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Parashat Vaera: "Lo, This Is Our God"

  • Rav Itamar Eldar
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

by Rav Itamar Eldar

Yeshivat Har Etzion


Parshat Va'era:

"Lo, this is our God"



"By My name, the Lord, I was not known to them"


            At the very beginning of our parasha, a distinction is made between the manner in which God had revealed Himself to the patriarchs and the manner in which He is now appearing to Moshe:


And God spoke to Moshe, and said to him, I am the Lord; and I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Ya'akov, by the name of God Almighty [El Shaddai], but by My name, HaShem [the Tetragrammaton], I was not known to them. (Shemot 6:2-3)


            God distinguishes here between His various names – the name of El Shaddai as opposed to the Tetragrammaton – as describing different manners of revelation.


            The biblical commentators try to understand the difference between the names. Thus, for example, Rashi:


By the name of God Almighty – I made certain promises to them and in the case of all of these I said unto them, "I am God Almighty."

But by My name, the Lord, I was not known to them – It is not written here, "[My name, the Lord,] I did not make known to them, but "[by My name, the Lord,] I was not known to them." I.e., I was not recognized by them in My attribute of "keeping faith," by reason of which My name is "the Lord," which denotes that I am certain to substantiate My promise, for indeed I made promises to them but did not fulfill them [during their lifetimes]. (Rashi, Shemot 6:3)


            Rashi wishes to understand the distinction in the context of the fulfillment of God's promises. He argues that the Tetragrammaton denotes that God is "certain to substantiate His promise" and that it reflects the Divine attribute of "keeping faith."


            The Ramban, on the other hand, understands the distinction between the names in a different manner:


The Shekhina was revealed to the patriarchs and God spoke to them by way of the attribute of judgment, and therewith He related to them. But to Moshe He related and made Himself known through the attribute of mercy, that is, by way of His great name. (Ramban, Shemot 6:2)


            According to the Ramban, the name "El Shaddai" expresses the Divine quality of judgment, whereas the Tetragrammaton is an expression of the quality of mercy.


            The Ibn Ezra goes off in another direction:


For we know that El Shaddai is the Lord, blessed and venerated be He, there being no difference between them. Only that the term Shaddai is an adjective, and the venerated name of the Lord is sometimes a noun and sometimes an adjective, as I have explained. Now, the patriarchs did not reach the level of communion with God as did Moshe who knew Him face to face. For this reason Moshe was able to change what happens in the lower world and perform signs and miracles, something that the patriarchs were unable to do. (Ibn Ezra, Shemot 6:3)


            Ibn Ezra understands that the Tetragrammaton is generally used as a noun, whereas the name El Shaddai is an adjective. From this it follows that God's appearance by way of an adjectival name is far more distant that His appearance by way of a name that expresses His essence. This, according to Ibn Ezra, is what allowed Moshe to change the natural order, as opposed to the patriarchs, who were unable to do so. We shall elaborate on this point below.


The Chassidic masters also tried to clarify the distinction between the various Divine names, and we shall try to understand what they had to say on this issue.[1]


This world and the world-to-come


            R. Simcha Bunim of Przysucha[2] tries to reach a more profound understanding of Rashi. He writes as follows:


"And I appeared to Avraham… but by My name, the Lord, I was not known to them" (Shemot 6:3). Rashi explains: "I was not recognized by them in My attribute of 'keeping faith.'" This is what he means: For it is written: "You are the Lord in this world [be-olam], and You are the Lord in the world [le-olam]-to-come." The change from a bet to a lamed – for it is known that the world-to-come involves the soul's communion with and effacement to God, blessed be He. Thus, the Holy One, blessed be He, is the essence of the world-to-come. This is not the case in this world. Understand this. Know that the word Shaddai indicates that He is faithful to fulfill His promise, but not with His exalted essence. This is like someone who owes another person money and pays him. The payment is something external to him, as we have explained above regarding this world. Here, however, God, blessed be He, revealed to them that He would fulfill all his promises by way of His essence, as we have explained regarding the world-to-come. Understand this well. This is the meaning of: I am the Lord – faithful to pay back," i.e., I Myself will pay back. And this is what Rashi, of blessed memory, explains: "I was not recognized by them in My attribute of 'keeping faith.'" For regarding the Holy One, blessed be He – His true faith is itself the payment. Understand this well, for I cannot explain more. (Kol Simcha, Va'era 4)


            R. Simcha opens with a question regarding the expression: "You are the Lord in this world [be-olam], and You are the Lord in the world [le-olam]-to-come." Why does it not say "be-olam ha-ba," as it says "be-olam ha-ze? Why is the bet replaced by a lamed?


