Parshat Va'eyra -
Preparing for Redemption

(To prepare for this shiur,
see the questions for self study.)

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Is "geulat Mitzraim" a 'one way street'?

In other words, has the '400-year hour glass' of Brit Bein Ha'Btarim run out, thus necessitating Bnei Yisrael's unconditional redemption, or are Bnei Yisrael required to do something to deserve their redemption?

Even though the opening lines of Parshat Va'eyra seem to imply that God's promise to redeem Bnei Yisrael is indeed unconditional (see 6:2-8), this week's shiur examines these psukim a bit more carefully and will arrive at a very different conclusion!

[While doing so, we will also uncover the biblical source of the popular Midrash, that while in Egypt Bnei Yisrael had fallen to the depths of the 49th level of "tumah," the lowest level of spirituality.]

Before we begin our shiur, let's review the 'setting' as Parshat Va'eyra opens. Recall that in Parshat Shmot, Moshe received a double mission:

As we would expect, Bnei Yisrael responded to these tidings with great enthusiasm (see 4:29-31: "and the people believed and heard that God had come to redeem His people..."). But this initial enthusiasm quickly turned into bitter disappointment when Moshe's first encounter with Pharaoh resulted in a 'double workload' (see 5:18-21) rather than redemption.

The people immediately accuse Moshe of only aggravating their condition, whereupon he 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)
Parshat Va'eyra opens with God's response to this complaint. He first reminds Moshe that He has indeed come to fulfill "brit Avot" (see 6:2-5), and therefore bids Moshe to:
"...Tell Bnei Yisrael that I am God, and I will take them out ... and I will save them from their bondage ... and I will bring them into the Land..." (6:6-8)
What was the purpose of this new commandment? Was it simply to reassure Bnei Yisrael of their imminent redemption so as to stop their complaining? If so, it didn't seem to help very much, as we are told:
"But they did not listen to Moshe..." (6:9)
So what was its purpose? To answer this question, we must take a closer look (in Hebrew) at this concluding pasuk:
"V'lo sham'u el Moshe mikotzer ru'ach ume'avodah kashah" - "And they did not listen to Moshe, due to their crushed spirits and hard work." (6:9)
'To Believe' or 'To Obey?'
What does "v'lo sham'u" mean?

Usually, the phrase "v'lo sham'u el Moshe" is translated as, "they did not listen to Moshe." However, the implication is far from clear. Let's consider several possibilities based on the various meanings of the Hebrew verb "lishmo'a":

They did not hear what Moshe said.

They did not comprehend what he said. They did not believe what Moshe told them. They did not obey what Moshe told them. To determine the most accurate translation of "v'lo sham'u" in this pasuk, we must consider the next three psukim, as they relate specifically to this phrase in 6:9:
"Then God told Moshe, go speak to Pharaoh ... that he should send Bnei Yisrael from his land. Moshe retorted [employing a "kal v'chomer"], saying: If even Bnei Yisrael - lo sham'u ay'lai - didn't 'listen' to me - v'aych yishma'eyni Pharaoh - why should Pharaoh obey me?!" (6:10-12)
Note how the word "sham'u" is used on each side of the "kal va'chomer." Clearly, "sham'u" in the context of Pharaoh's refusal to comply with God's command implies obey. But for this "kal v'chomer" to make sense, the verb "sham'u" in both halves of the pasuk must have the same meaning. Thus, "sham'u" in the first half of the pasuk - in reference to Bnei Yisrael - must also mean to obey. In other words, the "kal v'chomer" should be translated as, "Why would Pharaoh obey me, if Bnei Yisrael did not obey me!"

Even though we had earlier rejected this possibility (that "sham'u" implies 'obey') for the simple reason that there was nothing in Moshe's statement to obey, this "kal v'chomer" forces us to reconsider.

To determine what needs to be 'obeyed' in 6:4-8, we must take another look at these psukim, taking special note of its emphasis on the phrase "Ani Hashem":

"And Elokim spoke to Moshe, and told him: Ani Hashem. And I appeared to ... and now I have remembered My covenant. Therefore,, tell Bnei Yisrael Ani Hashem, and I will take them out ... and save them ... 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 6:2-8, read carefully!)
Ani Hashem
Clearly, a primary focus of God's message to Bnei Yisrael is His repeated statement of "Ani Hashem." Not only does God inform Bnei Yisrael of their redemption, He commands them to recognize that He is their God - i.e. Ani Hashem Elokeichem.

This recognition by Bnei Yisrael that "Ani Hashem Elokeichem" encompasses much more than pure intellectual knowledge. It is a fact that must be not only understood, but internalized. A true recognition of "Ani Hashem Elokeichem" generates an immediate, inner drive to perform God's will and the willingness to obey any command He may request.

[It is not by chance that this very same statement is the first of the Ten Commandments!]

From this perspective, the statement of Ani Hashem constitutes a commandment, implicitly demanding that Bnei Yisrael prepare themselves spiritually for their redemption - to perform proper "teshuva."

Hence, 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 must Bnei Yisrael 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.

A Proof From Yechezkel
While this deeper meaning of "Ani Hashem" is only implicit in Parshat Va'eyra, it surprisingly emerges explicitly in Sefer Yechezkel!

