8.2. A Promise to the Patriarchs is Realized for Their Descendants (6:2-5)

(2) God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the Lord.

(3) I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make Myself known to them by My name ‘Lord.’

(4) I also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners.

(5) I have now heard the moaning of the Israelites because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant.

(2) God spoke to Moses: Here the Almighty explains the current situation to Moses, and in the next passage he instructs Moses what to say to the people. This explanation is the answer to Moses’ question: “O Lord, why did You bring harm upon this people?” (5:22). In the verse that followed that question, God first offered a short answer, and now He elaborates on that answer.

These words are meant as a criticism to Moses, who seems at a loss whenever problems arise. When God appeared to the Patriarchs and gave them promises, they accepted those promises on their own terms. But Moses, at the first sign of any difficulty, starts in with reproaches to God. We noted earlier[1] that Moses’ claims are in fact entirely natural, which underscores a difference between the ancestors and their descendants. In the era of Patriarchs, the fulfillment of God’s promises is fundamentally impossible; it is their destiny only for the future. The ancestors therefore live on the promises alone, confident that even if they cannot themselves realize their aspirations. their descendants will. And for this they are prepared to wait.

But in the era of the descendants the promises must be fulfilled, and they will soon experience a crisis if that fulfillment is delayed. It is therefore essential that the descendants see things in the proper perspective, so as not to grow despondent when promises are fulfilled more slowly than they had hoped.

God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the Lord”: It is essential here to note the contrast of “God” and “the Lord.” In the original Hebrew these are Elohim and HaShem (the Tetragrammaton), which represent the attributes of Judgment and Mercy, respectively. God is saying to Moses: “I, the God of judgment, am also the Lord of mercy.” That is, the manifestations of these two attributes are both aspects of the One God.

This principle is among the most fundamental in Jewish monotheism. Those phenomena in the world that seem to manifest God’s strict judgment actually derive from His desire for mercy. The universe is so designed that it is often necessary to act with severity in order for mercy to be realized. Thus, God’s message here is that the recent intensification of the Egyptian oppression was a matter of historical necessity.

(3) I appeared: The Hebrew is Va’era, which is also the name of this entire weekly portion. It explains, the differences between the manner of God’s appearance to the Patriarchs versus His appearance to the world at the Exodus.

To Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: The essence of everything that is happening is contained in God’s covenant with the Patriarchs.

As El Shaddai: The Divine name El Shaddai, “the All-Mighty” (literally, He Who never lacks sufficient [power]”) indicates that the Divine promise will be fulfilled, even if for now it still remains only a promise.

But by My name “Lord”: This is the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, the Divine name that represents the attribute of Mercy – fulfillment of the promise.

I did not make Myself known to them: The Patriarchs knew the Name “Lord,” of course, but they never “knew” it the sense of actually experiencing it, because the Divine word in their era remained only a promise. The time for its fulfillment had to wait until now.

(4) I also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners: The first reason that the Egyptian oppression has been temporarily intensified was stated earlier, and now the second reason is given.

I also established My covenant with them: Because God’s promise could not be fulfilled in the era of the Patriarchs, he “established the covenant,” i.e., He vowed to fulfill the promise in its proper time.

To give them the land of Canaan: The essence of the covenant of the Patriarchs is that the nation would eventually acquire its own Land. It was therefore important to break the Jews’ connection with Egypt, so that their connection to Canaan (i.e., the Land of Israel) could later be forged.

The land in which they lived as sojourners: The Patriarchs lived as sojourners – aliens – in the Land, and as such did not actually own it. That is how it was at the stage of the promise, but now, with the fulfillment of that promise, their descendants will own the Land.

(5) I have now heard the moaning of the Israelites because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant: This is now the third reason for the intensification of oppression. The Egyptians so brutally subjugated the Israelites, that their very survival was in peril. In order to ensure the fulfillment of the covenant, the Almighty escalated and accelerated the entire process in order to bring the Jews out of Egypt ahead of schedule.

Thus, God’s response to Moses question, “O Lord, why did You bring harm upon this people?,” consists of three distinct aspects: (1) The attribute of Mercy (“the Lord”) often takes the form of Judgment (“God”) in its outward appearance; (2) The Jews’ psychological connection to Egypt must be broken; (3) The people are not prepared for the Exodus, because it is happening sooner than originally planned. This is one of those times when God must act harshly in order to hasten events.

[1] See §7.6.


Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

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