Last week's Parshah concluded with the epochal exchange between Moses andG-d over the mystery of human suffering. Moses protested, "My G-d, why have You done evil to this people?"; and G-d replied: "Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land."
This week's reading, the Parshah of Vaeira ("And I made Myself seen"), opens with a new communication from G-d to Moses, in which G-d says:
"I am G-d (Y-H-V-H). I made Myself seen to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, by the name of El Sha-dai, but by My name, Y-H-V-H, I did not make Myself known to them."
G-d then goes on to reiterate His promise to the Patriarchs to give the Land ofCanaan to their descendents, evoking the "four expressions of redemption -- "I will bring you out, I will save you, I will redeem you, I will take you" -- which chronicle the various stages of the redemption, culminating in Israel's election as G-d's chosen people at Mount Sinai.
The commentaries see this divine communication as the continuation of the exchange between G-d and Moses at the end of the previous Parshah. G-d's mention of His relationship with the Patriarchs -- Abraham, Isaac and Jacob -- is interpreted as a rebuke to Moses:
G-d said to Moses: I regret the loss of those who have passed away and are no longer found. Many times I revealed Myself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; they did not question My ways, nor did they say to me, "What is Your name?" You, on the other hand, asked from the start, "What is Your name?" and now you are saying to Me, "You have not saved Your people!" (Talmud,Sanhedrin 111a).You questioned My ways; unlike Abraham, to whom I said, "Isaac shall be considered your seed" and then I said to him, "Raise him up to Me as an offering" -- and still, he did not question Me (Rashi)
G-d also says: "By My name, Y-H-V-H, I did not make Myself known to them." This is understood by the commentaries as G-d saying to Moses: "I did not reveal My quintessential truth," represented by the divine name Y-H-V-H, to the Patriarchs; they knew Me only by the name El Sha-dai which represents a more limited manifestation of My being. They accepted that they could never comprehend My infinite, unknowable essence. You, on the other hand, to whom I have revealed My truth, question My ways (Rashi; Nachmanides).
This is how the opening verses of Vaeira are interpreted by the Midrash, Talmud and the biblical commentaries. The Chassidic masters delve deeper into these verses, and find there more than a rebuke to Moses: in G-d's words they also see an answer (of sorts) to Moses' question, and also a justification of his outcry.
The Pendulum of Life
All life, say the Kabbalists, is characterized by a to-and-fro movement calledratzo v'shov (running forth and drawing back) or mati v'lo mati (reaching and retreating). The heart contracts and expands; the lungs exhale and inhale; the body sleeps, extinguishing its more elevated faculties (cohesive thought, sight, hearing, etc.), in order to rejuvenate its energies; the mind meditates, emptying itself of prior conceptions in order to receive fresh insight; the earth enters night and winter, enduring periods of darkness and hibernation in order to attain a new dawn or spring.
The same is also true of the flow of vitality from G-d to His creation: this flow also pulsates, running forth and drawing back, reaching and retreating. And the more elevated the bestowal is, the more intense is the withdrawal to precede it. Thus, times of extraordinary illumination from Above are always preceded by periods of profound spiritual darkness.
Thus Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains G-d's words to Moses regarding the difference in the quality of His relationship with the Patriarchs and His newly unveiled revelation of the divine name Y-H-V-H.
To the Patriarchs -- G-d is saying to Moses -- I revealed Myself only as El Sha-dai, relating to them only via the constraints and limitations that define My investment within the created reality. But to you and your generation I shall reveal, for the very first time, "My name Y-H-V-H," the name that connotes "My quintessential truth." For the purpose of the Exodus (as G-d said to Moses at the burning bush) is the revelation at Mount Sinai and the communication of MyTorah, which is the very embodiment of My wisdom and will.
You ask why My people must suffer so terribly in their exile. You ask why is My face hidden, why I have seemingly withdrawn My providence over their lives. But this seeming withdrawal is an integral part of the tremendous revelation to come, which shall herald a new, unprecedented intimacy between man and G-d.
Indeed, adds the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the revelation of the Exodus and the concealment that preceded it are two faces of the same reality. In order for the people of Israel to relate to the quintessential truth of G-d revealed at Sinai, they first had to unearth their own quintessential truth -- which could manifest itself only in the nadir of their Egyptian galut.
"Truth" is that which is consistent and unchanging, the core reality of a thing that remains unaffected by all external circumstances. The quintessential truth of the Jewish soul is its loyalty and attachment to G-d; but loyalty and attachment to G-d under conditions of spiritual enlightenment and material prosperity cannot, in themselves, attest to this truth. There is no indication that the relationship would endure under less ideal conditions. But when the Jewish soul perseveres in its loyalty and attachment to G-d in the darkest hour of galut, it manifests the truth of its bond with G-d, demonstrating that this loyalty and attachment is, in fact, the unalterable core of its being.
"I am Y-H-V-H," said G-d to Moses. I am in the process of revealing My quintessential self to you. But the only part of you that can apprehend this revelation is your own quintessential self. And your own quintessential self rises to the surface of your souls only under the terrible conditions of galut.
Mind and Heart
The difference between Moses and the Patriarchs is also explained by the Chassidic masters as deriving from the different places they occupy within the total "body" of Israel. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are identified with the attributes of "love," "awe" and "harmony" (chessed, gevurah and tiferet), while Moses represents the attribute of "wisdom" (chochmah). Otherwise stated, the Patriarchs are the heart of the Jewish people, while Moses is the mind of Israel.
