The opening verses of this week's Torah portion, Va'eira, contain G‑d's answer to the question posed by Moses at the conclusion of last week's portion, Shemot. In Shemot, G‑d instructed Moses to deliver the famous message to Pharaoh, "Let my People go!" However, when Moses did so, Pharaoh became obstinate and, instead of complying, spitefully increased the workload of the Jewish slaves. The Torah portion of Shemot concluded with Moses' complaining to G‑d, "Why have You made it bad for this nation? Why have You sent me? From the time I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name he has done evil to this nation; You have not saved Your nation at all!" (Ex. 5:22-23)

"Why have You made it bad for this nation?.."

At the beginning of the Torah reading, the Torah recounts G‑d's answer with the words: "And the L-rd [Elokim] spoke to Moses and said to him, "I am G‑d. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob [by the name] 'E-l Sha-dai' but [by] my name 'Havayah' I was not known to them." (Ex. 6:2-3) G‑d then goes on to say that He is about to redeem the Jewish People from Egypt.

To appreciate the full content of this exchange, we must ask how G‑d's response ("I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by the name 'E-l Sha-dai', but not by the name 'Havayah'") is relevant to Moses' question ("Why have You made it bad for the Jews?").

The explanation lies in the different names of G‑d used in the quoted verses. In Hebrew, the phrase: "And the L-rd spoke to Moses" uses the divine name Elokim; the conclusion of the sentence ("…and said to him, 'I am G‑d'") uses the name Havayah. The narrative continues with G‑d pointing out that He was known to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as E-l Sha-dai, but not by the name Havayah.

Let us try to understand the significance of these names. A person can be known by various terms, such as "wise", "kindly", or "strong", each expressing a different aspect of that person. Similarly, the divine names each express a particular G‑dly quality, like "All-Merciful" or "All-Mighty". However, the name Havayah represents not just a specific manifestation of G‑d, but G‑d as He is in Himself, just as a person's proper name refers to the whole person, encompassing all aspects of their personality.

The verse: "On the day that Havayah, Elokim, created Earth and Heaven" (Gen. 2:4) utilizes a combination of the two Hebrew names because to create the universe the combined qualities of these two names were needed. The reason is that although the creation of something from nothing stems from G‑d Himself, Who alone transcends all - even the distinction between "something" and "nothing" - the world could not be exposed to the overwhelming radiance of G‑d Himself (as expressed by the name Havayah) and still maintain an apparently separate, independent existence. Were the undiluted "light" of the name Havayah to shine forth onto the world, the world would simply dissolve into spirituality. In order for G‑d to realize His purpose of creating a physical, finite world, He had to "hide" the full force of His glory from our perception.

The name Elokim expresses G‑d's attribute of restraint. It is this quality which withholds from our perception a total manifestation of G‑d as Havayah. The name Elokim is thus responsible for the world as we know it: everything seeming to follow a natural order, apparently independent of G‑d. (For this reason, the name Elokim is, numerically equivalent to the Hebrew word for "nature".)

The name Havayah is like the sun whose brilliance is overwhelming….

This concept is alluded to in the verse "For Havayah Elokim is a sun and a shield" (Psalms 84:12) - that is, the name Havayah is like the sun whose brilliance is overwhelming, while the name Elokim is like a shield which blocks the sun's full radiance from our perception, so that we may endure it. For the world to be created in such a form as to appear separate from G‑d - thus giving us the opportunity to chose, of our own volition, to worship Him - the effect of both divine names was needed. This, then, is the significance of the verse: "On the day that Havayah Elokim created Earth and Heaven" and the meaning of the concept of the combination of these two names in Creation.

Now, another way to look at the difference between the two names Havayah and Elokim is as follows:

One verse states, "How numerous are Your creations, O G‑d" (Psalms 104:24), while another verse says, "How great are Your creations, O G‑d!" (Psalms 92:6). The first, which speaks of G‑d's creations as "numerous", refers to the countless myriads of creatures G‑d has made in this physical world, each of which possesses its own particular dimensions, characteristics, etc. Their differences result from the fact that a different measure and form of G‑dly life-force is in each. On the other hand, the verse which refers to G‑d's creations as "great" is speaking of the spiritual beings such as angels and souls.