Before continuing, I recommend that you first read Yechezkel 20:1-12 and carefully compare it to Shmot 6:2-13. Note the obvious textual parallels, such as between 20:5-6 and 3:6-8.

In chapter 20 of Sefer Yechezkel, the prophet admonishes a group of elders who have come to visit him, reminding them of the appalling behavior of their ancestors prior to their redemption from Egypt:

"On the day that I chose Israel ... [v'iyvada lahem] when I made Myself known to them in the land of Egypt [compare with Shmot 6:3] ... when I said, 'Ani Hashem Elokeichem' [compare with 6:7] ... on that same day I swore to take them out of Egypt into a land flowing with milk and honey [compare with 6:8, 3:8]. And I said to them [at that time], 'Each man must rid himself of his detestable ways and not defile himself with the fetishes of Egypt, [for] Ani Hashem Elokeichem.' But they rebelled against Me - 'v'lo avu lishmo'a ay'lai' - and no one rid himself of his detestable ways, no one gave up the fetishes of Egypt, and I resolved to pour out My anger upon them..." (20:5-8)
See Board #1. Much to our amazement, Yechezkel here states explicitly that to which Sefer Shmot only alludes - that God had called upon Bnei Yisrael to repent prior to the Exodus, to cleanse themselves from the "tumah" of their Egyptian culture in preparation for their redemption. Unfortunately, Bnei Yisrael did not obey ["v'lo avu lishmo'a" - see 20:8] and thus deserved to be destroyed in the land of Egypt. Only for the 'sake of His Name' did the redemption process continue (see 20:9-10).

[These psukim in Yechezkel support the popular Midrash that Bnei Yisrael had reached the 49th level of "tumah." Why Sefer Shmot seems to 'cover up' this detail is an interesting topic unto itself, but beyond the scope of this week's shiur.]

Thus, 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 and Aharon and commanded them [vay'tzavem] 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.

Some Help From Vayikra
So what were Bnei Yisrael doing that was so terrible?

A possible answer can be found in Parshat Acharei Mot, where God bids Bnei Yisrael not to follow the corrupt lifestyle of the Egyptians. Note once again the repetition of "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 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" most likely entailed Bnei Yisrael's elimination of their decadent Egyptian lifestyle, as well as their preparedness to accept whatever mitzvot God may command.

A Theme in Sefer Shmot
This interpretation not only helps us understand the phrase "v'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 Yechezkel, the answer is simple. As he explained, God saved Bnei Yisrael despite their being undeserving, for the 'sake of His Name' (see 20:8-9). But given their unworthiness, the redemption process could not continue as planned after they actually left Egypt (i.e. they cannot travel to Har Sinai and afterward to Eretz Canaan) until they are spiritually prepared.

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 'Marah' (see 15:22-26), where they are given one more chance to accept what they had earlier rejected in Parshat Va'eyra:

"And He said - im shmo'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." (15:26)
[This topic will be discussed in greater detail in our shiur on Parshat B'shalach.]

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 shmo'a tishm'u b'koli - if you agree to obey My instruction and keep My covenant..." (see 19:3-6)
Of course, this time Bnei Yisrael agree (see 19:7-8).

With this background, we can also better appreciate why the very first dibbur of the Ten Commandments is "Anochi [=Ani] Hashem Elokecha who took you out of Egypt - Lo Yihyeh L'cha - Do not have any other gods instead of Me" (see 20:2). As we saw in Yechezkel, these two statements - Ani Hashem and lo yihyeh - act as 'two sides of the same coin,' for the statement of Ani Hashem automatically implies that you shall have no other gods.

[If you have time, relate this discussion to the machloket whether these two statements should be considered one dibbur or two!]

Eliyahu at Leil Ha'Seder
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 Mitzraim, we conclude the seder with our hope for the final redemption. However, before we begin Hallel and 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 are not ready to fulfill our covenantal obligations? In order for that process to succeed, our constant recognition of Ani Hashem must become not only a 'frame of mind,' but even more so, it must become a 'way of life.' Virtual ClassRoom enhancements by Reuven Weiser.

For Further Iyun
A. See Amos 5:18! There he claims that it would be better for Bnei Yisrael not to desire a Yom Hashem. Based on the context of that pasuk (including the time period of Uziyahu) and the conclusions of this week's shiur, explain Amos' warning in that pasuk.

See also Yirmiyahu 29:10-14, and relate it to the above shiur!

B. Note the difference between the two miracles Moshe performs with his mateh. The first serves as an "ot" to show Bnei Yisrael that indeed shem Havaya has been revealed. It therefore turns into a "nachash" - a symbol from perek Bet in Breishit. [Recall how the "nachash" relates to man's obligation to follow God's command and the threat of punishment should he disobey.]

The second is a mofet for Pharaoh, to show him that God is indeed the creator of all. The mateh thus becomes a tanin, a symbol from perek Aleph! [See the Torah's description of the fifth day of creation. Recall that Perek Aleph comes to teach us that all elements of nature, no matter how independently powerful they may appear, all stem from One Creator.]

To support this explanation, see Yechezkel 29:1-3!

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