a lengthy 'four hundred year' historic process. First, his offspring must undergo bondage in a foreign land, after which their oppressor will be punished and they will be redeemed. Afterward they will conquer the 'Promised Land' by military conquest ="yerusha".

[Note as well how the land is described in this covenant, from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates, the land of the ten nations, the Canaani, Chitii, Emori, etc./ see 15:18-20.]

Clearly, this covenant focuses on the 'national' and 'historic' aspect of God's special relationship with His people. God promises to oversee the history of Israel among the 'league of Nations', assuring their ultimate redemption.


Many years later, but immediately before Avraham fathers his first child, God (b'shem Elokim) enters into another covenant, including once again the promise of "zera v'aretz". However, focus of this covenant is on a more 'personal' type of relationship. Note the phrase that describes God's key promise in this covenant: "l'hiyot l'cha l'Elokim" - to be for YOU a God:

"...And I will uphold My covenant with you - "l'hiyot lachem l'Elokim" - and for your offspring after you...and I have given you and your offspring "eretz megurecha" - the land of Canaan... and I will be for them their God..." (17:7-8)

In this covenant we find an emphasis on God's special relationship with Am Yisrael on more personal level. Its key phrase - "l'hiyot lachem l'Elokim" [to be a close God for you] reflects a type of 'partnership' - He will be our God (and hence look after our special needs), and we will become His people - to represent Him before other nations (see 17:3-4, based on the themes of God's earlier promises in 12:1-3).

In other words, Brit Milah describes a relationship where God and Am Yisrael will work as a 'team'. Bnei Yisrael will serve as God's agent, keeping His commandments. In return, God will oversee their daily needs. For example, a more detailed framework for this relationship is described by the "tochacha" in Vayikra chapter 26. Should Bnei Yisrael diligently keep God's mitzvot, He will make sure that there is ample rain and produce, while guaranteeing safe and secure borders. [On the flip side, if we fail in that partnership, He will punish us until we remember to become loyal once again.]

The actual mitzvah of "milah" [circumcision] is not the covenant itself; rather that mitzvah serves as symbol of this covenant [an "ot brit"] - a constant sign [reminder] of this special relationship. Nonetheless, the covenant itself is the actual partnership.


Even though each covenant complements the other, each "brit" remains distinct. In regard to God's different Names in each covenant - Ramban explains how this reflects a different 'mode' of God's behavior within the framework of each "brit". In "brit milah" (shem Elokim] God's relationship manifests itself through natural events [what he refers to as "hashgacha nisteret"]. It was within this framework that God had looked after the needs of the Avot, and came to their rescue; but even if there was a need for a miracle, it took place in a 'hidden' manner. In contrast, within the framework of "brit bein ha'btarim" - given b'shem Havaya - God may act in a more miraculous fashion, as was the case in our redemption from Egypt. [ "hashgacha nig'leyt"].

[See Ramban on Breishit 17:1 and Shmot 6:3.]


With this background, let's return now to our original discussion concerning the "britot" mentioned in Parshat Va'erya.

From our above explanation, we would certainly expect for the entire process of redemption from Egypt to relate to "brit bein ha'btarim". Nonetheless, we will show how there maybe an aspect of "brit milah" involved as well.

Let's explain:

Recall God's final "hitgalut" to Yaakov as he left Eretz Canaan on his way to see Yosef in Egypt (see TSC shiur on Parshat Va'yigash). At that time, God [b'shem Elokim] had promised Yaakov that He would be WITH HIM in Egypt, make his offspring a great nation there, and one day eventually bring them back (see 46:3-4). Yaakov passed this tradition on to Yosef (see 48:21), and later (at the conclusion of Sefer Breishit), Yosef passes this tradition to his brothers:

"Pakod yifkod ELOKIM etchem... - God will surely remember you and bring you up from this land to the land that He promised on oath to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov" (50:24).

Based on this promise alone, and within the framework of BRIT MILAH, Bnei Yisrael can (and should) expect God, b'shem Elokim, to look after their needs in Egypt and eventually tell them when to return to Eretz Canaan.

On the other hand, Brit Bein Ha'Btarim foresees a severe oppression in a foreign land, followed by a glorious redemption (including the punishment of the oppressor and the attainment of great wealth), culminating with the conquest of the Promised Land. However, this BRIT does not specify either where this foreign land is, or when the '400 year clock' starts ticking.

Nonetheless, within the framework of this covenant, Bnei Yisrael have ample reason to expect a miraculous redemption [b'shem Havaya] from their oppression in Egypt.

Hence, it is logical to assume that both these traditions were ingrained in the heart and soul of Bnei Yisrael in Egypt, as they were passed down from generation to generation. Even though their slavery in Egypt intensified, Bnei Yisrael patiently waited for their redemption, as promised by God according to either one or both of His covenants.