            R. Simcha Bunim answers that the term "be-olam ha-ze" denotes duality. God is found in this world, that is to say, the place that is called "this world" houses God within it. Le-olam ha-ba, on the other hand, this duality will disappear, and the Holy One, blessed be He, will be as one with the world-to-come. As R. Simcha puts it, "the Holy One, blessed be He, is the essence of the world-to-come."


            This distinction has three ramifications.


First of all, it affects our very understanding of the world-to-come. The statement that God is the essence of the world-to-come, but not of this world, implies a clear distinction between the two worlds. Well-known are the words of Chazal regarding the question whether the world is the place of God, or God is the place of the world. The assertion that the world is the place of God involves two steps: First, it assumes that the world exists as a place, and second, it assumes that God dwells in that place.


"Makom" is a code word for the dimensions that exist in the world, in the absence of which the world would disappear. Time, place, and person[3] constitute the "makom" in which God dwells. The substitution of a lamed for the bet when moving from ba-olam ha-ze to le-olam ha-ba means that the world-to-come is not the place of God, and in great measure make God the place of the world-to-come. Thus, it abolishes the dimensions of time, place, and person as independent entities separate from God.


The world-to-come lies beyond the boundaries of place, time, and person, and thus we come to the second ramification of this idea regarding man. R. Simcha Bunim speaks of the world-to-come involving "the soul's communion with and effacement to God, blessed be He." In light of what was said above, the idea is simple. In an expanse where there exists an autonomous place in which God dwells, there is a place for man to remain, God forbid, separate from God. The notions of closeness and distance are relevant in a world where place is not identical with essence, but rather it constitutes empty space.[4]


When place and along with it time become null and void, and they are replaced by essence, existence necessitates communion with and participation in that essence. Simply stated – whereas God's presence in this world is hidden, allowing man the options of distance or closeness, God's manifest presence in the world-to-come leaves no room for anything outside of Him. And when "there is nothing other than Him," all of reality is at one with Him,[5] and at that moment man becomes void.


The third ramification touches upon the dialogue between God and man. In the specific case under discussion, that dialogue is expressed in promises and their fulfillment.


R. Simcha Bunim rejects a possible understanding of Rashi, according to which, God forbid, God, with the name El Shaddai does not fulfill His promises. Just the opposite is true: "The word Shaddai indicates that He is faithful to fulfill His promise."


With both names, God fulfills His promises. And in both cases, "the word of God will not return empty." Rather, R. Simcha Bunim distinguishes between two manners of fulfilling promises, and this may even be expanded to two manners of conducting a dialogue.


The first manner is by way of the name of El Shaddai, whereby the promise is fulfilled in the same way that a person pays his debts, so argues R. Simcha Bunim. What is characteristic of this manner of faithfulness is the fact that he who fulfills his promise is faithful to the autonomous moral law of "keeping promises." God is "faithful to fulfill His promise," because He Himself accepts the moral laws that He impressed in the world, faithfulness being their foundation.


This is not true from the perspective of the world-to-come. There a promise is fulfilled as part of God's essence. As R. Simcha Bunim puts it, God Himself is the payment. Fulfilling a promise by way of the Tetragrammaton is not "technical" or "external." Here the fulfillment of the promise is part of God's essence, and from this perspective, non-fulfillment of the promise is impossible.


A mother who promises her child that she will allow him to go outside and play fulfills her promise only because she accepts the value of faithfulness, for she is left with the choice whether or not to fulfill that promise. If, on the other hand, she promises him that she will love him, she fulfills that promise not because of her "external" adoption of the value of faithfulness, but because the actualization of that promise is part of her essence.


