Parashat Vaera- “Ani Hashem”
The story in Parashat Vaera begins after Moshe and Aharon’s initial encounter with Pharaoh resulted in disaster. Pharaoh not only rejected their demand to release Beneh Yisrael from bondage, but enacted a new, inhumane measure, forcing the slaves to find their own straw for bricks, without diminishing from the daily quota of bricks. As we read in last week’s Parasha, Moshe returned to God and protested, asking, "Why have You done evil to this nation? Why did You send me?" (5:22).
Parashat Vaera begins with God’s response to Moshe, which the Torah records by using the divine Name of "Elokim" ("Va’yedaber Elokim El Moshe"), which generally refers to God’s attribute of strict judgment. God here speaks harshly to Moshe, criticizing him for his words of protest. He tells Moshe, "Ani Hashem" ("I am God") – using the divine Name of "Havaya," which signifies the divine attribute of mercy and kindness. God’s message to Moshe is that everything He does is an act of loving kindness, even if it appears to us, with our limited vision, as a tragedy.
In the case of Beneh Yisrael’s suffering, this is actually what enabled them to survive. The Zohar writes that during the period of Egyptian exile, Beneh Yisrael had sunken to the "forty-ninth level of impurity," to the lowest spiritual depths, on the brink of spiritual oblivion. It became necessary for God to hasten the redemption, even before the completion of the four hundred-year-period of slavery that had been decreed. He had no choice but to intensify the suffering so that the nation would endure four hundred years’ worth of bondage within a shorter period. The increased hardship was an act of divine grace, intended to rescue Beneh Yisrael from complete spiritual ruin from which they could never recover. God therefore told Moshe, "Ani Hashem." Anything God does originates from "Hashem" – from His attribute of kindness and compassion, even if it appears cruel and harsh.
Imagine a person peering into a room through a keyhole, and he sees a knife severing a person’s flesh. Assuming he is witnessing a violent crime, he immediately summons the police. The officer comes, opens the door, and sees… a doctor in a white robe standing over a sedated patient, skillfully performing life-saving surgery.
When looking at things with a very limited field of vision, as all human beings do, we see events that appear cruel. But if we had a full view of what was happening, we would see that these are really acts of kindness and grace.
Rav Haim of Volozhin (1749-1821) elaborated on the meaning of the divine Name of "Havaya" and its connection to the attribute of mercy. The Name literally means "existence" and refers to God’s giving the universe existence at every moment. In our morning prayer service, we described the Almighty as "Mehadesh Be’tubo Be’chol Yom Tamid Ma’aseh Bereshit" – renewing creation constantly, at all times. At every fraction of a millisecond, God creates the universe anew. A consequence of this constant recreation, Rav Haim insightfully noted, is that there is no inherent connection between past, present and future. Existence as it is now is a different creation from that which existed just a moment ago, and existence in the present will be replaced a moment from now. Everything is created anew at every moment.
This is God’s response to Moshe. Even if a situation seems dreadful at the present, all of existence is recreated anew the next moment. There is no necessary connection between the way things are now and the way things will be a moment from now, and certainly a day or a month from now. We must therefore never feel discouraged by hard times, because there is no reason to assume they will last. Every second, God creates everything again. What exists now will not necessarily exist in a moment from now.
Furthermore, creation, by definition, is an act of kindness. God does not need a world, but He creates it so that He could dispense kindness. If God creates the world at every moment, then He is performing the ultimate act of kindness at every moment. Even if what we observe seems harsh, we must realize that existence itself is a living testament to God’s boundless grace, compassion and goodness.
Moshe was not taken to task for petitioning God on behalf of Beneh Yisrael, but he was criticized for asking, "Why have You done evil to this nation?" Nothing God does is "evil." Everything He does, by definition, is good, regardless of how it appears to us. This is the belief we must carry with us at all times, especially during life’s more difficult periods. At every moment, God is dispensing kindness, and even if we cannot see it now, at some point we will see how everything that the Almighty does is truly an act of grace.