With this background, we can return to the opening psukim of Parshat Va'eyra in order to show how God refers to BOTH of these covenants:

First note how the opening pasuk constitutes a 'fitting' introduction:

6:2 "And ELOKIM spoke to Moshe and said to him I am HAVAYA"

Note how shem Elokim introduces shem Havaya!

[Compare with the opposite phenomena in the opening psukim of Brit Milah/ see Breishit 17:1-3!]

6:3 "And I appeared to Avraham Yitzchak & Yaakov as Kel Shaddai, but in MY Name HAVAYA I did not make Myself known to them"

Although God had appeared (b'shem Havaya) numerous times to the Avot, He had never performed miracles for them in the eyes of other nations ("hashgacha nig'leyt"). Instead, He watched over them from the perspective of shem Elokim, (alternately - shem Kel Shaddai, i.e. "hashgacha nisteret"):

[Be sure to see Ramban on this pasuk!]

In contrast, God now informs Bnei Yisrael that they will soon witness a level of God's providence that the Avot themselves did not see! As background, God first reminds them:

6:4 "I also established My covenant [-BRIT MILAH-] with them [the Avot] to give them the LAND OF CANAAN..."

Based on an obvious textual parallel with Breishit 17:7-8, the covenant described in this pasuk clearly must be "brit Milah" (see Rashi on this pasuk)! Even though that covenant remains in the 'background', God now explains how Bnei Yisrael's present predicament in Egypt relates to another covenant as well:

6:5 "I have NOW heard the cries of Bnei Yisrael, for Egypt is OPPRESSING them, and I have remembered My COVENANT"

Clearly the covenant referred to in this pasuk must be "brit bein ha'btarim" [again, see Rashi!] In addition to the obvious thematic connection, textual proof can be found as well when we compare this pasuk with Breishit 15:13-14, noting the parallel to "va'avdu v'iynu otam". With this background from 'Sefer Breishit', God now instructs Moshe concerning what he must now tell Bnei Yisrael:

6:6 "Therefore, tell Bnei Yisrael that I am HAVAYA, and I will take them out... and save them from their BONDAGE, and I will redeem them with an outstretched hand and GREAT PUNISHMENTS (e.g. the Ten Plagues)" [Bein Ha'btarim]

The word "lachen" - therefore - connects this forthcoming statement with the background in 6:2-5. Because God is coming to fulfill His covenants, God first mentions ANI HASHEM - for He has come to fulfill "bein ha'btarim" (given b'shem Havaya), and hence He will redeem them and punish their oppressor in a miraculous manner, as promised in that "brit". However, in addition:

6:7 "And I will take you to be My people, and I will be your God..."

[See and compare with Brit Milah, Breishit 17:7-8, noting phrase: l'hiyot lachem l'Elokim]

"And you shall know that: I am HAVAYA ELOKEICHEM who is taking you out from your suffering in Egypt."

This pasuk appears to combine both covenants, as both are going to be fulfilled in the process of Yetziat Mitzraim. Therefore:

6:8 "And I will bring you into the Land which I promised to give to Avraham Yitzchak and Yaakov [in Brit Milah], and I will give it to you as a possession - 'MORASHA' ["yerusha", as in Br. 15:7-8] for I am Havaya [Brit Bein Ha'Btarim]"

Recall that the word YERUSHA was mentioned some five times in "brit bein ha'btarim"! This final promise confirms that when Bnei Yisrael will enter the land after Yetziat Mitzraim, it will entail the military conquest of the land, resulting in Bnei Yisrael's sovereignty over the land.


This background can also explain several difficult psukim that we encountered in our study of Moshe's conversation with God at the burning bush. For example, recall that after God had given Moshe his mission to tell Bnei Yisrael that God is now coming to redeem them, Moshe's first question was:

"When I come to Bnei Yisrael and say to them 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you' and they ask me 'WHAT IS HIS NAME?' - what shall I say to them?" (see Shmot 3:13)

What provokes this question? Why is Moshe so sure that Bnei Yisrael will inquire as to the nature of God's Name?

Based on our shiur, this question is quite understandable. Moshe's query regarding God's Name (in 3:13) relates precisely to these two family traditions. Moshe is aware of their future redemption, yet they will want to know which Divine Promise is being fulfilled at this time, i.e. will the redemption be only b'shem ELOKIM (1), i.e. within the framework of Brit Milah, (as promised to Yaakov); or will it ALSO be b'shem HAVAYA (2), within the framework of Brit Bein Ha'Btarim. [See Ramban & Ibn Ezra on 3:13!]