Obviously, this ramification – the manner of the dialogue – also stems from the two previous ramifications, for in order to speak about the external value of fulfilling a promise, there must be one who makes a promise, one to whom the promise is made, and space that leaves room for the former to fulfill or break his promise. When that space is gone, and the distance between the "promisor" and the "promisee" disappears, the promise turns into an essential, internal process, that takes place in the essence itself in relation to its various parts.


"lO, this is our god"


            This distinction between this world and the world-to-come is not a distinction in time, for God informs Moshe that from now on he will be governed by the Tetragrammaton, which R. Simcha Bunim attributes to the world-to-come. Moshe is told that from now on he will be governed by an aspect of the world-to-come. Thus, we must understand how the manner of governance of the world-to-come can appear even in this world, a world that is corporeal, material, finite and limited.


            In light of what has been said above, we must examine how the three aforementioned ramifications come to expression in the governance of the Tetragrammaton, the aspect of the world-to-come which appears in this world, and we must examine this on the three levels that we saw in the words of R. Simcha Bunim:


            How does God's presence in this world become the essence of the world itself, to the point that the latter is rendered null and void?


            How does a person who hears the voice of God in this world - one who is material and corporeal - shed his materiality and achieve communion with and self-nullification before God?


            And finally, how does actualizing Divine promises in this world follow from God's essence?


            We shall try to understand how God governs this world through the Tetragrammaton by way of the words of the Sefat Emet:


Our Sages of blessed memory said: "All the prophets prophesied with 'Thus [ko] said the Lord.' Moshe added to them: 'This [ze] is the word.'" This distinction is similar to the difference between the ten ma'amarot and the ten dibrot. For a ma'amar is directed outwards to announce an intention: "Let there be a firmament," "Let there be lights." But a dibbur refers to the inner essence of the statement itself. Like the word medaber, that man is described as medaber, and not omer. For a dibbur relates to essence, not to chance, as does ma'amar. The truth is that this itself is the difference between ze and ko. For there are various levels of prophecy. The dibbur itself becomes clothed and then spreads to the level of amira. For this reason, regarding amira it says ko, whereas regarding dibbur it says ze. Therefore, it says "And God spoke [vayedaber]… saying [leimor], for from dibbur comes afterwards amira. And such was the level of the children of Israel when they received the Torah, that the inner essence of the word of God was revealed through dibrot more than the ten ma'amarot. (Sefat Emet, Bamidbar, Matot, 5651)


            The Sefat Emet bases what he says on an important distinction that will accompany us from now until the end of this lecture. Rashi brings in the name of the Sifrei as follows:


This is the word – Moshe prophesied with the words, "Thus [ko] said the Lord, About midnight" (Shemot 11:4, and other prophets also prophesied with "Thus [ko] said the Lord." Moshe, however, has an additional superiority in that he prophesied also with the expression "This [ze] is the word." (Rashi, Bamidbar 30:2)


            Let us try to understand the distinction between "Thus said the Lord" and "This is the word that God has commanded." We shall focus on the distinction between ko and ze:


            Ko tells about…. Thus said the Lord – says the prophet, his words telling us about what God said. In contrast, ze relates to the thing itself. The prophet does not tell us something about God's word, but rather he says it. Ze gives expression to unmediated presence, rather than remembering and citation.


            Based on this distinction, the Sefat Emet wishes to distinguish between ma'amar and dibbur.


            A ma'amar, asserts the Sefat Emet, is external, expressing the desire of the speaker. When God says, "Let there be luminaries," this utterance reflects His desire to create the luminaries, and in essence tells us about this desire. This is ko.


            Dibbur, on the other hand, relates to the contents, or as the Sefat Emet formulates it, "dibbur refers to the inner essence of the statement itself." In other words, dibbur is the channel that is opened between the speaker and the listener, bringing the two souls together through the total nullification of the gap and space between them. Ma'amar, on the other hand, does not nullify that gap and space, but rather bridges them.[6]


            Dibbur, then, as opposed to ma'amar, creates an unmediated encounter with the essence of the speaker, in this case, God Himself. This is ze.


