One of Moshe's roles, at the time recorded by our Parasha, was to link the Children of Yisrael with their forefathers, history and destination, but not before establishing (for them and even more so for himself) the identity of their Elohim. This was no easy task! YHVH had already revealed Himself to Moshe in the desert, both in sight and word. And while Moshe was trying to negotiate with Par'oh on behalf of the Master of the Universe, as well as to 'introduce' Him to His own people, he himself had a hard time grasping the awesome revelation which was unfolding before his eyes. Our Parasha opens up with yet another monologue of Moshe's heavenly Father, displaying great patience with His child, who at this point had not fully adjusted to the dimensions of his newly found destiny and relationship. The opening "I am YHVH", together with the subsequent words, serve as another reminder to Moshe, designed to anchor, steady, and prepare him for what is ahead and to build up his trust and faith. Last week, upon his inquiry as to Elohim's name, YHVH gave him a somewhat elusive answer (3:14): “Ehe'ye asher ehe'ye”, adding, “thus you shall say to the Children of Israel, Ehe'ye has sent me”. These words are (typically) translated: ”I am that I am”. Yet if we glance back at 3:12, we find that “ehe'ye” means “I will” (as it says there: “I will be with you”). It appears that YHVH was not about to divulge His real (or 'full') name at that point. His response and the tone by which it was conveyed sounds almost like a (temporary) discharge or dismissal. Thus, paraphrased, it may be read: 'never you mind Moshe… I Am and Will be Who I Am - what is it to you?' (Compare Yeshua's response to Shimon Keifa - Peter - in John 21:22).
The verb “ehe'ye” – I will be – is contained in “YHVH”, the name which Elohim is now, by His own initiative, revealing to Moshe (6:2). Thus the letters h.v.h (hey, vav, hey), which are tantamount to h.y.h (hey, yod, hey) meaning “to be”1 form the root of the venerated tetragrammaton. "Being" and "present" both originate from this one root. The tetragrammaton, therefore, speaks of "being" and of the "present presence".
Now that Moshe learns Elohim’s name, he hears Him say something quite surprising and unexpected, namely: “I appeared (literally – I was seen – va’ye’ra) to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as El Shaddai, but My name YHVH, I did not make known to them” (6:3). Before we continue, let us take note of the echoes of B’resheet 18:1, where this very word, “va’yera” – “and He was seen” (or appeared… to Avraham), opens up the Parasha of that name. As to Ya’acov, he did know Elohim as El Shaddai (ref. 28:3, 35:11) but, the name YHVH is, nevertheless, mentioned in connection with the Patriarchs. In fact, there is evidence that they used this name when addressing Elohim (e.g. Gen. 15:8). The Sages discuss this point at length, but we will not delve deeply into the subject other than to say that since He revealed Himself to them as “El Shaddai”, the “Mighty Breasted One”, or by implication the ”Mighty One Who is Sufficient”, it was this aspect of His being with which they must have been most familiar. In the course of His on-going and progressive revelation of Himself, the Elohim of Yisrael is about to demonstrate that He is in control of the present, the One Who Is Present, and truly the One who IS the Present: He is the Yah-Hoveh. (Yah, as His name and also connected to the verb “to be”, is used a number of times, e.g. Ex. 17:16, although may be lost in the translation, and in many other instances in the Psalms.) In chapter 9:3, “the hand of YHVH", that was “to be on [Pharaoh’s] cattle…” is rendered as “yad YHVH hoya”. “To be on” in this case is “hoyah” (which contains the same letters as YHVH), meaning that He is fully present and brings to bear this Presence as He chooses.
The passage, which starts in verse 3 of Chapter 6 and continues all the way to verse 8, constitutes a unique and significant unit, in both content and form. The beginning statement is also found at the end (v. 8), that is, "I am YHVH". In verse 3 reference is made to the Patriarchs, while a similar reference shows up just before the end, in verse 8, in the form of a very emphatic statement (cf. last Parasha, Ex. 3:15,16). The third point in this monologue deals with the Covenanted Land (v. 4), and is echoed in the beginning of verse 8. Verse 5 talks about the groaning (and therefore sufferings) of the Children of Yisrael, while verse 7 again deals with the same theme of suffering. Thus, the four elements mentioned appear both in the first and second half of the passage, although the second time round the order of these themes is reversed. (This structure is known as chiasm.)
