From our friend Julia

Entering New Year, Entering New Revelation

By Julia Blum December 30, 2021

Another year has flown by – another “strange” year, with many unexpected, and sometimes unthinkable things happening right before our eyes. This is the sixth time I am entering a New Year together with you – and for the sixth time, together with you, I am trying to unveil the future and to understand what this New Year might bring us.

My regular readers would know that I happen to believe that weekly Torah portions are divinely ordained, and that God speaks to His people – and to each one of us personally – through these Parashot Shavua. The Torah Portion for the last Shabbat of 2021 was Shemot, the first portion of the book of Exodus. Can you imagine? We have entered the book of Exodus – the book of His mighty hand and outstretched arm, the book of His signs and wonders, with all the glorious miracles and redemption – while entering a New Year of our lives. Of course, this has happened before, however, this transition between the years began to take on a greater significance for me when I realized that the last week of 2021 would be sealed by the second Torah portion of Exodus, Vaera that is read on January 1!

What can we say about Vaera?  It comes after Moses’ bitter words to God: “since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have You delivered Your people at all.” Of course, Moses doesn’t know what we the readers know: that only a few chapters later, victory will come! At this point, he is almost desperate – everything appears dark and hopeless and seems to be only getting worse.

Second Revelation  

And it is exactly at this point that Moses experiences the Second Revelation (after the first one, the Revelation at the Burning Bush):  And God spoke to Moses and said to him: “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name Lord I was not known to them.

Let us contemplate this solemn revelation. These words refer both to the past and to the future and, as we find them at the very beginning of the new year, what do they mean to us? What do they mean at all? This statement seems to contradict the book of Genesis and everything we know about the patriarchs: according to Genesis, the patriarchs knew this name, because it occurs often there. The Hebrew linguists think that the statement, ‘the name YHWH was unknown till it was revealed to Moses,’ is disproved by names like Jochebed: if Jochebed was the mother of Moses, his grandparents had to know the name of YHWH, because they gave their daughter a name where the first component was Jah, a shortened form of YHWH. The same can be said about the parents of Joshua, they also gave their son a name with Yah as the first component[1].

However, if the linguistic proof is so obvious, why has Exodus 6:3 been interpreted as revealing the name YHWH for the first time? The explanation, as often happens, should be sought in Hebrew: most Christian students of the Bible fail to understand the meaning of the Hebrew verb “to know” (Yadah). When one thinks that Exodus 6:3 means that this name was not known before Moses, he doesn’t really understand this word. The idea of “knowing” in Biblical Hebrew is much more personal and intimate than our modern understanding of knowing[2].  In the Hebrew Scriptures, “to know,” means not just to be intellectually informed, but to experience reality. Knowledge is not the possession of information – it is an experience! To “know God” in the Bible is not “to know about him” in some abstract and impersonal manner, not to grasp philosophically his eternal existence, but to recognize and experience His reality and to obey His will. When the phrase “to know the Lord” occurs in the Old Testament, it never means just knowing the name: “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, nor was the word of the Lord yet revealed to him[3]; “I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, And you shall know the Lord.[4]  These are just a couple of examples, but even from these examples, it is clear that these words imply a profound inner transformation. Why would it have been different when God revealed Himself to Moses in the midst of his trials and failures, in the darkest and seemingly hopeless times?

In this sense, we see a very clear connection between the verse we just quoted, where God reveals His name to Moses (Ex. 6:3), and verse 7 of the same chapter, where God continues to speak to Moses saying: “I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” Do you remember that even before this Second Revelation, Moses was supposed to tell the people of Israel the name of the Lord – this was a commission he received in Exodus 3, at the Burning Bush? However – pay close attention – God does not expect the Israelites to know Him and His name after Moses tells them this name, between Exodus 3 and Exodus 6. It is only after they experience the reality of the Exodus – the reality of His faithfulness, His compassion, and His power – that they will really know Him. No wonder, He “was not known” like this to the previous generations, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, because they had not experienced Him like this. According to Jewish tradition, the Patriarchs knew God and His name only in a limited way.

When we think of Moses, we usually think of the “Burning Bush” revelation – and understandably, we all want the “Burning Bush” in our lives. However, don’t we all need this Second Revelation as we learn to know God more deeply – especially in these confusing times? Rashi writes that at his initial revelation at the burning bush, Moses did not really comprehend the essence of God; but now, when God reveals Himself to Moses again, he acquires a new insight into the character of God. Now Moses begins to see God in a new light: as faithful, merciful, and compassionate. This is the Second Revelation – and the beginning of the Torah Portion Vaera.

Jewish tradition interprets the names Elohim and Adonai as the explanation of the two sides of the nature of God: His Justice and His mercy. This understanding of the different names of God explains also these two different accounts of creation – Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. The Midrash says that God originally created the world as Elohim (Genesis 1), but that afterward He is called Adonai Elohim (Genesis 2) because He saw that, without His mercy, His creation would not survive. I think we can all agree that humanity is at that point, where, without His mercy, it would definitely not survive. Isn’t it amazing that it is precisely with this Second Revelation that we are entering this New Year?

[1] See: H. Segal, The Pentateuch: Its Composition and Its Authorship and Other Biblical Studies (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, The Hebrew University, 1967), pp. 4-5.

[2] Please remember: we are talking about Biblical Hebrew; in Modern Hebrew, this verb more or less corresponds to a regular English “know”.

[3] 1 Sam.3:7

[4] Hos.2:20

Published by neaseno

I was born on Powers Bluff in Wood County, Wisconsin, into a traditional community of Neshnabek. I was raised speaking only native languages, and learned to speak English upon entering school at the age of 6. As of this writing, I am one of 5 remaining Heritage Fluent Speakers of Potawatomi.

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