Moshe does not relate the word of God to the people of Israel in the same way as do all the other prophets. Moshe causes the word of God to be present among Israel, resting His Shekhina in their midst, all of Moshe's words being the aspect of "Moshe speaks, and God answers him by a voice" (Shemot 19:19). The words of Moshe are from the mouth of God, and God's voice is heard in the words of Moshe – "this is the word that God has commanded."


The nature of revelation having the aspect of ko which is the aspect of ma'amar is totally different from the nature of revelation having the aspect of ze which is the aspect of dibbur. This aspect of dibbur, explains R. Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, is the novel element of the Sinai experience:


But the matter is as follows. R. Israel Ba'al Shem, of blessed memory, explained in his works regarding the verse "that the people may hear when I speak with You, and believe You for ever" (Shemot 19:9), that there is a difference between what a person actually sees with his own eyes and what he knows and understands intellectually to be true. Even though he knows and understands that something is undoubtedly true, even more verified for him is that which he actually sees with his own eyes. Thus regarding the exodus from Egypt and the receiving of the holy Torah, even though we saw His signs and miracles in Egypt, and our faith in Him was clearly verified for us, nevertheless, at Mount Sinai where we ourselves, all of Israel, merited prophecy, and God spoke to us face to face, and we literally saw with our own eyes at Mount Sinai, "To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord He is God, etc." (Devarim 4:35) – this was in order "that the people may hear when I speak with You, and believe You for ever." At Mount Sinai the people will hear when I speak with you, our eyes will actually see. And they will also believe You for ever, this being the foundation of faith that we actually saw with our own eyes at Mount Sinai.

It may be said that something that one understands and knows that it is so because of His signs and miracles – this is called ko. For something that a person does not actually see with his eyes, but only comprehends and knows that it is so is called ko, for he comprehends and understands that certainly it is thus as he understands it, and so the term ko is appropriate. But that which we saw with our own eyes at Mount Sinai is called ze, for regarding that which a person sees with his own eyes, he says: This is what I saw, and the term ze is appropriate, for this thing we saw with our own eyes. Therefore, Moshe Rabbenu, of blessed memory, prophesied with the word ze, for at Mount Sinai God spoke with us face to face, and we actually saw with our own eyes, and the term ze is appropriate. And therefore Moshe Rabbenu, of blessed memory, also said several times, "Thus said the Lord," for that was prior to the giving of the Torah at the time of the exodus from Egypt, when we had not yet been at Mount Sinai, and we only saw His signs and miracles, and so Moshe Rabbenu, of blessed memory, said at the time of the exodus from Egypt, "Thus said the Lord." But afterwards when we were at Mount Sinai, and God, blessed be He, spoke to us face to face, and we actually saw with our own eyes, and we attained the level of prophecy, Moshe Rabbenu, of blessed memory said, "This is the word," and prophesied with the word ze, for regarding something that we ourselves saw, the term ze is appropriate. (Kedushat ha-Levi, Va'era)


            R. Levi Yitzchak distinguishes between that which a person "knows and understands intellectually to be true" and that which a person "actually sees with his own eyes."


            The first category – that which a person knows and understands intellectually to be true – embraces all rational cognitions, on the one hand, and all the miracles which demonstrate God's existence and greatness, on the other. The common denominator between them is that we infer about God's greatness by way of various "means," whether logical demonstration or miraculous wonder. From them we learn about the greatness of the Creator and His dominion over nature.


            In contrast, the second category is entirely identified with the Sinai experience, which was different in its essence from any other prophecy or Divine revelation. On that occasion the people of Israel merited, as the Torah says, a "face to face" encounter with God. They heard the sounds, they saw the glory of God as a consuming fire at the top of the mountain and they experienced God's filling presence in an unmediated manner, to the point of recoiling and requesting of Moshe Rabbenu that he stand between them.


The Sinai experience was the aspect of the world-to-come in the sense that God was present in an unmediated and unconcealed manner, a manner that was unique and exceptional for the reality of this world.


