Worse is Better1
Elokim spoke to Moshe and said to him, “I am Hashem.” I appeared to
Avraham, to Yitzchok, and to Yaakov as Kel Shakkai, but with My Name Hashem
I did not make Myself known to them.
Moshe gets a good deal more than he bargained for, it would seem. We
understand his doubts about a mission he never wanted. Always prepared to
take up the cause of his people, Moshe had voiced his disappointment a few
pesukim prior. “Why have you done evil to this people; why have you sent
me?...You did not rescue Your people!” We also note, however, that he
received an answer sufficient for the question. “Now you will see what I
shall do to Paroh…” You think, Moshe, that something has gone terribly
awry? Don’t worry. I assure you that nothing has changed. You don’t
understand why things have taken a turn for the worse. That may be, but do
you really need to understand? Surely humans need not understand what they
cannot – the Mind of G-d. You will be glad to know that nothing we discussed
has changed, and that the end of the ordeal is in sight.
That could have worked. Hashem, however, wanted to tell him more. Even if we
did not know what events were about to occur, we could detect something
profound and momentous in our pesukim, where three different Names of G-d
are juggled in a single breath. Elokim speaks, telling Moshe that He is
Hashem, the revelation of Whose nature is only now going to become a
reality, having been hidden from the Avos who knew Him in the capacity of
What do these three Names mean to us?
Elokim works in and through Nature. He is the invisible cause of all that is
observable and visible. In the world of natural cause and effect, the
predicament of the Jews was entirely unremarkable. The Egyptians were strong
and immoral; the Jews small and powerless. That the former enslaved the
latter is hardly surprising. Nothing, however, simply “happens.” Behind all
predictable phenomena is Elokim, the One Who masterminded all the conditions
that produced their results. There was a reason that the Bnei Yisrael found
themselves in such dire straits. (We will return later to examine it.) All
that has happened was foreseen and coordinated by a Divine Will.
While the Name “Elokim” sufficed to explain the state of affairs current at
the time of Moshe’s conversation with Him, G-d advances the argument to the
next rung. Something new will be added. He tells Moshe, “Ani Hashem.” The
four-letter Name combines the words for was, is, and will be. All Being is
resident in Him. The new and unexpected are completely possible, because
everything that we think of as new exists within Him. Hashem tells Moshe
that the rules are changing. From here on, He will display His Will
independent of existing conditions. Predictions based on perceived causes
and their effects would fail; anything would become possible.
This is a sea-change, Hashem goes on to say, because the Avos never saw such
a manifestation of this aspect of Him. He related to them with the Name “Kel
Shakkai,” the G-d of sufficiency. When the Avos needed help, He was there to
provide it, providing assistance proportionate and sufficient to the need,
but keeping within certain bounds. From this point on, there would be no
bounds, no limits.
Ironically, showing Himself to human beings to be the G-d Without Conditions
required certain conditions! In them, Moshe is shown the answer to his
question about the downward trajectory of the fortunes of the Bnei Yisrael.
This is what Hashem says to him. You are pained, Moshe, by the worsening
treatment of the people. Have you noticed that this is nothing new, and
that the history of the people almost from its beginning has been travelling
on a downward slope? Avraham was received as a respected “prince of G-d” by
those with whom he met. Two generations later, his grandson Yaakov was
reduced to near-slavery in the house of Lavan. Even in Avraham’s lifetime,
things did not go according to “expectation.” It would not have been
difficult for Hashem to have granted Avraham a family much earlier in life
than the age of one hundred. His children could have flourished from his
tutelage, and thrived to become the beginning of a new nation.
This, though, would not have worked. The people that emerged from such a
conventional background might have become a nation that served G-d, but not
one in which G-d becomes revealed as the absolute Master and Source of all
being! A people created by the same natural processes as created all other
peoples would look to its own resources and power for its security. It would
turn to spiritual endeavors only in the space allowed for it by small gaps
in its materialism.
This was not G-d’s plan for His people. He wanted that people to have no
foundation and no recourse to their own power. Everything that they would
have should come from Him, and be devoted to serving Him. Every aspect of
their existence would point to Hashem.
Most importantly, this people would remind the world of the human gift of
Any fundamental dependency on material factors would leaves people with that
much less freedom. Hashem wished to create a people whose existence and
survival would point to transcending all dependency, all limitation. Their
utter dependence upon G-d and G-d alone would point to the Source of full
freedom of human will. G-d’s absolute free choice would be the engine that
drove theirs. The world would not be able to explain the latter without the
former. Through the Jewish people, a humankind for whom freedom of will was
lost and forgotten by being mired in the physical could once again remember
it. Through them, the rest of the world would reclaim the freedom of will
that is one of Man’s most important gifts.
To make this work, the Jewish people could not develop like other nations
did. It would have to begin in abject need and vulnerability, looking at
itself in despair and loathing. Bnei Yisrael would have to rebound from the
abyss, from a place that others would regard as beyond hope. When life would
stir in its almost lifeless corpse, all would recognize in it nothing less
than the creative call of Hashem Himself. In Him, and Him alone, mankind
could find freedom.
1. Based on the Hirsch Chumash, Shemos 6:2-3
2. Shemos 5:22-23
3. Shemos 6:1