The central part of this passage stands firmly on its own, as a precious stone framed in fine filigree made up by the four repetitions mentioned above (i.e. YHVH’s Name, Patriarchs, Land, and Sufferings). It reads as follows, “Therefore say to the children of Israel: `I am YHVH, and I will take you out (ve'hotze'ti) from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver (ve’hi’tzalti) you out from their bondage, and I will redeem (ve'ga'alti) you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. And I will take (ve'la'ka’ch'ti) you to me for a people’” (6:6-7 emphases added). Here too there is a ‘foursome’, although this time it is of four verbs, which describe a process. First comes the "taking out" from one place to another, second is the “deliverance” from the enemy and the rigors of the impending desert journey. The third level, “redemption”, is also deliverance, but connotes “judicial ransoming”. The "redeemer" is a “go'el”, which in the Bible is synonymous with a "blood relative". Hence, this announcement in and of itself renders the Divine Redeemer as a blood relative who has the means and will to purchase the object of his redemption, take it upon himself to recover and restore everything (including that which has been lost) to right order, and be an avenger of wrongs (e.g. Lev. 25:26; Num. 5:8; Ruth 3:12, Ruth 4; Josh. 20:5). Finally, the "taking" here is much like the "taking of a wife" in marriage (see Gen. 25:20, for example).
When this series of actions is completed “…you shall know that I am YHVH your Elohim” (6:7). Immediately following this, YHVH continues to promise to “bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am YHVH” (v. 8, emphases added). The declaration “I am YHVH" pronounced both at the beginning and end of the passage, powerfully denotes His all-encompassing view and position, contrasted with the restricted human perspective and vantage point of the Sons of Yisrael. The progressive process we have been following evidences that there is only One who can act on every level, with nothing ever being required of the recipients. This IS the grace, “which is not of yourselves [but] it is the gift of Elohim!” (Ephesians 2:8). However, for this grace to be appropriated, faith is required and thus we move on to the anticlimactic end (v. 9 ): “So Moses spoke thus to the sons of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses on account of their despondency and cruel bondage”. "Despondency" is literally “shortness of spirit/breath”, sometimes meaning impatience, while "cruel bondage" is actually “hard labor” (v. 9).
Following this 'introduction' or preamble, the rest of the Parasha is mostly devoted to the implementation of the action plan described above. In 6:11, YHVH calls out to Moshe to (literally), “come - BO - speak to Pharaoh…” Notice that above He promised to “bring” – ve’heveti – His people to the land. “Come” – bo – stems from the same root as “bring” – la’ha’vee (that is, “cause one to come”). Thus the “coming” that Moshe is commanded to do before the next phase, which will include verbal ‘combat’ with Egypt’s ruler, is a “coming” first to Elohim (putting full trust in Him). Prior to the second plague (of frogs), Moshe will be charged once again by YHVH to “bo” – come - to Par’oh (8:1, and likewise in 9:1 and in next week’s Parasha’s opening verse).
Moshe responds to YHVH’s commission twice with “…I am of uncircumcised lips” (6:12, 30), obviously trying (once again) to dodge his responsibility But whereas last week we read that he used the expression: “I am not eloquent… but am slow of speech and of a slow tongue” (4:10), this time he feels the need to press the point even further, since "uncircumcised lips" could also denote uncleanness (cf. Isaiah 6:5). YHVH is not 'impressed' and does not take up this matter with His messenger.
It is the condition of Par'oh's heart that YHVH is about to deal with, as He says to Moshe, “And I will harden Pharaoh's heart…” (7:3a). Shaul (Paul) elaborating on this says, “Therefore He has mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will, He hardens” (Rom. 9:18). Romans 1:18-21 may help us to further refine this idea: “For the wrath of Elohim is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of Elohim is manifest in them, for Elohim has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. Because, although they knew Elohim, they did not glorify Him as Elohim, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (italics added).
Back to where we left off in Exodus 7:3. The second part of the verse reads, “… and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt”, with the result being, “And the Egyptians shall know that I am YHVH when I stretch forth My hand upon Egypt and bring out the Children of Israel from among them” (v. 5 italics and emphasis added). It should be pointed out that the “hardness” of Par’oh’s heart is qualified by three different words – ka’sheh – hard (e.g. 7:3); chazak – strong (e.g. 7:13) and kaved – heavy (e.g. 8:11). Interestingly, in the present Parasha where it says that YHVH hardened the monarch’s heart the first two are mostly used, but when the latter is doing it himself, it is “kaved”, which is also related to “honor” and “glory” (“kavod”). Thus Par’oh’s inner motivation is exposed. (For the same idea see 9:17, though there a different, but synonymous, verb is used.) In next week’s Parashat Bo, on the other hand, YHVH will be taking the responsibility for making Paroh’s heart “kaved”, while in the following Parashat Be’shalach, in chapter 14, k.v.d will have versatile usages. Another usage of this term was employed in last week’s Parasha by Moshe, who in reference to himself being “slow of speech” and “slow of tongue”, says that he has a “heavy – kaved - mouth” and “heavy – kaved - tongue” (Ex. 4:10).