The Sefat Emet teaches us that at Mount Sinai Israel merited the aspect of ze, whereas the miracles that preceded the Sinai experience during the exodus from Egypt were the aspect of ko (and indeed in their regard Moshe used the word ko many times). For through them Israel learned about the greatness of God, but they did not meet Him face to face. This is not true of the Sinai experience which was the aspect of the world-to-come, where Moshe, and in his wake all of Israel, merited to a type of governance and revelation that includes the full presence of God. At that moment Moshe and Israel had an experience that went beyond the boundaries of space and time that characterize this world.[7]


The miracles that Israel merited during the exodus from Egypt taught them about God's greatness, and thus they were able to say along the banks of the sea, "Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods." But this was amira, and not dibbur. This utterance came from an understanding of God's greatness, but they were unable to point and say, "Here is our God," "This is our God," as they would be able to do at Mount Sinai.


This is the way the Gemara describes this aspect of the world-to-come:


Rabbi Eliezer said: In the future, the Holy One, blessed be He, will make a circle for the righteous, and He will sit between them in the Garden of Eden, and everyone will point with his finger, as it is stated: "And it shall be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He should save us; this is the Lord, we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation" (Yeshaya 25:9). (Ta'anit 31a)


            On that long-awaited day, the righteous will be able to point with their fingers and say "lo" and "this." This constitutes the presence of the essence of God that does not allow that presence to be missed or ignored. This is the moment when reality unites with the essence, as R. Simcha Bunim describes its aspect of the world-to-come. At this elevated moment, the Divine essence fills up all the space so that all that can be said is "We shall do, and we shall listen." Overturning the mountain like a basin is essentially the second ramification of the world-to-come mentioned by R. Simcha Bunim, i.e., communion of the soul and its nullification in God, for at this moment everything revolves around the essence and becomes part of it.


This perhaps is the way to understand what the Gemara says about the "circle" that will surround God, while everyone is pointing to Him from his place and saying, "This is our God." For the points on a circle are not defined in and of themselves; their entire essence lies in the relationship that exists between them and circle's center. Should a particular point lose its connection to the center it will cease to exist, just as it is impossible to deny the word of God at Mount Sinai, it being comprehension having the aspect of the world-to-come.[8]


At Mount Sinai, Moshe brought a new connection into the world, a new relationship between the prophets of Israel and God, a connection that did not exist during the period of the patriarchs.[9] Some have tried to connect this to the shining glass [aspaklariya ha-me'ira] that characterizes his prophecy:


Regarding what Rashi explains that Moshe prophesied with the expression ko and the other prophets prophesied with the expression ko… Moshe, however, had an additional superiority in that he prophesied also with the expression ze… That which he prophesied with ze is the shining glass, as stated above. (Ma'or va-Shemesh, Matot, s.v. ve-niba)


            R. Kalonymus Kalman ha-Levi of Cracow draws a connection between the aspect of ze and the shining glass, that no (or perhaps almost no) barrier separated between Moshe and God who revealed Himself to him face to face.


            The greater the experience of the presence of God, the more man is nullified and drawn into it.


Nature and miracle


            The Maggid of Koznitz proposes a slightly different distinction between the Tetragrammaton and the name El Shaddai. It differs from the previously mentioned distinction in that it tries to expand the boundaries of the governance by way of the Tetragrammaton even beyond the Sinai experience, but it still seems to derive from the same root:


"And I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Ya'akov, by the name of God Almighty [El Shaddai], but by My name, the Lord [the Tetragrammaton], etc." Rabbi Ibn Ezra expressed astonishment about the name Shaddai, which the Sages of blessed memory explained, "who said to the world, enough" [she dai]. It seems astonishing that for something that happened one time in the past, the Creator, blessed be He forever, should be called Shaddai. According to our approach, the matter is clear. Well-known is the explanation of the verse "For ever, O Lord, Your word stands fast in the heavens" (Tehilim 119:89). Each and every minute the Holy One, blessed be He, provides everything with vitality and existence, and there must always be a limiting force to prevent it from spreading. This is the name of Shaddai. Just as He said then to His world, "enough," so too at all times a limit to everything comes into being through this name. And it is well known, as we have already written at length, that there is an order from the six days of creation, and a way to make changes as the Creator, blessed be He, desires in accordance with the acts of the children of Israel. As it is written in a stricture to the book, Be'er ha-Gola (see there). This change is because of Havaya (the Tetragrammaton) Himself, who exists and gives existence to everything and changes things according to His will. For example, when the order was that the Egyptians should control the Jews for four hundred years, and the Holy One, blessed be He, decided to bring an end [to the exile], He had to use His proper name, the Tetragrammaton, to effect changes and act as He so desired. This was not revealed to the patriarchs, but only to Moshe Rabbenu, may he rest in peace, when he had to redeem them. This is the meaning of "but by My name, the Lord, I was not known to them." (Avodat Yisra'el, Va'era)


