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Parashat Va’era 5775 — 01/14/2015

Parashat Va’era 5775 — 01/14/2015

Gd spoke to Moshe and said to him, “I am Hashem (Y-K-V-K).  But I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Ya’akov as El Shaddai, but by my Name Hashem I was not known to them.  (6:2-3)

I made My covenant with them, giving them the Land of Canaan, the land of their wanderings, where they lived as foreigners (v. 4).

I will give it to you [i.e. the descendants of the Patriarchs who would be leaving Egypt shortly] as an eternal inheritance.  (v. 8)

I have bolded the two phrases in the latter two verses, because Rav Kook connects the two different Names by which Gd was known to the Patriarchs and their descendants respectively, to their status in the Land of Israel.  The Patriarchs were never able to become settled in the Land of Israel, and were only privy to the “lesser” revelation of Gd as El Shaddai.

What is the connection?  Rav Kook explains:

Dwelling in the Land of Israel means living with a greater degree of Divine Providence.  It is “a land constantly under the scrutiny of the Eternal, Your Gd; the eyes of the Eternal your Gd are on it at all times” (Deut 11:12).

This level of Divine guidance was only possible after they became a nation.  Individuals, even the most righteous, may waver and stumble…

The name Shaddai comes from the word shiddud, meaning “to intervene.”  This Name for Gd implies occasional Divine intervention in the natural realm.  This was the degree of providence that the Patriarchs experienced.

With the formation of Israel as a nation, however, the special providence of the Land of Israel became the Jewish people’s permanent inheritance.  … This Divine Name [i.e. Y-K-V-K] comes from the word lehavot, “to cause to exist.”  Their world was no longer a universe ruled by the forces of nature.  They merited a constant, direct connection to the One Who continually creates and sustains all existence.

Rav Kook appears to be linking the use of the different Names with different levels of Divine Providence.  What does this mean?  Providence comes from “to provide.”  It is the mechanism by which Gd provides for the needs, physical, psychological and spiritual, of all creatures.  In Hebrew, the word normally translated as Providence is hashgachah, which means overseeing (a mashgiach is the one who oversees a restaurant or food plant to make sure the product is kosher).  Providence is Gd’s personal oversight over each and every particle of creation, and the integrated functioning of all parts of creation according to Gd’s plan.  When this oversight appears to violate the laws of nature, the name Shaddai becomes appropriate.

But there is another level on which Gd’s constant oversight takes place, and that is on the level of the laws of nature themselves.  The modern, scientific conception of the laws of nature is that they are built into the fabric of creation and function independently, blindly, to move creation from one state of existence to another.  However creation came into existence, whether Gd created it or it existed eternally and will exist eternally, the laws of nature are immutable and creation is completely under their sway.  If Gd created the laws of nature, he “wound up the clock” so to speak, and then left the universe to run by itself.

The Jewish conception of the laws of nature is quite different.  In the Jewish view, Gd indeed creates the laws of nature, but He is nevertheless actively involved in the activity of creation.  In fact, the regularity that we see and can describe scientifically is not something independent of Gd’s Will.  The regularity is an expression of Gd’s intelligence, but it is actually an expression of His Will, rather than something independent of it.  In other words, Gd chooses to run the world in an orderly fashion; it is not a necessity external to Him.  Therefore if, for reasons of His own, Gd decides to have the universe act differently than it normally does, no problem.  The universe is always doing what Gd tells it to do anyway, all He has to do is tell it to do something a little different at this particular moment, and we, with our limited vision, will see the laws of nature being suspended.

