“And I appeared unto Avraham, unto Yitzchak, and unto Yaakov, as God
Almighty, but by My name [Hashem] I made Me not known to them.” Parashat Va’era, First Aliyah
Classic commentators struggled to make sense of our verse. Some hold that it means that God had not
revealed Himself to them via the Ineffable name. Others posit that Hashem made promises to them, but
did not fulfil them. Both positions are weak, as we shall now demonstrate.
The first school missed the mark because the Torah writes that God, in His Ineffable name, did
communicate with Avraham. In one instance, the Ineffable name entered into a covenant with Avraham
(in Hebrew the brit bein ha’betarim). On a separate occasion, the Ineffable name commanded Avraham
to undergo circumcision or brit milah. Both verses are explicit.
There are more: “And He said unto him: I am God…”, “And Avram called there on the name of God”, and
“And, behold, God stood beside him and said: I am God…” Here we have proof that the Maker revealed
Himself to the patriarchs by way of the Ineffable name.
The second school falls short, for God fulfilled His promises to the patriarchs. It presupposed that He
conveyed an oath that they would inherit the Holy Land in their lifetimes. That is a blatant misstatement.
God never uttered such a thing. He did foretell, though, that the fourth generation of Hebrews
sojourning in a foreign land would emerge to liberate, and take possession of, Israel.
Other divine promises were made for the patriarchs’ lifetimes, and kept. To Avraham, He foretold that
he would father children. And he did. Similarly, to Yitzchak and Yaakov, God extended promises.
Promises were kept, as we read in those parshiyot pertaining to Yitzchak and Yaakov.
One last clarification for the classic Biblical commentators. They argued that God had not performed
miracles for the patriarchs along the lines that He had done for Moshe. For their proof, they bring the
example of turning Moshe’s staff into a snake. Or another example of something supernatural that the
Creator did for Moshe was the wonder of the prophet’s hand becoming leprous, and then hale again.
We beg to differ. Actually, God generously dispensed miracles to the patriarchs. To begin with, Avraham
was saved from Ur Kasdim’s clutches. Being rescued, unscathed, from Pharoah’s lusty play for Sarai also
ranks as major. Later, the first patriarch experienced supernatural assistance from the Holy One with
Sedom and Gemorrah, culminating in a successful mission to rescue Lot, against all odds. Or what about
Lot’s wife’s punishment? She morphed into a pillar of salt. Given this raft of believe-it-or-not wonders,
who can put forth that God had not performed prodigiously for the patriarchs, as He had with Moshe at
this early stage in his career as a seer?
We now turn and suggest what amounts to a truer read of our verse. Backdrop is essential. At the time
when God reached out to Moshe, both he and nation had grown disillusioned over the prospect of ever
gaining freedom from Egyptian taskmasters. Centuries of exile stripped slaves of their faith, relegating
redemption or geulah to no more than a quixotic pipe dream of yesteryear. “For since I came to Pharoah
to speak in Your name…”
The Maker disabused the prophet of a mindset maligned by despair. Geulah, the prophet heard at
present, was a foregone conclusion. It would absolutely come to fruition for multiple reasons. For
brevity, we bring only the first rationale.
What is the simple reading or pshat on our verse? Let us focus on divine communication, from the
perspective of Hashem. He had not revealed Himself to the patriarchs in a manner by which they could
know Him. God’s messages had come via an intermediary, and not directly or panim el panim.
While it is true that those non-physical intermediators received their dispatches from Above, still and all,
an intimate peek into God remained blocked. A barrier held the patriarchs at bay. When we review the
verse, inserting the Hebrew names for God, we gain clarity: “And I appeared…as Kel Shakai, but by My
name [Hashem], I made Me not known to them.”
The verse informs us of a distance or gap separating the patriarchs and Hashem. Divine communication
had been carried out via Kel Shakai’s angelic messengers. And yes, even on occasion, the
communication had come about through His name – Hashem. Crucial is this. Intimacy or panim el panim
had never been granted to the patriarchs.
This was about to change. Geulah absolutely had to transpire (That was God’s solemn oath.). While in
the desert, redemption would enable Moshe and every single Hebrew access or entrée to God – directly
– each according to their spiritual preparedness and piety. Read: panim el panim (face to face). Said intimacy opens up
avenues to know God’s glory and exaltedness. The patriarchs never attained panim el panim, their
prophecies a notch below. In sum, a sea-change was in the offing, since God sought to upgrade His
relationship with the Jews. For that to happen, geulah became more than an expedient; it became a