And the Lord (Elo-him) spoke to Moses and said to him 'I am God (Y/H/V/H). I revealed Myself to Abraham to Isaac and to Jacob as El Shaddai, but by My Name Y/H/V/H, I did not make known to them.' [Exodus 6:2-3]
This week's Torah portion begins with a strange declaration, in which an aspect of God not known by our spiritual forefathers is revealed to Moses. Why does God choose this moment to impart this information?
Furthermore, didn't Moses already know this? When Moses witnessed theSneh, the Burning Bush, God declared:
The Lord further said to Moses, 'Thus say to the Children of Israel, Y/H/V/H the Lord of your fathers, the Lord of Abraham, of Isaac and Jacob, sent me to you. That is My Name forever, that is My memorial from generation to generation.' [Exodus 3:15]
In order to understand this statement, let us take a closer look at the various names of God.
The name Elo-him means All Powerful, or Almighty. It is the aspect of God which is connected with creation, and it implies dominance over nature.
In the beginning Elo-him created heaven and earth. [Genesis 1:1]
The Kabbalists point out that the numerical value of Elo-him equals hateva,which means nature, or the natural world. This name is indicative of one particular relationship which God has with man, but it does not describe the essence of God on His terms.
One could argue that from our perspective, this is the only aspect which is relevant. We, as created beings, can only relate to God as a creator. This seems to be the aspect of God which the Patriarchs related to, and only to Moses is another aspect of God revealed.
The name Y/H/V/H, also known as the Ineffable Name, the name which is so holy that man is not even permitted to pronounce it, has a different meaning. It implies the transcendental -- the aspect of God which is, by definition, beyond human understanding.
* * *
THE BURNING BUSH
A closer look at the encounter at the Burning Bush clarifies the underlying issue:
And Moses was a shepherd of the flock of his father in law ... and he came to the mountain of Elo-him in Horev. [Exodus 3:1]
In other words, we are told that Moses is seeking the God of his forefathers,Elo-him.
An Angel of God Y/H/V/H appeared to him from the midst of the fire from within the bush. And the bush was burning but it was not being consumed. And Moses said 'I will turn and look at this great sight, why is the bush not being burnt?' And Y/H/V/H saw that Moses turned to look, Elo-him called to him from within the tree and said, 'Moses! Moses! And he said, 'Here I am.' [Exodus 3:2-4]
While Moses was seeking the God of his forefathers, the ineffable, transcendent aspect of God was revealed to him, but Moses did not seem to understand the significance of the revelation.
The tradition which he possessed, passed down from the Patriarchs, concerned the aspect of God which we call Elo-him, the God of Nature. But the Burning Bush is a contradiction of nature -- something which is burning but not being consumed. It is a symbol of eternity, a statement of infinity.
Moses turns to see but does not grasp the meaning, and at that point Elo-himcalls out to Moses.
* * *
THE HOLY LAND
Moses is then told that the land upon which he stands is holy, and is instructed to remove his shoes.
Interestingly, this is the first time in the Torah that we are told of the holy land. What is the holy land ? For that matter, what is the meaning of holy ?
We are taught by the Sages that holiness is synonymous with separateness. [See Rashi Vayikra 19:2] If that is the case, then this land is separate, different from other lands.
The only other such case in the Torah is the Garden of Eden. We are told, after Adam and Eve are banished from Paradise, that ethereal beings armed with fiery swords now guard the entry to the Garden and its Tree of Life. Could there be a connection between the Garden of Eden and this passage?
The Garden and the Burning Bush are both places where God's transcendence is felt:
And they heard the voice of God, the Lord, walking in the breeze of the day. [Genesis 3:8]
There are actually many connections between the beginning of the Book of Exodus and the Book of Genesis.
1) The ten plagues should be seen as a parallel to the ten utterances which created the natural world. In a sense the world was brought about via ten statements, and these ten plagues serve as an illustration of God's power which transcends nature. The Ten Commandments must also be considered in this context.
In other words, we see:
- creation via ten statements,
- destruction via ten actions, and
- reconstruction via ten statements/commandments.
2) The procreation of the Jews in the land of Egypt should be paralleled with the commandment to procreate mentioned in Genesis.
3) Moses killing the Egyptian to protect his brother should be paralleled with Cain killing his brother.
A careful reading of the text would produce many more connections, but for our purposes, we are most interested in the parallels involving the Burning Bush.
* * *
THE EVENTS AT MT. SINAI
Standing at the Burning Bush, Moses is clearly told that he will return to this same place in order to worship God.
When you have brought the people out of Egypt you shall worship Elo-him on this mountain. [Exodus 3:12]
The purpose of leaving Egypt, then, will not be merely political. The culmination of the Exodus will take place on this same mountain where the Torah will be given.
The Sages see the connection on another level as well:
Rabbi Eliezer Hamodai said, From the day that heaven and earth were created, the name of the mountain was Horev. At the time that God revealed Himself from the midst of the Sneh (Burning Bush) ... the mountain was named Sinai. It is actually the same place as Horev. How do we know that the Children of Israel received the Torah at Horev, as it says (in Deutoronomy 4:10):The day you stood in front of God at Horev. [Pirki D' Rebbi Eliezer 40]
The connection between the Burning Bush and Sinai, the place of the giving of the Torah, is established. However, the parallels run even deeper.
