Introduction: There’s levels to this 

This week’s parashah of Va’eira opens with Hashem saying, “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shaddai, but by My Name YHVH- ה׳, I did not make myself known to them.”1

We learn from this pasuk that there are levels to revelation. Hashem tells Moshe that he did not reveal the full vision of redemption to the Patriarchs. Rashi explains that even without seeing this full vision, the Avot (Patriarchs) did not question Hashem’s compassion and devoted themselves to Godliness. 

Reb Natan of Breslov explains that Hashem is telling us to be like the Avot, not to despair when life’s challenges emerge, because we cannot see the full picture of Hashem’s intentions. We are in exile, physically and spiritually, living in a time when Hashem’s full light is hidden from us. But we are always capable of tying our awareness to our spiritual Promised Land. It’s our emunah in Hashem’s compassion embodied in YHVH that can allow us to see the good and do good with what we are given.

We read last week that Moshe was hesitant to be a leader. He doubted that he was the most fitting– he had a speech impediment and so, even on the practical level, he thought he was the least likely to speak for a nation and plead for their redemption. But Hashem reminds him that as God of the Avot and of the future redemption, anything is possible and the only thing to stop a person from achieving what is meant for them is themselves. 

Ultimately, Moshe merited that the entire Torah would manifest through him, which is the highest level of physicality, one in which the highest level of spirituality can emanate. Moshe’s journey of hesitation and self-doubt is one that we all struggle with, but the lesson is that, in the end, he reached the ultimate level of revelation. We see this as we read the pasuk, “I appeared to Avraham… yet I was not know to them by My Name ה׳“2 We see that Moshe reached higher levels than all who preceded him, as it’s written, “No other prophet like Moshe has arisen in Israel who knew Hashem face-to-face.”3 

The Kuzari explains that one of the reasons why Moshe and his generation merited greater revelation than the previous generations wasn’t because of their own greatness, but rather because they, as a people, had become a “multitude” suffering with safek (doubt). And so Hashem had to reveal Himself in greater ways to convince them of the truth. Hence, Israel heard the “voice” of Hashem when he spoke with Moshe, as it’s written, “Behold, I will come to you in a thick cloud so that people hear when I speak to you.”4

The only greater revelation than Moshe’s receiving of the Torah will be the final redemption, when everything will be Torah, total Oneness will be revealed. This will be the time referred to as kulo Shabbat, when it will always be Shabbat

Revealing Oneness through Each One You Encounter

I love Rebbe Carlebach’s insight on the pasuk, where we see how to bring Godly awareness into our everyday lives. He reminds us that Hashem appeared to each of the Avot as individuals– to Avraham alone, then Yitzchak, then Yakov– revealing Himself to each of them in the way that was best suited for their growth into Godliness. So, we learn that every action, especially those we take toward each individual we encounter is an opportunity for holy revelation and redemption.

The Baal Shem Tov used to shiver when he would meet a new person. When asked why, he replied, “The Torah tells us, Love your neighbor like you love yourself (V’ahavta L’rey’echa Kamokha). People think ‘rey’echa’ means ‘your neighbor’, but it really means ‘the one you are talking to’, so you have to give your full heart to each person you are talking to.” In order to reveal Hashem in the world, we need to un no cover the pieces of holiness that are in each of us, one by one. 

There is a famous story of the Talmudic sage Hillel, from the first century BCE, who moved to Israel to study Torah in Jerusalem with the great sages of the time, eventually becoming the Nasi (president) of the Sanhedrin (High Court). Much like Moshe, Hillel was very humble and, like Moshe, he looked up to Ahron, the High Priest, in the way that he conducted himself to “love peace and pursue peace, love all Hashem’s creations and bring them close to the Torah.”  

The often repeated story of Hillel was originally recorded in Talmud Shabbat: a gentile had decided that he wanted to convert to Judaism, but would only do so if a rabbi taught him the entire Torah while he stood on one foot. This person had gone to other Sages, but to no avail. Without giving up, he made his way to Hillel and asked the same. Hillel, with his great compassion and patience, replied, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this—go and study it!” 

When, in this time of anxiety, self-doubt, self-hate, and depression, it seems that “Love your neighbor like you love yourself” may not be as strong a statement as “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.” This teaches us not to do harm or treat the people around us in a negative way. Because even when we know we aren’t being the best with ourselves, this pasuk reminds us that it is certainly best to not do it to anyone else, even if at times we are hateful with ourselves. If the commandment is to love others as we love ourselves, and we feel that we don’t have enough love for ourselves, then the only way to keep this mitzvah is to increase the love we have for ourselves and decrease the self-doubt and self-hate. Because if we don’t show ourselves the proper love, how can we properly love others?

