Marc Chagall
Marc Chagall

2024-01-13 - Parashah Va'eira “And I Appeared”

Torah: Shemot (Exodus) 6:2 – 9:35;

Haftarah: Yechezkel (Ezekiel) 28:25 – 29:21

Believe in the LORD

This Parashah reveals two aspects of the relationship between God and humanity. The first aspect is how God revealed Himself to mankind, and the second, is about man’s free choice.

God’s various “Names” represent the different ways, or by which attribute, He revealed Himself to a specific person or generation:

  • — EL SHADDAI - God Almighty; God Who-is-All-Sufficient
  • — EL OLAM - Everlasting God
  • — EL CHAI - The Living God
  • — EL ELYON - God Most High
  • — ELOHIM - God
  • — ADON / ADONAI - Lord
  • — ADONAI TZEVAOTH - Lord of Hosts
  • — YHVH – This is the tetragrammaton name of God of which the exact pronunciation may have been lost with the last generation of priesthood but that it will be revealed again when Moshiah comes. Not wanting to be wrong and violate the third commandment by taking God’s Name in vain, even though that commandment does not refer to pronouncing the Name of God, some simply substitute the tetragrammaton with haShem (the Name), or Adonai, or Adoshem, or LORD (all upper-case letters). In modern Hebrew writings, two “YODS” - is a common abbreviation for this Name of God. However, some Hebrew scholars render it as Yehovah based on the Masoretic vowelization. Others justify their rendering as Yehovah based on an old rabbinical teaching using the biblical text from Shemot (Exodus) 3:15: “Elohim said moreover to Moshe, ‘You shall tell the sons of Yisrael this, “YHVH, the God of your fathers, the God of Avraham, the God of Yitzchak, and the God of Yaakov, has sent me to you. This is My Name le’olam¨ (forever), and this is My memorial to all generations.”‘” ¨the ancient rabbis believed that the Hebrew word le’olam was intentionally placed there because it contains the vowels: sheva, cholam, and kamatz, which are the same vowels used in the tetragrammaton name of God YHVH, thus, it helped them remember how to pronounce the name of God. Also, we know based on the writings of Yohanan what Yeshua said praying to the Father: “I made known to them [to His talmidim] Your Name.” John 17:26 Based on this, a 19th century Messianic rabbi made the argument that since we believe that Moshiah already came, we need to make this argument with the Jewish community by pronouncing the Name of God as Yehovah. Since most of the Bible translations do not render the name of God as Yehovah, this essay will keep the Name of God as rendered by the translator.
  • — MELECH - King
  • — TZUR YISRAEL - Rock of Israel
  • — AVINU SHEBA-SHAMAYIM - Our Father Who is in Heaven
  • — HA-KADOSH - The Holy One

The name used at the beginning of this Parashah gives us an understanding on how God revealed Himself differently to the Patriarchs than to Moshe. “And God (ELOHIM) spoke further to Moshe, and said to him, “I am the LORD (YHVH); and I appeared to Avraham, to Ytzhak, and to Ya’akov, as God Almighty (EL SHADDAI), but by My Name, the LORD (YHVH), I was not known to them.” Shemot 6:2-3

Even though we know from Bereishit 15:7 that God told Avraham who He was, namely the LORD, He never revealed Himself to the Patriarch as other than God Who-is-All-Sufficient, EL SHADDAI. This name derives from a Hebrew word that denotes God as the One Who sets limits on Creation by establishing the laws of nature, the limitations within which the universe functions. EL SHADDAI describes God when He performs miracles that do not openly disrupt these laws of nature. This was the way the Patriarchs perceived and knew God when He assured their survival in times of famine or made them victorious over physically superior enemies. Though miraculous, none of these openly violated the laws of nature. Moshe, however, would soon witness miracles contrary to these laws of nature and of a magnitude that dwarfed anything the Patriarchs had ever seen.

Moshe had the revelation of the LORD (YHVH), God’s highest manifestation. Moshe had the degree of prophesy that enabled him to comprehend the significance of God’s actions to the highest degree possible to man, and yet, he, in numerous occasions, questioned God's ways, revealing the closeness that Moshe had to God. In contrast, the Patriarchs, having only God's revelation as El SHADDAI, never questioned His's ways.

But God, in His desire to connect with mankind on a more accessible level, also revealed Himself in the form of a man. He appeared as a man for brief moments in various occasions to Adam, to Avraham, to Moshe, and to others of the ancient times. Centuries later though, He appeared to the Jewish people for a longer period of time in an extraordinary event as the promised Messiah through a man called Yeshua. Many Jewish people believed in Yeshua’s divinity based on the words written down in the Tanakh by those people of the ancient times. Yeshua made it clear who He was — God incarnate in human flesh — by making Himself equal and calling Himself by the Name of God which depicts His highest manifestation, the LORD - YHVH.

