PARSHAT SHMOT: THE NAME OF G-D, THE NAME OF ISRAEL, by Daniel Pinner

"Moses and Aharon came and said to Pharaoh: Thus said Hashem, the G-d of Israel: Send out My People, that they may celebrate to Me in the desert. Said Pharaoh: Who is Hashem that I should listen to his voice to send out Israel? I do not know Hashem, neither will I send Israel out" (Exodus 5:1-2).

In addressing Pharaoh with these words, Moses and Aharon were carrying out the charge that G-d had given them in 4:22. The Midrash (Exodus Rabba 514, Tanchuma Vaera 5) records Pharaoh's reaction: He took out his catalogue of all the gods of all the nations and, since he found no mention of Hashem, the G-d of the Hebrews, he responded: "I have searched for his names throughout my archives and I have not found him". There then follows a lengthy dialogue between Pharaoh and Moses and Aharon in which Pharaoh asks the sort of questions about G-d that might be expected of an idolater: How old is he? How many cities has he conquered? How many countries has he captured? How many years since he has ascended his throne?

Was Pharaoh asking genuine questions, or was he being deliberately sarcastic? Moses and Aharon answered Pharaoh precisely: "Our G-d – Power and might fill the universe; He was before the world was created, and He will be after all the world; He created you and gave you the spirits of life…" [Pharaoh] says to them: "Everything you've said from the start is a lie! Because I am the Lord of the Universe, and I created myself and the Nile". Evidently, Pharaoh was not merely sarcastic, he was monumentally arrogant.

We still have to ask: Did Moses and Aharon really believe that Pharaoh would be impressed or frightened at being ordered about in the Name of "Hashem, the God of Israel"? It was surely clear from the start that Pharaoh's attitude would be that a god of a nation of slaves could not be all that powerful, otherwise he would not let his nation be enslaved – hence Pharaoh's (ostensibly sensible) questions – How many cities has your G-d conquered? How many countries has He captured? The very phrasing of Moses and Aharon's ultimatum to Pharaoh – "Thus said Hashem, the G-d of Israel" – seems almost deliberately calculated to guarantee that Pharaoh would refuse them.

There is an obvious reason for Moses and Aharon entreating Pharaoh in the name of "Hashem, the God of Israel": The purpose of the Exodus was not merely to liberate one more nation in the world. Rather, the fundamental purpose of the Exodus was to sanctify the Name of G-d in the world. For this reason, the demand that Pharaoh liberate this nation of slaves had to be made in the name of "Hashem, the G-d of Israel." Had Moses and Aharon appealed to Pharaoh's sense of justice, or argued that salaried workers would yield better results than slaves, or forged an alliance with a foreign army and conquer Egypt and then liberate them, then the name of G-d would not have been sanctified.

And there is an additional reason for demanding the Israelite slaves' redemption, specifically in the name of "Hashem, the G-d of Israel": 430 years before Moses and Aharon stood before Pharaoh, G-d had told Abraham: "Know with certainty that your descendants will be strangers in the land that is not theirs, and they will serve them, and they will oppress them for 400 years. And all the nations that they will serve, I will judge" (Genesis 15:13-14).

The Egyptians could well have claimed that they deserved no punishment for having enslaved the Jews: After all, G-d Himself had decreed the servitude. How, then, could He punish them for carrying out His will?

Well, not only did the Egyptians go way beyond the original mandate - there is a vast difference between subjugating the Jews, and murdering all their baby boys. Had the Egyptians genuinely enslaved the Israelites solely in order to fulfill the Divine decree, then as soon as G-d sent His messengers to demand release, they would have complied. G-d did not fore-ordain that He would punish the nation who would enslave Abraham's descendants, only that He would judge them. And this was a test: Would they obey the Divine decree by freeing the slaves?

For this reason, too, Moses and Aharon had to demand that Israel, the nation which is called by the Name of G-d, be released in accordance with the decree of Hashem, the G-d of Israel; "You are in our midst, Oh Hashem, and Your Name is proclaimed upon us; do not abandon us" (Jeremiah 14:9). Only by being addressed in the name of "the G-d of the Hebrews" could the Egyptians be tried with true justice, prove themselves for good or for bad, acquit themselves or convict themselves. Only thus could the Name of G-d be truly sanctified in this world: "When G-d punishes the Nations, His Name is aggrandized in the world" (Mechilta deRebbe Yishamel, VaYechi 1).

SHABBAT SHALOM

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