“Parsha and Purpose” – Va’era 5781
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

Our Role in this World: Creating Light and Magnifying God

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Our Role in this World: Creating Light and Magnifying God

What is the role of the Jewish People in the world? What is the significance of our existence as a people?

This week’s Torah portion, Va’era, begins with a perplexing conversation between God and Moshe that I believe will help us understand our role and our relationship as a People with God.

“וידבר אלוקים אל משה ויאמר אליו אני ה’ וארא אל אברהם אל יצחק ואל יעקב בקל שקי ושמי ה’ לא נודעתי להם” (שמות ו, ג)

“And אלוקים, the God of power, spoke to Moshe and He says to him I’m not just the God of אלוקים, of power, I’m also YKVK, an intimate God and I have appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with the name קל שקי but the name of YKVK I have not made known to them.” (Exodus 6:3)  

What does this mean that he has not made the name YKVK known to them? It was written no fewer than 144 times in the Book of Bereishiet, and is actually used several times by God in communicating with our Patriarchs!

What is the message that God is communicating to Moshe?  

I’d like to offer the following approach.  

Throughout the first book of the Torah, the Book of Bereishiet, the focus of God’s relationship is with individuals; Adam and Chava, Noach, Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Yaakov and Yosef.  

These individuals all have a personal relationship with God.

However, in this week’s Torah portion, we find a transition to God having a relationship with the Jewish people.

When God states ושמי ה’ לא נודעתי להם, I have not made the name YKVK known to them, He means, “Until now I have never revealed Myself to a nation. Until now, I’ve only had an intimate relationship with individuals.  

Now, the paradigm is now changing, as we see in the continuation of the verse:  

 “וְגַם הֲקִמֹתִי אֶת בְּרִיתִי אִתָּם”
שמות ו:ד

“And I also established My covenant with them,” I want to engage with the nation, to set up My covenant with them. Exodus 6:4

It is in this week’s parsha that God informs Moshe that His own presence is linked with the actions and destiny of the Jewish people.  

The Talmud tells us when the Jewish people are in exile, when the Jewish people are suffering, that God imposes suffering also upon Himself – the concept of “שכינתא בגלותא” – that when the Jewish people are in exile, God is in exile as well. Megillah 29a

But the flip side is also true: when the Jewish People create light in this world through the observance of the mitzvot, then God’s presence is magnified! 

Rav Kook ztz”l commented on the fact that God is already whole and is therefore unable to grow. He explained that God exists simultaneously in two paradigms: He is, on the one hand, whole and complete. But at the same time, when the Jewish People develop and actualize their potential, His presence is more profoundly seen in the world.

This week we learn that we are an extension of God, created in His image with the capacity – and responsibility – to create light that empowers both ourselves and God.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin

Shabbat Shalom: Va’era (Exodus 6:2 – 9:35) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel -“But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh” (Exodus 9:12) One of the more difficult theological problems raised in the book of Exodus is precisely this verse, in which the Bible declares that it was God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart to be impervious …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Parshat Va’era 5780

“Pharaoh, Frankl & Maimonides:
Choose Your Way”

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“Pharaoh, Frankl & Maimonides: Choose Your Way”

Viktor Frankl, a psychologist and therapist, wrote books that are considered to be among the most powerful works of the twentieth century. He lived from March 26, 1905, to September 2, 1997, and survived at least four concentration camps. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, pp 65–66 he wrote:

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread.  They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom.”

Frankl is talking about what our rabbis called bechira chofshit: free will. In this week’s parsha, Parshat Va’era, God tells Moshe something extraordinary. “VeChizakti et lev Par’o,” “I am going to harden Pharaoh’s heart.”  He is not going to allow you to leave Egypt of his own free will. Maimonides, in his eight-chapter introduction to the six chapters of Pirkei Avot asks this very question.  “How can Pharaoh be held accountable if he lacks free choice? How can a person be punished if he cannot determine his own actions? “ His answer: Pharaoh was not punished for refusing to free the Jewish people once God hardened his heart. All of his punishment, including the hardening of his heart, is due to his criminal acts. He lost his ability to choose because of the way he interacted with the Jewish people prior to that point. The loss of free will, the loss of his humanity, was the first stage of his punishment. Free will is what makes us uniquely human. If we act inhumanely, we lose our ability to make moral choices. Our humanity becomes eroded. Viktor Frankl, a concentration camp survivor, reminds us that whatever challenges we face in life, unlike Pharaoh, God does not harden our heart. Even if we have health challenges, financial challenges, familial challenges, we can decide how we respond to the crises and the opportunities in our lives. Parshat Va’era reminds us that the greatest gift that God has given us is free will. Not even God can intervene with that. Viktor Frankl realized that, while the circumstances of our lives may sometimes be beyond our control, our response to them is our own choice, and, please God, let us engage and face our challenges in a way that will truly celebrate the greatest gift that humankind has, the gift of free will.

 Shabbat Shalom.

Exodus 7:3 – אֲנִי אַקְשֶׁה אֶת לֵב פַּרְעֹה
Exodus 7:13 – וַיֶּחֱזַק לֵב פַּרְעֹה
Exodus 7:22 – וַיֶּחֱזַק לֵב פַּרְעֹה
Exodus 8:15 – וַיֶּחֱזַק לֵב פַּרְעֹה
Exodus 9:7 – וַיִּכְבַּד לֵב פַּרְעֹה
Exodus 9:12 – וַיְחַזֵּק יְקֹוָק אֶת לֵב פַּרְעֹה
Exodus 9:35 – יַּכְבֵּד לִבּוֹ הוּא וַעֲבָדָיו
Rabbi Shmuel Klitsner

Parashat Va’era: The Plague of Boils (Shechin), the Book of Job, and an Ironic Allusion Rabbi Shmuel Klitsner is the chairman of the Susi Bradfield Institute for Halakhic Leadership at Midreshet Lindenbaum, and lecturer in Bible and Philosophy of Halakha. The plague of Boils (Shechin) appears thirteen times in the Tanach, in various passages. Five …

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Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Vaera (Exodus 6:2 – 9:35) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – What makes Moses Moses? He is certainly the consummate prophet, the man of G-d whose vision of ethical monotheism was expressed in a moral code of law which commands to this very day, more than 4000 years later. He is …

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Rabbi Shmuel Klitsner

Parashat Vaera: Nature, Human Nature and the Power of Flexibility By Rabbi Shmuel Klitsner, Chairman of OTS’s Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership  At times, difficulty in interpreting a specific issue in the verses of the Torah can allow us to explore a broader issue in Jewish teachings on life. I feel that this …

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This week’s “Shabbat Shalom” has been dedicated in memory of Florence Bryskin, Tziporah bas Mayer Yitzchok  on the occasion of her yahrzeit – 22 Tevet Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Va’era (Exodus 6:2-9:35) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “And God spoke to Moses and said unto him, I am the Lord, and I appeared unto …

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Parshat Vaera (Exodus 6:2-9:35)  Rabbi David Stav  Last week, as we began the Book of Exodus, we read anew about how the People of Israel became enslaved by Pharaoh. Their conditions worsened with time, but Moshe, chosen by God to speak to the king’s heart, hoped that the despotic ruler would allow the Israelites to leave …

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Parshat Vaera (Exodus 6:2-9:35) Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel — “These are Aaron and Moses, whom God has said are to take out the People of Israel from the land of Egypt…they are Moses and Aaron” [Ex. 6:26-27]. By virtue of an acclaimed Broadway production of recent vintage, many have come to a renewed appreciation …

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