“It is the finger of G-d!”

This week’s Torah reading from the Temple Institute

(Exodus 6:15) [Exodus 8:19]

Tevet 27, 5783 // January 20, 2023

This week’s Torah reading, Va’era, opens with what seems to be a reprise of last week’s dialogue between G-d and Moshe. Once again Moshe is standing before G-d, discouraged by Pharaoh’s outright refusal to set Israel free for three days in the wilderness, and even more discouraged by Israel’s telling Moshe to simply leave them alone, that his efforts on their behalf has only made things worse.

And once again G-d is compelled to lift up Moshe’s spirits and send him right back into Egypt to resume his battle with the hard hearted Pharaoh. Only this time, G-d reveals to Moshe something He never revealed to any human being before, including Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. “I am HaShem,” G-d tells Moshe, “I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov with the name Almighty G-d, but with My name YHWH, I did not become known to them.” (Exodus 6:3) What is this mysterious name, YHWH, and why is its revelation a game changer?

The name YHWH, which we traditionally refer to simply as HaShem, (literally, “the Name”), is the ineffable name of G-d, uttered only by the kohanim, and only at certains times, in the Holy Temple. When G-d created our world, He did so via the name Elokim. G-d as Elokim is the creator of man, (“And G-d created man in His image”), but G-d as YHWH is the source of our humanity, (“And HaShem G-d formed man of dust from the ground, and He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living soul”).

G-d, as Elokim, creates the world, but G-d, as YHWH informs the world with purpose. G-d as Elokim creates the immovable laws of nature, but G-d as YHWH can bend and break those laws, as He sees fit, in order to reshape the world’s spiritual reality, and guide man toward a relationship with Him.

And so now, when G-d reveals to Moshe the power of His name YHWH, G-d is, in effect, telling Moshe that He is taking off His gloves in His battle with Pharaoh. Pharaoh, who thinks that he is a god, believes he can battle with, and defeat G-d. After all, Pharaoh is not alone. He is part of a pantheon of Egyptian gods, which control everything from the flooding of the Nile to the raising of wheat, from the setting of the sun to the rising of the moon.

And as Pharaoh told Moshe in their first confrontation, “I do not know HaShem, neither will I let Israel out.” (ibid 5:2) Pharaoh doesn’t know HaShem but he is about to meet Him. Pharaoh doesn’t recognize that there is a single G-d, one who transcends all of creation, a single G-d who creates and a single G-d who shapes creation to His will.

And so now, when G-d sends Moshe back to Pharaoh to deliver again His demand of liberation for the Hebrew slaves, He is prepared to teach to Pharaoh the ABC’s of reality, in the form of the ten plagues. Our sages teach us that with ten utterances G-d created the world. Ten times we read, “and G-d said.” And now, with ten plagues, YHWH is going to undo, step by step, all that He created, and do this before the eyes, and on the backs of Pharaoh and all of Egypt, so that Pharaoh and all the world will know just what he is up against.

G-d starts off with a sucker punch, instructing Moshe to strike the Nile with his staff and turn its waters to blood, knowing that Pharaoh’s magicians can do the same, and that Pharaoh, in his self-destructive pride cannot resist the challenge to strike his own devastating blow against the life giving Nile, a self-goal, if there ever was one.

G-d is toying with Pharaoh, leading him along, delivering sucker punch after sucker punch, inflaming Pharaoh’s perverse sense of superiority, causing him to stumble, time after time, into a bottomless pit of pride induced nihilism.

His wise men and magicians realize early on that the game is over, declaring to Pharaoh, “It is the finger of G-d,” and begging him to desist. “But Pharaoh’s heart remained steadfast, and he did not hearken to them, as HaShem had spoken.” (ibid 6:15) [Exodus 8:19]

All Pharaoh needs to do to escape his certain downfall is to acknowledge G-d’s reality, to accept that there is but one G-d in the world, that He creates and He can un-create, if He so desires; that all the gods of Egypt, including himself, are but an illusion. G-d is, in fact, throwing Pharaoh a life line, that if he only grabs onto, he can save both his life and his humanity.

Accept that the soul which animates your entire being is a gift from HaShem G-d, who has bestowed you with life just as He has bestowed all humankind with life. Accept that, as G-d’s creation, you are no better than, but equal to all others, and that keeping others enslaved is an unacceptable offense. Could Pharaoh only internalize this truth, he could liberate himself, a slave to his pride, as well as the enslaved children of G-d.

Pity poor Pharaoh, who, stuck in the maelstrom of his own self-imposed delusion of divinity, cannot extricate himself, not for the sake of his own life, and not for the sake of Egypt. The captain of his own demise, Pharaoh is going down with his ship, overloaded with the ballast of pride, a worthless treasure, but one which Pharaoh cannot forgo.

G-d is messing with Pharaoh, taking him down slowly, one plague after another. It seems cruel at times. Why can’t G-d lay off a bit, and maybe Pharaoh will come to his senses? Why is G-d hardening Pharaoh’s heart? Is that fair? Pharaoh is not unique. he lives within all of us.

When we say “I do not know HaShem, neither will I let Israel out,” we are denying the source of our humanity, the presence of a G-d given soul within us, and the ability to employ the great G-d given gift of free will, the ability to choose good over bad, humility over pride, and life over death. When we deny HaShem we are giving up on life. And that is not an acceptable option.

~ by Joel Huan on January 26, 2023.

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