The Parsha for this week is V’era. It beings with an extraordinary act of revelation. God speaks to Moses declaring, “I am Yod-Hay-Vav-Hay. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as El Shaddai, but my Name, Yod-Hay-Vav-Hay, I did not make known to them (or I did not make known to them that which my Name Yod-Hay-Vav-Hay implies – Samson Raphael Hirsch).”
This revelation is a response to a question Moses posed at the end of last week’s parsha, when Moses asks the following: “Lahma Harayota et Ha-Am Hazeh, Lahma Shalachtani” –Why have you made misfortune the lot of this people … and why have you sent me (of all people)?”
It is in response to this question that God makes known to Moses an aspect of the Divine that not even Abraham, Isaac or Jacob understood. We might well ask, as did our Sages, why? Why at this moment, and to what purpose? In one of my favorite collections of modern commentary — Mei–Yotzrainu HaYashan ( first published in Poland, 1938) – the following point is made, based on a Rashi on this same verse. Rashi says that God reveals a new aspect of Devine nature because in the days of the Patriarchs and Martriarchs, because, God reveals, “Hivtachti – I promised — v’Lo Kiimoti — but did not establish (or maybe better, did not fulfil)l.”
Rashi suggests that now, in Moses’ time, that the promise of Eretz-Yisrael is about to be fulfilled, and so a new aspect of Divinity will be revealed and must be named. New terminology is required to express and describe the new reality. Mei-Yotzrainu HaYahshan takes this a step further, making a distinction between how God was understood by the individual patriarchs and how God must now be understood and perceived in a new context, not only one of pending redemption and liberation, but now from the perspective of Am Yisrael – Klal Yisrael. A new reality for our people required a new understanding of our God. As Mei-Yotzreinu HaYashan says, “Az Nidreshet lashon acheret l’gamray – consequently a different language, a totally different terminology, was necessary”.
Unfortunately, when Moses goes to explain all this to our ancestors … that God has revealed a new aspect … one whose terminology is rooted is a future tense of the verb to be, implying change, possibility and potential … our ancestors couldn’t grasp it because of Kotzer Ruach — because their spirits had been diminished, crushed by Avodah Kasha, hard labor. They were physically and spiritually spent. They couldn’t comprehend or appreciate the implications of the message Moses brought them.
What can we at ARZA learn from this? That when change is upon us — and so much is changing around us in these increasingly challenging and complicated days — we, too, need to find new terminology, new ways of speaking about Israel, about Zionism and about ARZA’s core mission. However, we are often addressing people who are “kotzer ruach” … who are impatient, exhausted, and sometimes confused by the difficulties and complexities that accompany engagement with Israel at this time and under current circumstances. I think that one challenge we have is to find new ways to address our people who struggle with the Zionist equivalent of “kotzer ruach”, and it has to be done b’kitzur, in ways that are concise, compelling, purposeful and full of confidence and promise. That was the aspect of God Moses learned by asking “Lahma?”…why? We, leaders and proponents of Liberal Zionism here and in Israel, must constantly ask ourselves the same question: “Why … and to what end?” Hopefully, we will discover meaningful answers that reveal new ways to express our ancient Divine truths, and sacred aspirations. So that we can say … to paraphrase Rashi … Ha-ray Hiv-tachti v‘Cayn Ka’aymnu — In those days, God promised, and in our day, yes, we did fulfill … fulfill the promise embodied in Eretz, Am and Midinat … Yisrael.
Kayn Y’hi Ratzon.
Rabbi Jack Luxemberg is Senior Rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, MD.