These perceive G‑dliness in a more revealed way than is possible for physical creatures, and delight in that perception. Such beings, too, are diverse from one another, but in a more subtle way. Just as audience members may each understand and appreciate different parts of the same performance or the same speech, so do the angels and souls each understand different amounts and appreciate different aspects of the radiance of G‑d which is perceptible to them. It is these subjective differences which account for the diversity among spiritual beings, as opposed to the objective differences in the G‑dly life force among physical creatures.

…not only material creatures but spiritual beings as well originate through the name Elokim.

In both cases, however - that of physical beings and that of spiritual entities - existence as separate, individual entities (instead of being simply absorbed within the all-inclusive unity of Havayah) would be impossible were it not for the limited manifestation of G‑dliness perceptible to each on its own level. Thus, not only material creatures but spiritual beings as well originate through the name Elokim.

To understand the relation of the name Havayah itself - not "veiled" by the name Elokim - to the above, perhaps we may make the following analogy:

Speech and thought are similar in that each is composed of letters and words. The spoken word takes on an existence of its own as it leaves the speaker, while the words that make up a person's thoughts remain one with the thinker. Metaphorically, the creations of the physical universe were each brought into being by the appropriate words of G‑d's "speech" (i.e. "And the L-rd said, 'Let there be...'") and thus appear to posses independent existence; the angels and souls, as discussed above, experience a level of G‑dliness which is united with G‑d yet comprehensible on different levels - similar to the different words of G‑d's "thoughts". Yet there is a level above both of these, which is not only united with G‑d Himself, but indivisible into different parts. This is analogous to the intellect itself, an aspect of the person that transcends separation into particular thoughts or words, yet is the abstract source of them all. No discrete entity, whether word or thought, can exist at this level, which is comparable to the name Havayah alone.

Since the name Havayah allows for no independent existence, it is in the singular. The name Elokim, by contrast, because it is the source of all diversity, is actually plural by the rules of Hebrew grammar.

All the above is alluded to in the verse: "Great is Havayah and highly praised, in the city of our Elokim, His holy mountain" (Psalms 48:2). Our sages comment, "When is He 'great'? When He is in 'the city of our L-rd'" (Zohar III:5a). The meaning of this is as follows: Havayah is, indeed, great - but it is impossible for this greatness to be appreciated by any being, since no independent existence is possible in relation to G‑d as Havayah. When, then, can G‑d's greatness be seen? Only when it is expressed through "the city of Elokim".

The mystical work, Sefer Yetzirah, attributed to our forefather Abraham, compares individual letters of the (Hebrew) alphabet to bricks or building stones; words - formed of these "letter-bricks" - to houses; and groups of words, forming entire sentences and more, to a city. The "city of Elokim" is a reference to these innumerable words and sentences of G‑d's thought and speech, so to speak - made possible by the name Elokim - that brought into being all the diverse entities in Creation. "When is He 'great'? When He is in 'the city of our L-rd'": For it is only by contemplating the multitude and splendor of G‑d's creations, that one can come to appreciate something of the greatness of G‑d.

We humans, as created beings whose perspective stems from a point subsequent to the "concealment" of G‑d Himself, can only achieve an awareness of G‑d Himself (as expressed by the name Havayah) through contemplation on G‑d as He has concealed Himself within nature (as expressed by the name Elokim). A person can be inspired and moved to awe by majestic mountains, broad seas, or particle physics, for example. He or she can even come to appreciate, through Torah-guided reflection on these things, that they are all literally nothing in relation to G‑d, their Creator, which appreciation can cause those feelings of awe to blossom into love and yearning for the Creator Himself, G‑d as He transcends creation. But this love and yearning for G‑d Himself (Havayah) must of necessity be achieved through love and awe of G‑d as manifest within nature (Elokim), which is a necessary stepping-stone in bridging the unfathomable gap between us and the transcendent G‑d.

In truth, even this latter love of G‑d Himself is a love which, after all, has its source in our human efforts. However, if we have reached as high as our mortal limitations allow and achieved this level of love, G‑d may reward us by bestowing upon us from Above the attainment of a love whose source is not rooted in material existence, but is truly a love of G‑d as He is in Himself - utterly transcendent and unreachable through worldly existence. It is this which is our goal in striving to develop love of G‑d.

To get to Havayah, it was necessary to go through Elokim....

G‑d's reply to Moses was based on the above concepts. At the beginning of the verse, the Torah states, "And Elokim spoke to Moses and said to him, 'I am Havayah'" - meaning that to get to Havayah, it was necessary to go through Elokim. The divine name Sha-dai is allegorically interpreted in the Talmud as referring to G‑d having said to His world, "dai", meaning "enough" (Chagigah 12a). This is a reference to the limits which G‑d imposed on the extent of His manifestation within Creation.

