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Parashat Va’era 5778 — 01/13/2018

Parashat Va’era 5778 — 01/13/2018

Shemot 6:2-9:35

I must begin with a confession – last week’s drash, on parashat Shemot, was actually from a passage (in both Torah and Abarbanel) on this week’s parashah. Oops. Rest assured that this week’s drash is actually (also) on Va’era, as advertised. I might point out, however, that in this week’s drash we’ll be talking about Gd’s Names, which is an area that is touched on more extensively in parashat Shemot. Pardon the switcheroo!

Gd spoke to Moshe and said to him, “I am Hashem. I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov as Kel-Shaddai, but with My Name Hashem I did not make Myself known to them.” (6:2)

Abarbanel points out that Gd absolutely did use the Name Hashem (i.e. Y-K-V-K) when he appeared to the Patriarchs. After dismissing some previous commentators’ explanations, Abarbanel proposes that what Gd is telling Moshe is that Gd was going to relate to him [Moshe] and to the nation of Israel in a fundamentally different way than He related to the Patriarchs. This new way of relating is described as “face-to-face” (panim el panim). The Patriarchs always perceived Gd in a dream or a vision. Moshe Rabbeinu, on the other hand, spoke with Gd directly, while awake, not in a trance. And the entire nation, both at the splitting of the Sea and again at Mt. Sinai, had direct perception of Gd, as our Sages tell us, “The lowliest maidservant at the splitting of the Sea had a clearer perception [of Gd] than [the prophet] Yechezkel ben Buzi.”

What does it mean to have a “face-to-face” relationship with Gd? On the other side of the coin, what does it mean to say that Gd’s “Face is hidden,” as we experience nowadays? Since Gd does not change, the change in the relationship must come from our side. In some way Gd granted both Moshe Rabbeinu (permanently) and the Jewish people (temporarily) some kind of enhanced perceptual abilities, some deeper experience of reality than we ordinarily have access to.

We have often discussed that creation is structured in layers, and that this is true on the spiritual level as well as the physical level. It is possible for the mind to experience these subtler levels as subtler levels of thought. This is something we experience every time we get up in the morning after a good night’s sleep. Our thoughts are generally quieter, our mind is more settled, we are more focused and our actions, based on those quieter, subtler thoughts, are more powerful. After the day’s activity, when we’re more tired, our mind tends to race, we lose focus easily, and our actions are generally less successful.

Subtler levels of thought are less active. Beyond the subtlest level of thought is a state of consciousness that has no content at all, no boundaries of any specific thought. It is eternally silent, as it is beyond time, space and change. Virtually every tradition has meditative techniques that allow one to contact this transcendental level of consciousness. In our Bible we read of schools of prophets, who apparently practiced some technique(s) like this to induce prophecy, and there are other meditative techniques in both Western and Eastern cultures, all of which attempt to bring the mind to the transcendent.

Now although this transcendental level of consciousness is eternally silent, it does have the quality of awareness – this is clear, since we have awareness, and our awareness stems from the transcendental level. Since there are no objects in the transcendent, the transcendental level of consciousness has only itself to be aware of. In our ordinary state of awareness, we experience objects – the observer is separate from the observed, and they are joined by the process of observation. In the case of transcendental consciousness, which can only observe itself, it must take on the role of observer, observed, and process of observation. Once we have a kind of virtual structure within the transcendent, we can get all kinds of patterns of virtual flow, virtual vibration, and this is what structure creation.

Now the important point here is that human beings are able to experience this transcendental state of consciousness. Since it lies at the silent depths of our personality, and we are generally outward-oriented through the senses and the organs of action, we are unfamiliar with our innermost being. However, with practice we can become more and more familiar with the transcendent, and the experience of the transcendent has the additional effect of purifying the individuality, as it itself is the very definition of purity. As we are purified in mind and body, our faculties of perception become clarified, to the point where we can eventually perceive the transcendent not only as deeply silent, but as infinitely dynamic as well.

I believe that the ability to perceive the transcendent as silent and as dynamic together, and to perceive the fine threads of dynamism within the transcendent, is the essence of prophecy. Depending on the level of the prophet, the vision can be perfectly clear (Moshe saw “through a clear glass”) or somewhat clouded (other prophets saw through a “smoky glass”).  As the level of clarity declines, there are lesser levels of insight. Even those of us who are not prophets nevertheless have flashes of insight, fleeting and partial as they may be. And sometimes, apparently, Gd vouchsafes to a large group of people moments of crystal clarity where they can perceive the deep underlying reality behind the surface phenomena of creation – as happened to our people at Mt. Sinai and the splitting of the Sea. Although this clarity may not last, yet the transformation that it creates within those people certainly lasts, and it seems can be passed down to future generations. We are the fortunate heirs of such moments of clarity. We can justify our inheritance by purifying ourselves so that we may merit some degree of revelation ourselves.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Va’era

This parshah begins with Gd telling Moses, “Ani YKVK”: “I Am the Lrd.” Rashi, who we often look to for explanations of Torah passages, explains that with the use of this Name, Gd is telling Moses that He is faithful to His promises and faithful to His promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that He will take them into the Land of Canaan, which will be a permanent home for them, a promise He did not fulfill during their life but which he will fulfill now.

This statement is in response to Moses’ questioning Him after Moses’ going to Pharaoh asking to let the Children of Israel go resulted in Pharaoh’s making their burden worse.

When Moses goes again to the Children of Israel to tell them that Gd is Gd who is faithful and who can free them and will free them they did not listen to Moses .

A lack of trust in Gd is a lack of openness to Gd, a lack of softness of heart and instead a hardness of heart.

So Gd tells Moses to speak with Pharaoh to let the Children of Israel go and He will harden Pharaoh’s heart (obviously already hardened since he is making life so difficult for the Children of Israel) and will “increase My signs and wonders in the Land of Egypt”. These signs and wonders were not just for the Egyptians nor just for the Children of Israel but for all those of hardened hearts. For all generations and all time so that everyone will learn to soften their hearts so they are open to Gd, to Wholeness, Totality, Oneness, and are not lost in fragments of life, superficialities.

Reading and listening to Torah, Talmud, even if it’s only a little; reading and listening to the daily and Shabbat prayers, even if it’s only a little; taking good care of our health (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) help us to be good people, to “love our neighbor as ourselves”—even loving Pharaoh then and loving modern equivalents small and large (and to accomplish with love what anger can never accomplish) and thus, with soft hearts, we become more and more and soon! Fully open to Gd, to “love Gd with all our heart and soul” and to be free—fully and forever free!

Baruch HaShem