The image of the Burning Bush is replicated at the giving of the Torah, where we are told that God reveals Himself from the midst of the fire:
And the mountain was burning in fire to the very heart of heaven. [Deuteronomy 4:11]
We can now appreciate that the Burning Bush is, in a sense, a microcosm of the Revelation at Sinai. But, why a bush?
* * *
THE TREE OF LIFE
The symbolism of a tree is obvious -- The Tree of Life from the Garden of Eden! And we are taught in Proverbs that the Tree of Life is Torah:
My son forget not my Torah ... She is a Tree of Life to those who hold her. [Proverbs 3:1,18]
In Genesis man failed and was expelled from the Garden. Man never ate from the Tree of Life -- Torah -- rather, erroneously, man ate from the Tree of Good and Evil, often called the Tree of Knowledge.
Once we recognize that the other tree, the Tree of Life, was the tree of Torah, we are forced to reevaluate our understanding of the Tree of Knowledge, the Tree of Good and Evil, called in Hebrew Etz Ha'Daat.
* * *
THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE
Immediately following the episode of the expulsion from Eden we are told that Adam yada, knew, his wife. Apparently the word yada implies an experience. Similarly, Etz Ha'Daat, the Tree of Knowledge, was a tree of experience.
Had Adam obeyed the commandment given to him by God, he would have partaken of Torah first, and then he could have turned to experiences. The problem was that the snake used its seductive, destructive power to lead man away from the Tree of Life.
The idea of the snake in the Garden of Eden is the concept of the death wish, the desire of man to avoid The Tree of Life, indeed, life itself:
Resh Lakish taught, The (evil) inclination of a person attacks him every day and attempts to kill him. [Sukka 52a]
The Sages teach us that the Angel of Death, Satan, and the evil inclination are all one force. [See Baba Batra 16a.] This is the force that the snake represents. The antidote for this force is the Torah.
It was taught in the school of Rabbi Yishmael: If you meet that disgusting one (the evil inclination) drag him into the House of Torah Learning, Beit Midrash. [Sukka 52a]
* * *
Now, all these years later, a new day has dawned. The Book of Exodus represents a new beginning, a new creation. Moses stands in front of the Burning Bush, a tree which represents Sinai. God's transcendence stares him right in the face, yet Moses is still unsure of the significance of the revelation.
And Moses answered and said, 'They won't believe me, nor will they listen to my voice, for they will say, Y/H/V/H didn't reveal Himself to you.' God said to him, 'What is in your hand?' He said, 'A staff.' He (God) said, 'Throw it to the ground.' He (Moses) threw it to the ground and it became a snake. Moses fled from it (the snake). God said to Moses, 'Put out your hand, and hold on to its tail.' He put out his hand, and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand. [Genesis 4:1-3]
The staff, which is, after all, only a piece of wood, can become a snake. When Moses sees this snake he becomes justifiably frightened, not just because a snake is dangerous, but because it symbolizes sin. Our previous experience with a snake had disastrous consequences for the world.
But now, things are different. Standing in front of the Sneh/Sinai/Tree of Life, Moses is shown that he can control the snake. The antidote is in his hands. Evil can be countered. When one connects with the Transcendent God, via Torah, evil can have no hold.
* * *
Now we can better appreciate the opening declaration of this Torah portion, when God reveals Himself (again) to Moses. Immediately preceding this, Moses had posed a serious question to God:
And Moses returned to God (Y/H/V/H), and said, 'Master, why have You caused evil to this people? Why have You sent me? From the time I came to speak in your Name, evil has befallen this people.' [Exodus 5:22-23]
Having come to understood the idea of an infinite, compassionate God who will redeem His people, Moses now questions the suffering of the Israelites. Why does evil still prosper? His understanding led him to believe that all evil should be eradicated as soon as God makes himself known in Egypt.
This is why God must return to the lesson in the beginning of this week's Torah portion. All promises will be fulfilled, the Jews will leave Egypt, they will enter their own land.
But for evil to be destroyed, something else must take place -- the Torah must be received, and its commandments adhered to.
This is the antidote to evil; this is the Tree of Life.
* * *
There is a Kabalistic tradition, cited by the Ramban in the introduction to hisCommentary on the Torah, that the entire Torah, written with black fire on white fire, is in fact the Name of God. [See Chavel, Hebrew edition pp.6-7.) This Name of God is hidden.
The Zohar further teaches that there are 600,000 letters to the Torah. [See Zohar Chadash, Shir Hashirim 74d.] And that every soul has its own connection with Torah. But an actual count of the letters in the Torah yields only 304,805, about half the number that are supposedly there. However, we must take into account both the black fire and the white fire. The Torah consists of elements which are easily discernible -- the letters, the black fire, as well as material which is elusive -- the white fire. God's name is hidden in this world; the task of revealing that name is given to us, the Jews.
Moses had a mission which differed from that of the forefathers. They understood God's greatness through nature -- they connected to Elo-him. Moses, on the other hand, was destined to bring the Torah from heaven down to this world; therefore, Moses needed to understand the idea of the transcendental in order to accomplish his mission.
But for God's name to be completely revealed on earth, all the parts of the Torah must become known. This is the secret of the 600,000 letters. Every Jewish soul must complete its task, must realize its unique connection with Torah. Then and only then will evil have no existence. God's name will then become known and celebrated universally:
And God (Y/H/V/H) Shall be king over the entire earth, on that day God (Y/H/V/H) will be One and His name one. [Zechariah 14:9]