Often, a person who calmly accepts the painful realities of life is described as "taking it philosophically," while one who agonizes over his own or others' troubles is seen as "being emotional." Behind these categorizations is the notion that, in purely rational terms, the cause, or even need, for human suffering can be explained. On the other hand -- goes this line of thinking -- a person with a sensitive heart will not accept any rationalization of evil, however undeniable its logic.
The truth, says the Lubavitcher Rebbe, is the very opposite. Indeed, the difference between one who cannot reconcile himself to the existence of evil and suffering in G-d's world and the one who can accept it is the difference between mind and heart; but it is the mind-driven person who incessantly questions and challenges the way things are, whereas it is the one with "heart" who can find it in himself to accept the most terrible of incomprehensibilities.
It is true that logical explanations for evil and suffering have been presented by a succession of philosophers and theologians. For example, it is proposed that suffering refines the human being, teaching him compassion and sensitivity. It has also been explained that there is no greater satisfaction than the overcoming of adversity and no greater pleasure than the conquest of pain. The philosophical mind can also appreciate that a persons finest and most potent abilities are unleashed only under conditions of challenge and trial. Finally, there can be no denying the axiom that without a truly free choice between good and evil, nothing we do could possibly be of any significance.
These explanations are all valid, in their way; indeed, we have presented one such "explanation" in the first part of this article. But when they are approached from a purely rational standpoint, the mind of the believer will not be satisfied by any of them. Because after all is said and done, after each of these explanations is examined and the questions that can be asked on them are posed and resolved, there remains one final question: Why must it be this way?
All these explanations -- the mind will inevitably argue -- are predicated upon our understanding of human and universal nature. But You, G-d, are the creatorof nature and logic; You could have made the nature of things to be other than what they are. You could have made significant what logic dictates is of no significance. You could have created a reality in which there is gain without pain, in which the best in man could be realized without the threat and challenge of evil, in which the highest peaks of life could be scaled without the momentum of its lowest descents.
This perfectly logical question has no logical answer. Thus, the mind of the believer will never accept the "necessity" for evil and pain.
The heart also perceives the pain -- indeed, it senses it more deeply than the aloofly objective mind. But while the mind categorizes reality into compatible and non-compatible suppositions, the heart tolerates contradiction. Can you "prove" to a mother that her child is undeserving of her love? It's not that she is blind to his deficiencies and transgressions -- it's simply that they are irrelevant to her love. Outrage and devotion, judgment and acceptance, pain and pleasure -- a heart that loves has room for them all, simultaneously, in its warm embrace.
This, says the Rebbe, is the deeper significance of G-d's evocation of the unquestioning faith of the Patriarchs in His words to Moses. Moses, G-d is saying, you are the mind of My people -- the mind that is the instrument for apprehending My truth and, with it, illuminating the world. You will even comprehend "higher" aspects of My truth than did the Patriarches. But as a "mind," you question My creation of evil and suffering, and can find no rationally satisfying answer. Yet you, too, are a child of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. You, too, have inherited from them the Jewish heart the intrinsic bond with your G-d that cannot be shaken by the most terrible of contradictions.
Seeing is Believing
Therein also lies the significance of the word vaeira -- "and I made Myself seen" -- with which G-d describes His relationship with the Patriarchs, and which give our Parshah its name in the Torah.
There are many ways that a person may come to believe in a certain truth. He may hear of it from a reliable source, it may be proven to him logically, or he may see it himself. Yet there is an essential difference between the perception of sight and all other senses. The other senses are refutable -- they merelyprove something to the person; subsequent developments can undermine the initial conviction. But sight is absolute. The thing perceived may be denied by the entire world, it may be utterly illogical, but the person who has seen it knows it is true. He saw it.
Faith can exist on many levels -- faith comparable to the conviction in something that is heard, for example, or faith as powerful as a logical fact. But the most powerful faith is faith on the level of sight. Faith as sight is absolute; the most blatant rational contradictions cannot shake it. The Patriachs, the "heart of Israel", saw G-d. That is why their faith in Him was not shaken by even the most agonizing "contradictions"
This also explains a puzzling passage in Rashi's commentary on our Parshah's opening verse. On the words "I made Myself seen," Rashi comments: "To the fathers." But the verse itself says, "I had made Myself to be seen to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob...", and every schoolchild knows that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are the three fathers of the Jewish nation. What is Rashi telling us?
The Jewish people are suffering, and G-d's promises seem to only make things worse. To Moses' anguished words, G-d replies "Abraham, Isaac and Jacob never lost faith, they saw Me." Yet Moses and his people are obviously not Abraham, Isaac and Jacob -- that's why they reacted the way they did. So what is G-d telling them?
So Rashi explains: G-d's response to Moses is that He "made Himself seen" to the fathers. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are the progenitors of the Jewish people in every sense of the word. Just as a child inherits the physical and psychological characteristics of his parents, in the same way, each and every Jew inherits the qualities of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Their every trait, experience, and achievement are stamped in our spiritual genes.
Because our fathers' faith in G-d was as absolute and unequivocal as sight, the potential for such faith exists within each and every one of us. No matter what our more external senses perceive, we can delve into our own selves for the inherent ability to see G-d: to sense His commitment to us even in the "darkest" of times.