Parshat Va'eyra -
Brit Bein Ha'Btarim
or Brit Milah?

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Often, we assume the word "brit" [covenant] is simply a general term used to describe everything that God had promised to the Avot. In the following shiur, we will trace the word "brit" in Parshat Va'eyra back to its roots in Sefer Breishit and show how it relates, in a very specific way, to the events of Yetziat Mitzrayim.

In the opening psukim of Parshat Va'eyra, God informs Moshe Rabbeinu, as a prelude to His emphatic promise of redemption, that He has come to fulfill "brit Avot." As you read these psukim, note the double mention of the word "brit":

"...and also I have kept My brit [covenant] with them [the Avot] to give them the land of Canaan ... and I have also heard the cries of Bnei Yisrael, for Egypt is enslaving them, and I have remembered My brit. Therefore, tell Bnei Yisrael that I am God, and I will take them out..." (6:4-6)
To determine specifically which "brit" God is referring to, we must recall from our study of Sefer Breishit that God had established two covenants with Avraham Avinu. Even though both covenants promised Avraham "zera" [offspring] and "aretz" [the Land of Israel], each covenant related to a special aspect of God's future relationship with Am Yisrael: Before we continue, we must first review the main aspects of each covenant.

Brit Bein Ha'Btarim

"And Hashem (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, God formed a covenant with Avram: To your offspring I give this land..." (15:13-21)
This covenant, b'shem Havaya, emphasizes the historical aspect of the development of the nation - its bondage in a foreign land and the punishment of its oppressor, followed by Israel's conquest ('yerusha') of the Promised Land - the land of the Canaani, Chiti, Emori, etc.
See Board #1 for a list of the key features of Brit Bein Ha'Btarim.

Brit Milah

"And I will fulfill My covenant with you - 'lihyot lecha l'Elokim' - to be your God, 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)
This covenant (b'shem Elokim and Kel Shakai) emphasizes God's special relationship with Am Yisrael on the individual/family level - "lihyot lecha l'Elokim" [to be a close God for you]. As Ramban (on Breishit 17:1) explains, in this relationship God manifests Himself through natural events. Within the framework of this covenant, God has always looked after the needs of the Avot, and He has come to their rescue.
See Board #2 for a chart that summarizes the key features of Brit Milah.

A quick comparison between these two covenants immediately shows that the process of Yetziat Mitzrayim relates primarily to the covenant of "Bein Ha'Btarim." Nonetheless, there maybe an aspect of Brit Milah involved as well. Let's explain:

Recall (from our shiur on Parshat Vayigash) God's final "hitgalut" to Yaakov as he left Eretz Canaan on his way to see Yosef in Egypt. God, b'shem Elokim, 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 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 where this foreign land is, nor when the '400 year clock' starts ticking. Nonetheless, within the framework of Brit Bein Ha'Btarim, 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 of these traditions were ingrained in the heart and soul of Bnei Yisrael in Egypt and passed from generation to generation. As their slavery in Egypt intensified, Bnei Yisrael patiently wait for God to fulfill either one 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 - Brit Milah and Brit Bein Ha'Btarim - in His charge to Moshe. Let's take a look, and explain each pasuk.

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

6:2 "And Elokim spoke to Moshe and said to him I am Havaya"

6:3 "And I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov as Kel Shakai, but in my name Havaya I did not make Myself known to them" 6:4 "I also established My covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan..." 6:5 "I have now heard the cries of Bnei Yisrael, for Egypt is enslaving them, and I have remembered My covenant" 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 (i.e. the Ten Plagues)" 6:7 "And I will take you to be My people, and I will be your Elokim..." "And you shall know that I am Havaya Elokeichem who is taking you out from your suffering in Egypt." 6:8 "And I will bring you into the Land that I promised to give to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, and I will give it to you as a possession - morasha, for I am Havaya." See Board #3 for a summary of how Yetziat Mitzrayim fulfills both Brit Milah and Brit Bein Ha'Btarim.

Back to the Sneh
This background can also explain the strange question that Moshe asks immediately after he receives his "shlichut" at the burning bush:

"Moshe said to God: 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?" (3:13)
What provokes this question? Why is Moshe so sure that Bnei Yisrael will inquire as to the nature of God's Name?

Moshe's question is simple; his query regarding God's Name (3:13) relates precisely to these two family traditions. He wants to know which Divine Promise is being fulfilled. Will the redemption be only b'shem Elokim, i.e. within the framework of Brit Milah (as promised to Yaakov), or will it also be b'shem Havaya, within the framework of Brit Bein Ha'Btarim, as originally promised to Avraham Avinu? [See Ramban and Ibn Ezra on 3:13!]

Moshe's question is not merely a technicality; it relates to the very nature of Yetziat Mitzrayim. If Bnei Yisrael's redemption is only b'shem Elokim, then they should expect a natural process ("hashgacha nisteret"), similar to the manner in which Yaakov was saved from Lavan (see Breishit 31:9-13,24-29 and 48:15-16!). Furthermore, they should not expect the Egyptians to be punished, nor should they expect to receive great wealth [an important 'nafka mina!'].

If their redemption will also be b'shem Havaya, then Bnei Yisrael should expect a miraculous process ("hashgacha glu'ya") including the punishment of Mitzrayim, the attainment of 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 can better understand the nature of the forthcoming redemption.

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 3:15 "zeh zichri" for an amazing 'encrypted' explanation!] 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:

Pakod pakadti etchem...
[Brit Milah - see Breishit 50:24]

...I will bring you up mei'oni Mitzrayim to Eretz Ha'Canaani V'HaChiti..."
[Brit Bein Ha'Btarim - see Breishit 15:13,19]

Next, God instructs Moshe to take the elders with him to Pharaoh (this makes Moshe the official representative of Bnei Yisrael) and command him that he permit them to worship God in the desert (3:18). The fact that Pharaoh will not agree (3:19), sets the stage for the fulfillment of two additional elements of Brit Bein Ha'Btarim, namely the punishing of the oppressor and the attaintment of 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..." (3:20-22; compare to Breishit 15:14)
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 (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 Mitzrayim. In a similar manner, in our study of Ma'amad Har Sinai, we will show how its key elements will relate back to the basic concepts of Brit Milah.

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