Ramban, to Gen 17:1, ties this concept into Divine Providence and into the two Names of Gd with which we began our discussion:

The reason this Name [Kel Shaddai] is mentioned here is thai it is through [this Name] that hidden miracles occur for the righteous, to “save their souls from death and to sustain them in famine” and to “redeem them from the sword in war,” like all the miracles that were performed for Abraham and for the other Patriarchs, which are hidden miracles, and like all the occurrences mentioned in the Torah, in the Torah portion Im Bechukosai (Leviticus Chap. 26) and in the Torah-portion Vehaya’h Ki Savo (Deuteronomy Chap. 28), in the blessings and in the curses enumerated in those passages, for all these occurrences mentioned there are in fact hidden miracles. For it is not natural that the rains should come in their proper time when we serve Gd, nor that the heavens should be dry as iron when we sow crops in the Seventh Year, and similarly for all such promises found in the Torah. Rather, all these are miracles, and in all these cases the control of the array of constellations is overpowered by Gd, except that there is no noticeable change from the natural course of the world in these miracles, as there is, for example, in the miracles performed through Moses our teacher in the Ten Plagues, the Splitting of the Sea, the manna, the Well of water in the Wilderness, and others like these, which were wonders that changed nature in an obvious manner. Those open miracles are brought about through the Unique Name of Gd (YKVK) which [Gd] told Moses]. This is why [Gd] told Abraham now that He is “the Powerful One Who Conquers the Forces of Nature” (that is, “El, Shaddai”). The use of this name indicated that [Abraham] would overcome his natural fate and father children, and that there would be a covenant between [Gd] and [Abraham’s] descendants forever to the effect that His people (Israel) would be the portion of Gd, meaning that He would guide them directly by El’s will and that they, too, would not be subject to the control of stars and constellations.  (Artscroll’s translation)

I think what we have here is an evalution of reality from two different levels of consciousness.  On one level of consciousness we see that nature functions smoothly, and only occasionally do we get a glimpse of Gd’s intervention in the running of creation – this appears to be the Kel Shaddai level (Kel has the connotation of power, in this case the power to intervene).  When we reach a higher stage of awareness, we evaluate even the “smooth running of nature” as nothing other than Gd’s ever-present guidance of the universe towards its ultimate fulfillment.  This is the Y-K-V-K level of perception.  That Name has as its root being.  Gd is pure Being, and He manifests Himself as all the beings we see around us.  There is nothing outside of Gd, and there is no activity that is not Gd’s activity.  When we reach this level of awareness, everything miraculously glows with Divine light!

The Sacks Haggadah

Essay 14: The Missing Fifth

There are a lot of fours in the Seder: the four cups of wine, corresponding to the four expressions of redemption in Gd’s promise to take us out of Egypt, the four children, the four questions.  Four sets of four.  May the fours be with you (I stole that from a cell phone billboard I saw in St. Louis – the company’s phone number was 444-4444.)  R. Sacks points out that in each of these cases there is a fifth item.  There are five cups of wine – the cup of Elijah is the fifth.  There is a fifth expression of redemption – Gd’s promise to bring us into the Land of Israel (the first 4 only relate to release from Egyptian bondage).  There is a fifth child – the child who isn’t even at the Seder with us, having been lost to our people through assimilation or worse.  And there is a fifth question that was asked when the Temple stood – why do we eat only meat roasted on the fire (a requirement for the Paschal sacrifice)?  There is even a fifth set of 5 items – there are 5 verses in Deuteronomy, in the passage where the first fruits are offered.  They, too, have a 4+1 structure.  The first 4 verses are a historical synopsis of Jewish history, and the fifth relates to our entry into the Land.  So now we have 5 sets of 5.  May the fives be with you too!

In all these cases, the fifth expression brings to our awareness something that is lacking.  The cup of Elijah is poured, but not drunk, because there is a lack of clarity among the Sages whether or not it should be drunk.  The fifth expression of redemption, the fifth verse in Deuteronomy, the fifth question, all highlight the fact that we are in exile from our Land.  Even if we actually have the good fortune to live in the Land of Israel, there is no Temple and no offerings; Gd’s Face is “hidden.”  And the fifth child is a big empty spot at our table and in our hearts.  We have a lot of work to do to redeem the world, and even if it is not given to us to complete the task, neither are we free to desist from it either.