Parashat Vaeira encompasses the first seven of the ten plagues, the cataclysms God utilized to demonstrate to the Jews, the Egyptians, and the whole world that He is the sole master over creation and all its forces. In this context, the term Vaeira ("And I appeared") is quite applicable to the content of the parashah: God "comes out of hiding," as it were, and manifests His supernatural, miraculous power before all humanity.
However, let us recall that the opening words of this parashah are part of God's answer to Moses' incriminating question at the end of the previous parashah: "O God, why have You mistreated this people?" Although we have seen that, in the larger perspective, Moses did not question God's justice with these words, their contextual meaning is that he did. In this context, the parashah's opening words are God's rebuke to Moses; God takes Moses to task for questioning His justice. This is certainly interesting, but it must also be relevant; the Torah would not have recorded an incident that apparently reflects so disparagingly on Moses unless there was some lesson for us in it.
That lesson emerges when we consider the background of Moses' question. Moses was raised in the home of Amram, the most illustrious Jew in his generation, the eldest son of Kehot, the son of Levi, whose tribe selflessly devoted itself to preserving the teachings and traditions the nation received from the patriarchs. Thus, Moses was certainly well-schooled in his youth regarding the patriarchs and matriarchs and their devoted, unquestioning faith in God, which they retained even when that faith had been severely tested.
But he also knew that God is supposed to be kind and merciful, that the Jews are His chosen people, and that their unbearable suffering had exceeded any rational justification. He therefore candidly cried out, screamed, and pleaded: "O God, why have You mistreated this people?!"
The fact that God immortalized this outcry by recording it in the Torah implies that Moses' mistake was not complaining against God per se, but rather something else.
God tells Moses what that missing "something else" was by beginning His rebuke with the words: "I am God, and I appeared," or literally, "and I was seen." Of course, it is impossible to see God, for God has no physical form that can be captured by our sense of sight. But by couching His revelation in these terms, God is saying that it is possible to be as certain of His reality as we are certain about what we have seen with our own eyes.
Seeing something makes a deep impression on us; we trust the truth of what we see implicitly. For this reason, someone who witnesses an incident that is later brought to court cannot serve as a judge for that case. His memory of what he saw renders him impervious to the arguments of the litigants, which cannot sway his version of the events. (In contrast, when we simply hear about something from someone else, a third party can contest the veracity of what we heard and even succeed in convincing us otherwise.)
Thus, God told Moses: "Of course you believe in Me. You have absorbed the teachings of your family and do not doubt Me. But you must nurture your faith further, until it becomes so concrete that you virtually see Me in creation—that your are so sure of My reality that nothing can sway your conviction of it. Then, you will not be troubled by the contradiction between your faith and what your intellect tells you."
Yes, God wants us to use our rational intellect to relate to the world and to Him, and when this intellect tells us that something seems amiss in the way God is running the world, we must not suppress the truth as we see it; we must shout at God: "Why have You mistreated this people?! Why do You allow us to suffer? Are we not your chosen people, your firstborn son? Where is your compassion? Where is your justice?!"
But at the same time, these questions cannot and must not assault in the slightest our absolute and unshakable faith in God's reality and goodness. More to the point, they must not interfere in the slightest with our business of fulfilling all our obligations in terms of God's will for us and our mission on earth. Our impassioned, anguished cry and the accusations we hurl at God must coexist with our enthusiastic alacrity in doing His will and our profound gratitude for the opportunity to perform it.
It is thus significant that this parashah, throughout which the Jewish people are immersed in the depths of the Egyptian exile, is entitled Vaeira—"I was seen." The lesson we are to take from it is that we must simultaneously stubbornly refuse to reconcile ourselves to remaining even one more minute in exile, while at the same time stubbornly refusing to let the fact that we are in exile—in the meantime—interfere with what we have to accomplish right now.
From where, then, are we to draw the power to believe in God so thoroughly that we virtually see Him, even in the darkest moments of exile? God answers this question in His following words: "I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." The patriarchs possessed this unshakable faith, and as their progeny, we inherit it directly from them. According to the Torah's laws of inheritance, the inheritor need not possess any particular or special qualities in order to inherit. He inherits fully and completely just by virtue of being an inheritor.
Our implicit and infinite faith in God is our inheritance to claim. All we must do is nurture it—"shepherd faith"—and we, too, will virtually "see" God. This faith will enable us to live out the final moments of our exile yearning for and demanding its end while maximizing our use of the remaining time. In this merit, we will witness the fulfillment of God's promise: "The glory of God will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together," with the final Redemption ushered in by the Messiah.