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Parashat Va’era 5772 – 01/18/2012

Parashat Va’era

Submitted by
Robert Rabinoff

I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Ya’akov as Kel Shakai, but by My Name Hashem I was not known to them (6:3)

I will say that I, H”, will appear to them in the ispaklaria of Kel Shakai, in the sense of “I made Myself known to them in a [mirror | vision]” but my essence, Hashem, I didn’t make known to them, so that they would not look into the clear ispaklaria and would know Me.  Like “and Hashem spoke with Moshe face to face.”  For the Patriarchs [did] know the Explicit Name, but not through Prophecy.    Therefore when Avraham spoke with Hashem he mentioned the Name with the pronunciation aleph-dalet, or aleph-dalet by itself.  For in this case the Patriarchs had revelation of the Shechinah through the “soft midat haDin” and He dealt with them through it, but with Moshe He was known to him and dealt with him using the midat haRachamim using His Great Name.  … Therefore Moshe no longer used the Name Kel Shakai, for Torah was only given through the Great Name, as it says Anochi H” Elokecha.  (Ramban ad loc)

The beginning of our Parashah continues to deal with Gd’s Names – that is, the modalities by which Gd interacts with the world – begun in Parashat Shemot (“Names”).  In our verse Gd tells us that His most essential name is Hashem (Y-K-V-K), but that the Patriarchs were not afforded knowledge of this Name.  Rather they knew him by one of his other appellations, Kel Shakai (note that the replacement of some letters with a K is a common euphemism that allows us to speak of Gd’s Names without actually pronouncing / writing them – you can check the original for the actual spelling).  What is the difference between these two Names, and why was the knowledge of the Patriarchs restricted to Kel Shakai?


When we speak of knowledge of Gd’s Name or Names, we are discussing not only the Names, that is, the modalities of interaction between Gd and creation, but we are also discussing the way those Names / modalities are perceived by different people at different historical junctures.  Thus the Kabbalists describe Prophetic vision as being through an ispaklaria; the word is often translated as lens, but it appears to be a loan word from the Latin specularia, or mirror.  Thus the word carries a connotation of self-reflection; apparently there are different degrees of self-reflection, or self-knowledge, that are available to human beings, and these levels correspond to different levels of perception of the Divine.


Ramban goes on to explain the difference between the level of the Patriarchs and that of Moshe Rabbeinu.  The Patriarchs “did know the Explicit Name, but not through Prophecy.”  If I am translating and understanding this correctly, I think that Ramban is saying that the Patriarchs certainly knew that Gd was transcendent, and that He interacts with the world through both natural processes and through miraculous occurrences as well.  But it appears that this knowledge was in some way incomplete.  Perhaps it was more intellectual and less experiential / perceptual, although certainly their level of experience and perception of the transcendent was far superior to ours.  When we say we “know” Gd’s Explicit Name it’s actually almost laughable, as if a 4-year-old reading about cars in a picture book fancies himself a race driver.  Nevertheless, compared to Moshe Rabbeinu, the “Father of all Prophets,” there was a difference.


The Name Kel Shakai is sometimes homiletically translated as “the Gd who said ‘enough!’ [dai].”  Saying “enough” implies creating boundaries, and the realm of boundaries is the realm of nature.  The realm of nature and natural law is one that is characterized by the midat haDin, the Attribute of Strict Justice.  In the realm of nature there is no leeway for exceptional circumstances.  If you jump off a cliff you will fall to the bottom, no questions asked.  Apparently this was the level of perception of the Patriarchs.  To be sure, beginning with Abraham the Patriarchs recognized that Gd was the Creator of the universe and that the universe was under His continual supervision, but it seems that Ramban is telling us that there is a level of natural, or seemingly natural, cause-and-effect functioning by which Gd exercises this supervision.  Thus Gd was known to them as Kel Shakai.


In the case of Moshe Rabbeinu, on the other hand, it appears that his knowledge, and by this I mean his deep, intuitive, perceptual knowledge, not simply his intellectual understanding, was of a more essential aspect of Gd’s nature.  The Explicit Name of Gd represents Gd’s transcendental being, that is beyond nature, that created nature, and that can alter nature’s functioning at will.  I believe Ramban is saying that while the Patriarchs had an intellectual understanding of Gd that included this understanding, Moshe Rabbeinu had some kind of direct, perhaps perceptual knowledge of Gd’s transcendental nature.  By contrast, I am writing mere words that I have considerable trouble even getting my head around a little bit, as you can probably tell as you read this.


What is the source of this difference?  I think one part of the answer is the need of the people at the time.  A famine, a more or less natural occurrence, was enough to get the nascent Israelite nation down to Egypt.  To get them back out would take 10 plagues, each more severe and each more miraculous.  Thus Kel Shakai was sufficient for the Patriarchs’ needs, while it would take the full power and potential of Gd’s great Name to handle the Exodus.


A second part of the answer may be the relative level of the individuals involved.  Ramban uses the Rabbinic term ispaklaria, a lens or mirror.  The clearer the lens/mirror, the more clearly we can see through it.  In our case, the “mirror” is our mechanism of perception, our body, our nervous system.  We all, even at our much lower level, experience that when we are well-rested and our mind is settled, we perceive things more clearly and are able to interact with the environment in a more appropriate and successful manner.  Moshe Rabbeinu is called the “Father of all Prophets” – that is, the greatest prophet ever to live.  If this is true then in some way his “mirror” must have been clearer in some sense even than that of the Patriarchs.  For individuals on the level of our Patriarchs and Moshe Rabbeinu I don’t think I can grasp the fine level of distinction between them, but I have been fortunate to have interacted with some very highly developed people, and it is clear that their minds and their personalities are functioning in a way that gives them access to more of their innate potential than the rest of us.  Perhaps Moshe Rabbeinu was able to access a level of integrated functioning that the Patriarchs hadn’t reached, one which reflected more of the integrated, transcendental value expressed by Gd’s Explicit Name.


I would like to consider one more possibility.  We believe that Gd has a plan for creation, a plan in which each of us has a rôle to play.  Some of us have bigger rôles and some smaller, but the main point is that if each of us does his or her job to its maximum potential, the master plan will reach its conclusion – the final Redemption – more quickly.  Moshe Rabbeinu’s rôle is, of course, central, for it was he who interacted directly with Gd and brought Torah down to earth.  That is, Moshe Rabbeinu’s job was to take the blueprint of creation, heretofore residing with Gd in the highest Heavens, and implement it on earth.  Now, as Ramban states: Torah could only be given through the Great Name, as it says Ani H” Elokecha.  In order to perform this function, Moshe had to raise himself to a level where he could access the potentiality of Gd’s Great Name.  For the Patriarchs to perform their function, perhaps such a level was not necessary.  It may also be that they laid the groundwork on which Moshe Rabbeinu could build; without their striving upward, it would have been impossible for Moshe to achieve what he achieved.  As Newton famously put it, “If I have seen further than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”


It is likely that none of us will ever, in this lifetime, even remotely approach the level of perception of Gd that our Patriarchs and Moshe Rabbeinu experienced.  We can, however, organize our lives around the Torah that they have taught us and thereby elevate ourselves to the maximum extent possible.  Then we will be best prepared for whatever comes next, be it the Redemption in this world or the life of the World to Come.