Full revelation is full expression of intellect, emotion, faith, and action

The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches us that Moshe embodies the attribute of chochmah (knowledge) and that is why the Torah was revealed through him. The Avot, on the other hand, were the embodiment of middot (emotions). As we covered last week, Avraham served Hashem through love, Yitzchak served through fear and judgement, as it’s written, “Fear of Isaac.”5 As a result, Yitzchak couldn’t tolerate evil in the world. And Yakov represented mercy and reached his level of righteousness by virtue of his complete connection to the Torah. His intelligent emotionality perfected both love and fear, embracing both modes of service. Moshe had elements of all these, but it is his primary attribute of chochmah that merited his being the prophet to present the Torah in its revealed state, as it’s written, “Remember the Torah of Moses My Servant.”6

The Rebbe explains that during the revelation divisions dissolved and knowledge and emotion were united. And in the pasuk that opens our parashah, Moshe was to understand that even if his primary attribute is knowledge, he must join it with emotion and thereby strengthen his faith to the point that there would be no questions or doubts. The reason the name ‘Yakov’ is used when naming the Avot and not the name ‘Israel’ is that Yakov represents ekev, ‘heel’, which is on a lower level of revelation, whereas ‘Israel’ is the redemptive manifestation and ‘Israel’ is composed of the Hebrew letters “li-rosh”  (“the mind is mine”). The lesson is that knowledge must join with emotion to reach full faith. This is what joins the higher (knowledge) to the lower (the heel).

When emotions encompass knowledge, they strengthen faith and lead to action. And as we learn in the Tanya, “Love brings a person to do good while fear leads a person to ‘turn from evil.”7 Whereas knowledge by itself does not lead to action, in fact it can lead to detachment, and even while learning what to do, one can lose the impetus to do it. This is why the Torah reveals the 613 mitzvot of the commandments of what to do and what not to do, as pertaining to our service of Hashem through action and our compassion and empathy towards each other. Learning alone is not Torah learning; it must be paired with action. This is why our main prophets preceding Moshe were called Avot (fathers) because they acted toward all as a parent acts towards their child– with action, compassion, and emotion. And so the pasuk names each the Avot, “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” and Hashem’s relationship with them as El Shaddai. But with Moshe, who perfects the blend of knowledge, emotion and action, Hashem reveals the Ineffable Name and the Light of Infinite it represents.   

We see this perfection of Moshe and his relationship with Hashem play out to the point of full redemption of the nation.8 In Talmud Yevamot, it expounds on the verse in Devarim that says there was no other prophet like Moshe, before or after, and discusses how Moshe’s prophecies differed from all others’. The Sages say it was as if Moshe saw through a clear lens, while other prophets’ “lenses” were unclear. And as the pasuk above states, Hashem appeared to the previous prophets as El Shaddai, which was a more concealed form of Hashem Oneness, working more on the level of the natural forces of Creation. 

Only Moshe witnessed the God of the Ineffable Name, YHVH, in an unconcealed form, fully supernatural, preceding creation. And so for the Avot there were no ‘open’ or public miracles done, only the hidden miracles of history and circumstance (e.g. rescuing them from famine, death, war..), and their prophetic visions came to them through dreams. That is why in reference to their prophecies it says “I appeared” (וארא), and with Moshe it says, “I was known” (נודעתי). Moshe’s encounters with Hashem were face-to-face, ones that Moshe was eventually able to bring into being at will, whereas the previous prophets were not. HaKesav VeHaKabbalah explains that “The Ineffable Name is pronounced as Adonai, because Hashem is אדון – Adon – Master of all worlds and beings; and His will cannot be denied. He can alter nature and events, cancelling normal conduct and adjusting the behavior and essence of his living creatures however He wishes.” This is the aspect of Hashem that became revealed in the book of Shemot and the story of our Exodus.9 

Overcoming self doubt– finding faith in Hashem’s melody 

In this parashah Hashem reminds Moshe that he can lead the nation, that he can stand up to Pharaoh, and that anything he can imagine, he can manifest, as there is nothing Hashem cannot do, and any messenger of Hashem can will fate into physicality. 

Imagine a world in which you had no self-doubts, you only saw the good, you only spoke positively, your faith was full and anxiety had no place. It seems we are further from that space than ever. But if Moshe, with a speech impediment, could become the speaker for the enslaved, freeing them from Pharaoh, we can become our own advocates to and for ourselves. The core teaching of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov is the Azamra: teaching ourselves to rectify “harsh judgment” by finding the “good point” in ourselves and others and judging it favorably, bringing merit to ourselves and others. 