            R. Yisrael Hofstein opens with the Ibn Ezra's question about the Sages' understanding of the name Shaddai. The Gemara says as follows:


Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: When the Holy One, blessed be He, created the world, it was expanding farther and farther like two unwound clues of warp until the Holy One, blessed be He, rebuked it and caused it to stand. As it is stated: "The pillars of heaven tremble and are astonished at his reproof" (Iyyov 26:11). This is what Resh Lakish said: What is that which is written: "I am El Shaddai"? I said to the world, 'Enough.' Resh Lakish said: When the Holy One, blessed be He, created the sea, it was expanding farther and farther until the Holy One, blessed be He, rebuked it and made it dry. As it is stated: "He rebukes the sea, and makes it dry, and dries up all the rivers" (Nachum 1:4). (Chagiga 12a)


            Ibn Ezra asks: Was it on account of the one-time event of God's placing limits upon the world so that it not spread beyond its measure, that God was forever after called by a name alluding to that event? Should indeed God be called after a one-time event?


            The Maggid of Koznitz answers that the talmudic sages are not talking about a one-time process, but rather about an inner tendency hidden in the world, namely the tendency to spread. The world does not remain in its place; there is dynamic movement that may be understood on the physical level, [10] on the philosophical level,[11] and on the theological level.[12]


            From this perspective, the name El Shaddai expresses the boundaries imposed by God upon the world so that it stand still and obey the laws of nature that God permanently implanted in the world. This name, then, symbolizes God's role as the "world's keeper" who constantly enforces its full obedience to the fixed laws of nature. This name expresses stability, continuity, and the absence of change, all of which are not related to a specific moment in history, but rather  are necessary throughout the course of the world's existence.


            In contrast, the Tetragrammaton expresses the dynamic and changing element of the world. The Tetragrammaton is not clothed in law and order, nor is it chained in the frameworks of legislation and obligation. The Tetragrammaton, from this perspective, expresses the constant movement that wishes to actualize the Divine essence at every moment, there being no barrier or law or obligation that will prevent this name from appearing and bringing the desired change.


            We often come up against impervious bureaucracy fixed in the stock of law and order, when out sole request of the institution, the bureaucrat, the clerk, is that they should rid themselves for a moment from the chains of the law and consider our request in an unmediated fashion, as one person facing another. "Talk to us," we say, "stop repeating words that represent the law." We seek dibbur, and not amira. Only dibbur will allow deviation from the law – a miracle.


            The moment that God, as it were, removes from Himself the garment that covers and creates distance between us and Him, gives up for a moment the "police role" of the name El Shaddai, and appears before us with the Tetragrammaton that is characterized by direct and unmediated talk – at that moment the laws of nature will finally collapse in the face of His Divine essence and make room for miracles.


            From the Maggid of Koznitz's perspective, the miracles performed in Egypt were also part of the revelation of the Tetragrammaton, for only unmediated presence that gives expression to the Divine essence allows for a deviation from nature and a breach in the framework of the law that is fixed and penned up in the name El Shaddai.


            This brings us to the third element discussed by R. Simcha Bunim – fulfillment of the promise.


            From the perspective of the Tetragrammaton, Israel is redeemed not only because God is faithful to fulfill the promise that He had made to their forefathers, for from the perspective of God's obligation to the truth, there is also an obligation to nature and its laws, and Israel's redemption in this manner may have to come in a natural way. However, the moment that God's essence is exposed and Israel's redemption must come as part of that essence, at that moment there is no obligation to the truth, no obligation to the laws of nature, or any other obligation, which by its very definition is an expression of an external reality outside of that essence. At this moment, the entire world is harnessed to actualizing the essence of the Tetragrammaton, and nothing exists outside of this aspiration.