In His plan to bring His people out of Egypt, YHVH exerts His authority by judging Egypt (see 7:4). “And the Egyptians shall know that I am YHVH, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt…” (v. 5). “Stretching out” in this case is “ne’to’ti” (the verb being “nato” – its root is noon, tet, hey, n.t.h). This verb denotes leading or pointing direction, and thus in verse 9 when A’haron is told to cast his rod, it is designated by “ma’teh”, originating from the same root. A’haron and Moshe were to represent YHVH’s authority over Egypt’s ruling powers, both the natural ones as well as the supernatural. Indeed, when A’haron casts his rod in front of Par’oh it turns into a serpent, which in Hebrew is “tannin”, literally an alligator. Thus YHVH demonstrated His power over one of Egypt’s most powerful symbols. In fact, in Ezekiel 29:3 Par’oh himself is addressed as the “great tannin” (translated “monster”), that is the great alligator (for the same idea see also Ez. 32:3). The very rule and authority of Egypt is therefore symbolized by this “alligator” (a creature that inhabited the Nile), and is the first to be challenged by Elohim as will, in the course of the coming plagues, several of Egypt’s other ruling powers (‘gods’).
Just prior to inflicting the first plague, Moshe speaks for YHVH saying to Par’oh: ”…Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness” (7:16). “Serve” here is from the root “work". We remember vividly from last week's Parasha, the many negative references to work and labor. Here "work" becomes “worship” of YHVH, as are most other references to worship. The hard working slaves (“avadim”, of the root word, a.v.d) of the Egyptians are about to be liberated and become free to carry out “avodat Elohim” – that is, rendering service unto YHVH.
If at first YHVH made His name known to Yisrael by attaching it to their ancestors’ names (the Elohim of…), thereby demonstrating His all-time faithfulness, now He wants to convey to His people that He is in charge of their present circumstances, in control of all of nature - both animate and inanimate; of mankind, beasts and the elements. The first to be affected is Egypt's source of water and life, the Nile (Ye’or in the Biblical terminology), which He turns to blood. Blood, in its turn, is also a symbol of life and atonement but it now becomes a deadly substance in the very body of water, which in the second plague will be swarming with frogs (8:6). The Nile was the grave of many of Yisrael’s infants (ref. Ex. 1:22), and now that blood is crying out, not from the ground, but from the water… In addition, all of Egypt’s other water sources also turned to blood (7:19).
The fourth and fifth plagues (8:21; 9:3) are the first ones not to occur in the vicinity of the Israelites' dwellings which means that the land of Goshen was free of them. The swarms of insects, as they are called, and the pestilence, are both terms with familiar roots, which we have already encountered. "Swarms of insects" (and other translated versions) are “a'rov”, and "pestilence" is “dever.” “Arov” (which shares its root, a.r.v., with the root for “erev” – “evening”) means a “mixture”, hence the mixed variety of species. Last week we looked at “midbar” - “desert”, noting that “dever” (i.e. “pestilence” or “plague”) sometimes "drives" (of the same root, once again) its victim to the “desert”.
This time it is 'real' pestilence, not the figurative type, which is plaguing the herds and flocks of the Egyptians (9:8, 9). “Boils and hail with fire flashing… in the midst of… it” (9:24) are the next two plagues, both of which have no tangible effect on the Israelites, “in the land of Goshen in which My people dwell” – with “dwell” being a translation of “stand”. “Stand”? Why stand? Could the text be hinting at the temporary nature of their existence in Goshen, as shortly they would be leaving that locale? There YHVH made “a division between My [His] people and your [Par’o’s] people” (8:23). “Division” here is “p'dut” which literally means “ransom”. It is the ransom which always separates those who are "My people" from those who are Par'oh's. The basic meaning of the Hebrew root [p.d.h] is “to achieve the transfer of ownership from one to another through payment of a price or an equivalent substitute”.2 More on this idea in next week's Parasha…
1 In Hebrew, the "v" sound (vav) and the "y" sound (yod) are often interchangeable, such as in the name Chava (Eve), which denotes “life,” although the noun “life” is “chayim,” and “to live” is “ lich’yot”.
2 Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vol. 2,