Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Parshat VaEra,

Hashem and the Avot

This week's parsha begins with an incredible statement:

"I appeared to Avraham, to Yitschak, and Yaakov with [the name] Almighty God (El Shadai), but My name Hashem (the Lord) I did not become known to them" (Shemot 6:3).

Can this really be true, that the Patriarchs were unaware of God's name Hashem? We actually know that this is not the case. Indeed, Avraham says to the King of Sedom: "I raise my hand to Hashem, the Most High God, Who possesses heaven and earth" Bereshit 14:22).

In order to solve this problem we must examine 3 issues:
  • What does the name El Shadai represent?
  • What does the name Hashem represent?
  • What does Hashem mean when He says that the Avot did not know Him with this name?

When God made a covenant with the Fathers, promising their descendants the Land of Canaan, He did it with the name El Shadai.

We see this firstly with Avraham: at the Brit Millah: " At the Brit Milla: "I am El Shadai; walk before Me and be perfect" (Bereshit 17:1).

When Yitschak passed the blessing onto Yaakov he said: "May El Shadai bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, and you shall become an assembly of peoples. May He give you the blessing of Avraham" (ibid 28:3-4).

God then confirmed this promise to Yaakov: "I am El Shadai; be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a multitude of nations shall come into existence from you, and kings shall come forth from your loins" (ibid 35:11).

Therefore, the name El Shadai represents God's attribute of power to make this promise.

Therefore, when God tells Moshe: "I am El Shadai", He is saying that He is the God of the covenant. However, by adding that He is also Hashem, God is adding a new dimension, i.e. that this promise is about to be fulfilled. The name Hashem represents God's power to fulfil the promise.

Therefore, God reveals Himself to Moshe with both the name El Shadai and Hashem, because He has chosen Moshe to be the person to fulfill the promise.

Therefore, The avot may have intellectually known about God's power to fulfill the promise, i.e., they knew that he had a name called: Hashem. However, they did have any experience of this name. Indeed, they were always strangers in the the land. It was never theirs.

The Hebrew word: "לדעת", "to know" does not refer to intellectual capability. "The man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived" (Bereshit 5:1). Eve did not conceive because Adam knew her intellectually, but because he knew her intimately, he had a relationship with her.

So too, God not let the Avot experience Hashem, i.e. they remained strangers in the Land. Now, however, was the time for Israel and the world, to experience God as Hashem. It was the time for redemption.

Last year's Sedra Short on parshat VaEra, entitled: "Discovering God" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat VaEra, entitled: "Knowing God" appears at

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