Music is born of the act of sifting through the bad notes to get to the good notes, as beautiful melodies are the various combinations of the good notes. This is the practice we have to continually perfect in our lives in order, taking away the “bad” from yourself and others. And when that becomes second nature, you can reach a level where you don’t see bad – bringing yourself to a place of kulo tov (all good), a place where all the melodies of life lift us up. 

Hashem reminds Moshe that whatever impingement he feels he has, it cannot impede him from his destiny, nor the people from redemption. Once Moshe was able to rid himself of his doubt and submit to his destiny, he was able to perform miracles. And of course miracles happen every moment, disguised as nature, but if we cloud them with doubt or anxiety, we can’t see the miraculous good.

With Pharaoh, we see after each plague he agrees that Hashem is the Almighty. But then he forgets, doubts, becomes faithless and fooled again, thinking he is in control and can save himself. And when Moshe brings the next plague, he begs for it to stop and be reversed, he says that he will allow Moshe to take B’nei Yisrael out and serve Hashem. But the plague abates, Pharaoh’s compassion abates and he hardens his heart again. 

I once co-produced a short film for the Accidental Talmudist series called “Shnooks.” The short was titled “The Parking Spot”, and one of my favorite actors, Stephen Tobolowsky, was the star. (You may know him as Ned from Groundhog Day or as Jack Barker (Action Jack) from Silicon Valley). The scene opens with his character who is in a rush to a big money meeting but unable to find a parking spot! We hear him on the phone pleading with his colleague to try to stall the meeting. Eventually, he prays, “Oh please, God, help me get a parking spot! If you help me get a parking spot, I’ll give 10% of this deal to charity! I’ll give 10% of every deal I make. And I’ll call my mother!” Right then a car pulls out, and he gets all excited and says, “Wow, never mind, God. I got it!!” 

When everything is running smoothly, when everything seems aligned, we sometimes think foolishly that it is because of our own doing and not that of Hashem. And it’s often in those times when we get shaken up and fall from on high, so that we can be humbled again. So we enter into a space of questioning and then can remember the fundamental answer that everything is from the hands of Hashem, and that all that we do have is meant to be connected back to Hashem, to spiritualize reality, not materialize it.

May we all rid ourselves of doubt, release the chains of our own struggles and the parts of our minds that enslave us, and manifest the Promised Land within ourselves. I’ll leave you with this blessing, which are the lyrics to Akiva’s gorgeous Berditchever Niggun (ניגון ברדיצ׳ב/התבודדות) off his album, אל תעזבי ידיים (Al Ta’azvi Yadayim)10

Master of the universe, give me the strength that I can illuminate my face towards every being

To see the good points in my friends and not what they are lacking

Give me the eyes to see the great good and kindness you do in the world

That I judge myself and others positively

And that I’m constantly humble, and lowly in my own eyes.

And that I love with all my heart my entire life

I want to thank you, Hashem on all that I have

and I also want to thank you for that which is lacking and help me do it without feeling shame

And that I should remember that it’s always possible to return, and to fix everything anew.
ריבונו של עולם, תן לי את הכח להאיר פנים לכל אדם

לראות מעלת חברי ולא חסרונם

תן לי עיניים לראות בטוב ובחסד שנתת בעולם

שאדון לכף זכות את עצמי ואת חבריי

שאהיה בענווה תמיד שפל בעיניי

שאהיה אוהב בכל לב כל חיי

אני רוצה להודות לך על כל מה שיש

רוצה להודות גם בחסרון בלי להתבייש

לזכור שתמיד אפשר לחזור ולתקן הכל, להתחדש

 

Fin

Notes & Sources

  1. Exodus 6:3
  2. Exodus 6:3
  3. Deuteronomy 34:10
  4. Ibid 19:9
  5. Genesis 31:42
  6. Malachi 3:22
  7. Tanya, part I, ch. 4
  8. Rashi, Deuteronomy 1:5, Talmud Sotah 36a
  9. R’ Y. Nachshoni, Hagot B’Parshiot HaTorah, p. 354, 359
  10. Berditchever Niggun (ניגון ברדיצ׳ב/התבודדות) song by Akiva

Light of Infinite is a book series (coming soon), a podcast, and a weekly Dvar (digital + pamphlets distributed to shull’s in LA). Erez Safar acts as Your Spiritual DJ, curating insights into the weekly Torah portion and the infinite light of Kabbalah.