            The ten plagues, the splitting of the sea and the pillar of fire are not surprising in the Divine governance of the Tetragrammaton; they do not express the "fulfillment of a promise," but only the Divine will to appear and once again bring to the unity of God and His people. This aspect is the aspect of the world-to-come, and it is Moshe's level, but it is relevant even in this world, and it wishes to sharpen the unmediated experience of God's presence among us, both from our side and from His side.


            We must pay attention to when we speak of God from the aspect of ko, and when we speak of Him, or perhaps we should say, when we speak to Him from the aspect of ze.


            A person who strives in his actions, his prayers, his study, his inner conversation that he conducts between himself and God, for the absence of mediation, to stand before Him, will merit the aspect of the world-to-come, which is the aspect of Mount Sinai, which is the expression of Divine revelation that brings to the nullification of the self before God. Only full Divine revelation, that abolishes all the boundaries of place, time, and person, including all the laws of nature, constitutes a new arena, where there is none other than Him, and only Israel circle around Him saying, "Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He should save us."




[1] We shall not enter into a full discussion of the essence of the various names, and especially not of the Tetragrammation. Whoever wishes to delve further into this issue can find a detailed discussion in the series of lectures dealing with the ten sefirot found on this site (particularly the sefira of tif'eret). In this lecture we shall examine the various ramifications of these names, especially in relation to Moshe's governance of his people.


[2] R. Simcha Bunim of Przysucha (1767-1827), a disciple of the Seer of Lublin and also "the holy Jew." He inherited the role of "holy Jew" and expanded the Chassidut of Przysucha.


[3] We have already encountered the concept of ashanolam, shana, nefesh – which give expression to the contraction of the infinite into the boundaries of place, time, and person.


[4] Many philosophers have tried to understand the concepts of place and space and the ramifications of these concepts upon man's consciousness and conduct in the world. Descartes, one of the early modern philosophers, dealt with these issues at length.


[5] By way of analogy we can say, that in an expanse where there is space within which there is water, a person can decide whether or not to get wet. But in an expanse where the space itself is water, a person's existence in that space necessitates that he become wet and be part of the water.


[6] With God's help, we shall open the next lecture with this distinction, and examine it in light of the relationship between the creation and the exodus from Egypt.


[7] "The aspect of ko is applied to what is in this world. This is not the case of Moshe Rabbenu, of blessed memory, who was constantly conjoined above time, and called ze" (Kedushat Levi, derushim for Chanuka).


[8] The idea that communion leads to a denial of choice is a fundamental chassidic idea, one which we may deal with in the future.


[9] "Our Rabbis, of blessed memory, said that all the prophets prophesied with the expression ko, and Moshe had an additional superiority in that he prophesied also with the expression ze. But here Moshe prophesied with the expression ko, 'Thus said the Lord.' For Moshe only merited this great level of prophesying with the expression of ze at Mount Sinai, and from then on. But in Egypt, he prophesied with the expression ko, and not with the expression ze." (Kedushat Levi, Bo).


[10] Modern science has adopted this model, describing the universe as constantly expanding, from the moment that it came into being.


[11] The constant movement of the world constitutes a starting point for insights into the dynamism and development found on other plains of reality: human, cultural, and the like, both in general philosophical thought, and in Jewish thought, from Kabbala to the teachings of Rav Kook.


[12] Mythology deals at great length with a world that tries to stand up to its creator, and mutatis mutandis, the Torah and especially the books of the Prophets describe, in a much more delicate manner, God's dominion over nature, and nature's acceptance of His mastery: "The pillars of heaven tremble and are astonished at his reproof. He stirs up the sea with His power, and by His understanding, He smites through Rachav" (Iyyov 26:11-12); "You did set a bound that they might not pass over, that they might not turn back to cover the earth" (Tehilim 104:9; and elsewhere.


(Translated by David Strauss)