by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parashas Va'eira(66)This sedra begins the story of the Ten Plagues that G-d "bestowed" on Pharaoh & his country as a prelude to the Israelite's Exodus from Egypt. The sedra begins with G-d's dramatic and profoundly meaningful words to Moses, (Exodus 6:2-8) after the latter complained that the People's plight in Egypt had only worsened since Moses approached Pharaoh.
I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob with [the name] Almighty G-d ("Eil Shaddai"), but with My name "Hashem" I did not become known to them. "I have commented on the following Rashi-comment previously so I will only do so briefly here then go on to the Ramban's additional insight.
But with My name "Hashem" I did not become known to them.. Rashi: "I did not make known to them" is not written here. But rather "I did not become known to them." I was not recognized by them in My characteristic of truth because of which I am named Hashem which implies faithful to uphold My word - for I promised, but have not fulfilled [My word].
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?
Rashi notices a subtlety in language and expands on it. In fact, G-d did appear to the forefathers - to Abraham and Jacob - with His name Hashem. (See Genesis 15:7 & 28:13)
But while G-d did use His special name "Hashem" when He spoke with both Abraham and Jacob, He did not act to towards them as the name Hashem implies, that is in G-d's special characteristic of that name - which is Truth.
This shows us that G-d's various names are not arbitrary appellations; each name conveys one of G-d's characteristics. The name Hashem conveys that aspect of G-d that promises and keeps His word by fulfilling His promise.
THE RAMBAN'S INSIGHT
The Ramban, as he often does, explores more deeply the meaning of the verse.
He explains the difference in the meanings of G-d's different names - Eil Shaddai & Hashem ( spelled: Yud, heh, vav, heh).
Ramban says in essence:
G-d appeared to the Fathers with the Name (Eil Shaddai ) that rules the natural forces in the world and thus does great miracles which however do not disrupt the natural order. He fed them in times of draught, and saved them in times of war, gave them wealth and honor which are the rewards in this world . Because, in the rules of nature, no rewards or punishments will be bestowed upon a person as a result of his mitzvos or sins, except by means of a miracle. For if a person were left to natural causation his moral and religious actions would add nothing to his well-being. Thus all rewards in this world are by means of hidden miracles, which onlookers would consider as natural occurrences. But which are in truth the rewards and punishments for his actions. That is the reason the Torah expands only on these worldly rewards but does not discuss otherworldly rewards for these latter are miracles against natural law. But the soul's preservation in the spiritual world is a natural consequence of the soul's spiritual, non physical make-up.
Thus, G-d said to Moses I appeared to the Forefathers with the power by which I rule nature and My chosen ones but with My name Hashem ( spelled: Yud, heh, vav, heh)
By which I created all that exists (The word spelled Yud, heh, vav, heh, has the meaning of "Being" i.e. existence) by that name I was not yet known to them in order to create on their behalf new miraculous events . Therefore say to Israel that now I will appear as Hashem and will do miraculous things. And they will recognize that |I am Hashem.
That, in essence, are the Ramban's thoughts. His point is that in the Book of Genesis, which detailed the lives of the Forefathers, we find no unusual miraculous events. We find the hidden miracles, which are natural events used as rewards for the righteous. But in the Book of Exodus we will now see open miracles as the Jews are redeemed from Pharaoh.
This is an oblique criticism of Moses. The Forefathers received no open miracles and did not see G-d's promise of receiving Eretz Israel, nevertheless they had deep unswerving faith in G-d. But Moses who saw and would see many open miracles did not show the same strong faith in Hashem. He complained "Why have You done badly to this people?"
IN SUMMARY: Both Rashi and Ramban understand that the names of G-d have deeper significance. It is a fitting introduction to the miraculous events that are to follow.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is available at Judaica bookstores.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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