Each of our forefathers is identified with a particular G‑dly attribute; specifically, Abraham is identified with love of G‑d and Isaac with fear or awe of G‑d. The statement "I appeared unto Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by the name E-l Sha-dai" is a mystical reference to the fact that the qualities associated with Abraham and Isaac - love and fear of G‑d respectively - were put within the reach of humankind; this, however, was only from within this limited, created, perspective, meaning only through contemplation and reflection on G‑d's greatness as manifest in the world, as explained above. Our forefathers themselves achieved the very utmost in love and fear of G‑d, including the level of love and fear bestowed from Above after first having reached the limit of one's ability to appreciate G‑d through contemplation of His manifestation as Elokim. Nevertheless, "…by My name Havayah I was not known to them": even our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were not granted the ability, as created beings, to link to G‑d as He is in Himself, not in combination with the name Elokim, utterly transcendent of Creation.

Each mitzvah is a conduit of sorts….

For this, the Torah was necessary. For G‑d as He is in Himself is not revealed to a person no matter how long they meditate. However, in His unbounded love for us Jews, G‑d gave us the Torah, whose precepts - the mitzvot - do, literally, connect us, through their observance, to G‑d Himself, G‑d as Havayah alone. Each mitzvah is a conduit of sorts, drawing down upon the person who performs it a true attachment to G‑d at this sublime level. (As we say in the blessing before performing a mitzvah, G‑d has "sanctified us by His commandments.") And this is reflected in the teaching of the Zohar on the verse "What profit has a man of all his labor that he labors under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:3): "The Torah is different, for its labor is above the sun." This refers to the fact that the Torah's spiritual level is much higher than the level of Havayah as expressed through Elokim, about which it is said that Havayah is a sun and Elokim is a shield. Instead, the Torah and its mitzvot connect us directly to Havayah alone - G‑d as He is in Himself.

Since G‑d intended to redeem the Jews from Egypt and give us His Torah, he answered Moses as He did. For, in accordance with the spiritual principle of "ratzoh v'shov" ("ebb and flow"), a spiritual "flow" of such magnitude as the bestowal of the Torah had to be preceded by an "ebb", similar to the way, for example, the waters of the sea recede before returning as a wave, or the way a vaccine is sucked up into the vacuum of a syringe before being injected into the patient. The greater the intended flow, the greater must be the ebb that precedes it. A small wave is preceded by a relatively small receding of seawater; a larger wave by a larger ebb; and a great and fearsome tidal wave is preceded by an ominous receding of all the water at the shore. For the great and mighty "tidal wave" of G‑d's revelation of the Torah, there had to be a correspondingly great "withdrawal", as it were, of G‑d's influence first. That is the spiritual reason for the Egyptian exile: to prepare the way for the overwhelming revelation of G‑dliness that followed in the giving of the Torah.

Indeed, it was that "ebb" of G‑dliness that allowed for the possibility of the Egyptians oppressing the Jews. As G‑d dwells in Heaven, so to speak, all creatures derive their existence from Him, including non-Jewish nations. However, G‑d only bestows His presence in this physical world on His People, the Jews. (This is because they actually draw G‑d into the world through performance of Torah and mitzvot.)

With G‑d "withdrawn" into the Heavens, the Egyptians faced no obstacle to ruling over the Jews, for they derived their spiritual sustenance from the same basic level.

That is also the explanation of the Talmudic teaching: "Why was [the place the Torah was given] called 'Mount Sinai' [a play on the Hebrew word for "hatred"]? Because hatred descended [there] to the Gentiles" (Shabbat 89b); prior to the giving of the Torah there was no cause for anti-Semitism, since all nations derived their spiritual life-force from the same level: G‑d was "up in Heaven", not coming too close. Once the priceless gift of the Torah was bestowed upon the Jews, however, linking us directly to Havayah Himself, there was cause, in their eyes, for jealousy.

And this is also the reason for the length (may G‑d have mercy on us!) of this, our final exile. It is the "ebb" preceding the great and awesome "flow" of the era of Mashiach. For the final redemption at the hands of Mashiach, and the revelation of G‑dliness then, will be even greater than the wonders and miracles of the redemption from Egypt and the spiritual "flow" of the giving of the Torah. May we experience them now.

Copyright 2001 Yitzchok D. Wagshul / from a discourse in Torah Or