Some people did not believe though, but, even though they did not believe who He was, they fully understood who He said He was because they tried to stone Him for this perceived blasphemy. “'I said [Yeshua speaking], therefore, to you, that you will die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins...' 'Surely you are not greater than Avraham Avinu, who died? Who do You make Yourself to be?' In reply, Yeshua said, 'It is My Father who is giving Me glory, whom you say, He is ELOHIM. And you have not come to know Him. But I know Him. Avraham your father rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and had simcha.' Therefore, those of Yehudah said to Him, 'You are not yet fifty years and You have seen Avraham Avinu?' Yeshua said to them, 'Omein, omein, I say to you, before Avraham came into being, I AM.' Then, they took up stones that they might stone Him...” Yohanan 8:24-28, 53-59

The Scripture tells us that this was the last manifestation of God to mankind, thus God closed the prophetic revelations by establishing the Bible as the full and complete revelation: "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world." Hebrews 1:1-2

There would be no other revelation of God to mankind. Only through the Bible - both Tanakh and Brit Chadashah - mankind can come to the knowledge of God and to His plan of re-establishing the fellowship between Himself and men; the fellowship that was broken by Adam and Eve when they chose to exercise their free will.

The second subject of this Parashah is the free will with which God created men, but which some perceive as mere predestination. This is illustrated through Pharaoh being presented with ten chances - seven of which are described in this Parashah - to believe in the God of the Hebrews, repent of his sins, and let the Jewish people leave Egypt and be free. But the Scripture prefaces these chances with a statement from God: “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. And Pharaoh shall not listen to you, that I may lay My hand upon Egypt, and bring forth My armies, and My people, the sons of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch forth My hand upon Egypt, and bring out the people of Israel from among them” Shemot (Exodus) 7:3-4

Thus, this text seemingly presents the problem with man’s freedom of choice. If God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, why would God inflict a multitude of punishments upon Egypt? How could Pharaoh be punished for not releasing the Jewish people when it was God who prevented him from doing so by hardening his heart? How could the just God who created man with freedom of choice – and who desires repentance, not death – prevent Pharaoh from repenting?

In rabbinic thought there are two lines of reasoning responding to this issue.

First, they say that God punished Egypt only for what it deserved, only for the enslavement and the intense persecution, such as killing the male Hebrew children, which took place before Pharaoh was coerced; those were sins that Pharaoh and his people committed of their own free will.

Second, according to the biblical text, is that God did not harden Pharaoh’s heart. God gave him six chances to release the Hebrew slaves and repent of their treatment, and after every one of those chances the Scripture says that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened (implying, on its own), or that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (please read chapter 7 v.13, 22; chapter 8 v.15, 19, 32; chapter 9 v.7). Only after the sixth pestilence God Himself hardened Pharaoh’s heart (chapter 9 v.12). Therefore, Pharaoh’s heart began to harden on its own and God just completed the inevitable process. Only then God closed the door of repentance in order to punish him for having sinned against the Hebrews.

Therefore, if anyone thinks that we are created without free will, predestined to be like puppets without the possibility of making any decision on our own, then, if that would be true, that person needs to understand that he/she will not be able to even think about the issue of free will since he/she would not be able to reason on his/her own. But since the question of free-will is raised, it proves, and it is a manifestation, of that free will.

Therefore, Pharaoh had free-will and he chose to disobey.

But why would Pharaoh, witnessing those miracles, be so stubborn and harden his heart? God through the plagues, was destroying one by one the Egyptian's gods and Pharaoh could just not let go of his ancestor’s religion just as many of us today hold on to the religion, or religiosity, to the traditions passed down to us despite the truth that God puts before us. We may not understand the many things that God does in our lives, but one thing is clear, God can see our lives from beginning to end, because He is outside of our time constraints, but that does not mean that He is destining our lives to be a certain way. He may intervene at times (through prayer), but not predestine. Therefore, we have free choice and having free choice means that one must make a choice between opposites, good vs evil, right vs wrong, holy vs profane, life vs death. God lets us choose. He desires that all of us do good things and that we would choose life and not perish. Unfortunately, the ones that do not believe in God do not have these moral absolutes, so they make up their own which are contrary to God’s. In the end it is up to us to believe in Him, that He sent His Son as the promised Messiah, that this Son is equal in essence with the LORD - YHVH, so we would not die in our sins - as Yeshua is entreating the Jewish people in the above-mentioned passage from the Gospel of Yohanan. He desires for us to do good works that He prepared for us from eternity past, but He is not forcing us to do them. “For we are His workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

He prepares the paths, yes, but gives us free choice and He leaves it up to us to believe and walk in them.

Shabbat Shalom.

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