Moshe's question is not merely a technicality, it relates to the very nature of Yetziat Mitzraim:

If Bnei Yisrael's redemption is only b'shem Elokim (1), then they should expect a natural process ("hashgacha nisteret"), similar to the manner in which Yaakov was saved from Lavan (see Br. 31:9-13,24-29 & 48:15-16!). Furthermore, they should not expect the Egyptians to be punished, nor to receive great wealth [an important 'nafka mina'!]. Furthermore, if this is only "brit Milah", then their redemption may a temporary salvation, for the full four hundred year time period may not be over yet.

However, if their redemption will also be b'shem Havaya (2), then Bnei Yisrael should expect a miraculous process ("hashgacha glu'ya") including the punishment of Mitzraim, attaining great wealth, and finally the conquest of the fullest borders of the Promised Land. By knowing which specific Name of God has come to redeem His people, Moshe will be able to tell Bnei Yisrael more details concerning the nature of the forthcoming redemption. [See also Part One of this week's TSC shiur.]

With this in mind, let's see how God answers Moshe's question. Note how God's immediate answer appears at first to be quite vague:

"E'heh'yeh asher e'heh'yeh" [I Will Be what I Will Be], go tell Bnei Yisrael that "E'heh'yeh" has sent you" (3:14)

[See Rashbam in 3:15 "zeh zichri" - for an amazing 'encrypted' explanation of this answer that follows perfectly according to our discussion in this shiur! You'll have to 'decode' it to appreciate it.]

God expounds upon His answer in the next pasuk:

"... Thus tell Bnei Yisrael: HAVAYA [who is] ELOKEI AVOTEICHEM... has sent me... this is My Name..." (3:15)

God answers that He is coming not only b'shem Elokim, but also b'SHEM HAVAYA, i.e. He has come to fulfill BOTH covenants! Accordingly, God instructs Moshe to relay this message (3:16-17):

"Gather the elders of Israel together and tell them: HAVAYA [who is] ELOKEI AVOTEICHEM appeared to me... saying:


[Brit Milah/ see Br. 50:24]

(2)"I will bring you up M'ONI MITZRAIM to ERETZ HA'CNAANI V'HACHITI..."

[Brit Bein Ha'Btarim/ see Br.15:13,20)

Next, God instructs Moshe to take the elders with him to Pharaoh (this makes Moshe the official representative of Bnei Yisrael) to demand that he allow Bnei Yisrael to worship God in the desert (3:18). The fact that Pharaoh will not agree (see 3:19) sets the stage for the fulfillment of two additional elements of Brit Bein Ha'Btarim, namely punishing the oppressor and great wealth: "I will stretch out My Hand and SMITE Egypt...after that he shall let you go... When you go, you will not go empty handed: Each woman will borrow... vessels of SILVER and GOLD and clothing [compare Br. 15:14]..." (3:20-22)

At the conclusion of God's lengthy answer, Moshe still remains doubtful whether Bnei Yisrael will truly believe that Shem Havaya has appeared to him (4:1). To solve this problem, God (obviously now b'shem Havaya) provides Moshe with several "otot" (signs/ mini-miracles) to prove that a 'miraculous' redemption is indeed forthcoming (see 4:2-9).

As we have shown, a deeper understanding of Brit Bein ha'Btarim can help us appreciate the necessity for the miraculous nature of Yetziat Mitzraim. In a similar manner, in our study of Ma'amad Har Sinai, we will show how its key elements will relate back to the primary theme of brit milah"" "l'hiyot lachem l'Elokim".

shabbat shalom,





The background from the above shiur can help us understand why the first "ot" that Bnei Yisrael are given is the "mateh" turning into a "nachash" (see 4:2-5), in contrast to the first "ot" that Pharaoh is given of the "mateh" turning into a "tannin" (see 7:8-12).

Pharaoh, as he doesn't believe in God at all (see 5:2!), needs to be shown a "MOFET" (see 7:9) - a wonder - to prove that God exists and was the Creator of the Universe. Therefore, the symbol of a "tannin" is used, relating back to the story of Creation (see Breishit 1:21).

In contrast, Bnei Yisrael believe in God, yet they feel that God has neglected them, for no one has come to redeem them.. Therefore, they require an "OT" - a sign - that God indeed has not forgotten them (see 4:1-2). The symbol of a "nachash" is used, which may relate back to the story of the "nachash" in Gan Eden (see Breishit chapter 3). That story focuses on God's providence over man, and the complex relationship of "schar v'onesh" - [divine retribution]. In a similar manner, one can understand the other two "otot" in 4:6-9; Moshe's hand turning leperous (definitely a symbol of "schar v'onesh"), as well as the contrast between life and death, as symbolized by water (life) turning into blood (death).