Parashat Va’era 5766/ January 28, 2006
the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
The Second Tidings of Redemption
Department of Bible
In the previous weekly reading, Parashat Shemot, the
Lord revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush.
The Lord then assigned him the task of
redeeming the people of
Ostensibly the answer is clear: the end of the previous weekly reading makes clear that the first mission failed—“Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has dealt worse with this people, and still You have not delivered Your people (5:23).” After Moses and Aaron appeared before Pharaoh and demanded in the name of the Lord that he let the Israelites go, Pharaoh imposed even greater suffering on the people, so much so that the Israelite taskmasters, overseeing the Israelites’ labors, blamed Moses and Aaron for their plight (Ex. 5:20-21), and Moses complained of this to the Lord (Ex. 5:22-23). His words before G-d imply a request to resign from his mission. The Lord, however, does not accept his attempt at resignation and promises that in the end Pharaoh will let the people go from Egypt and will actually even expel them from the country (Ex. 6:1). Nevertheless, the mission remains aborted until the Lord speaks again of redemption and assigns to Moses a new mission. Together these ushered in a new process of redemption. 
Why did the first mission fail?
The Lord sought to involve the
Israelites in their redemption from
Since the Creator gave human beings the power to distinguish between good and bad, he necessarily also gave them the possibility of foiling, as it were, or at least forestalling developments that the Creator planned for human beings. Thus it was: due to the wickedness of the generation of the flood, the Lord regretted His first creation and destroyed it by the flood and built a new human race; He sought to have His presence dwell amidst the Israelite encampment, but then came the sin of the golden calf and postponed construction of the Tabernacle until Moses with his pleading obtain forgiveness and the covenant with the Divine Presence was renewed; the Lord sought to bring those who came out of Egypt into the land of Canaan, but then came the act of the spies and proved the people’s lack of readiness to enter and conquer the land, until a new generation arose that would enter and conquer the land. And one last example: the first monarchy anointed by the prophet of the Lord was terminated due to Saul’s sins and the prophet anointed a new monarchy, the House of David.
After the failure of the first stage, the Lord turns to Moses and Israel with words of encouragement and promise, and gives them a new mission; but He places responsibility for actual implementation on Moses and Aaron alone (Ex. 10:10-12). The Lord does not involve the Israelites and the elders, who remain passive until the Paschal sacrifice has to be offered, on the very eve of the exodus. Here, as the new mission begins, we are told: “But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to Moses, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage” (Ex. 6:9).
second revelation, described in this week’s reading, adds three new motifs to
the first revelation at the burning bush.
The first is the people’s religious destiny: “I will redeem you ...
And I will take you to be My people, and
I will be your G-d” (Ex. 6:6-7). With these words the people of
The other two new motifs, both of them also
essentially religious in nature, were the covenant with the patriarchs (“I
appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob ... I also established My covenant with
them, to give them the land of Canaan,” Ex. 6:3-4), and the knowledge of the
name of G-d (“And you shall know that I, the Lord, am your
G-d,” Ex. 6:7).
Both these motifs had been hinted at in
the revelation at the burning bush; the covenant with the patriarchs was hinted
at in the introduction of the Lord’s words to Moses, “I am the G-d of your
father, the G-d of Abraham, the G-d of Isaac, and the G-d of Jacob” (Ex. 3:6),
and the knowledge of G-d’s name was hinted at in the revelation and explanation
of the Tetragrammaton to Moses (Ex. 3:13-14).
All this however, was not formulated
explicitly at the burning bush, but only obliquely intimated.
Note that these two motifs will later
serve Moses in the arguments he uses when entreating the Lord on behalf of the
people after they have sinned, both in the sin of the golden calf (Ex.
32:11-13; Deut. 9:26-29), and the sin of the spies (Num. 14:13-15; loc. sit.,
verse 22), although those prayers speak of magnifying the name of the Lord
among the nations and preventing His name from becoming desecrated among them,
and not necessarily among Israel.
In this regard, it is important to note that there are two stages in
publicizing the Lord’s name in the world:
These three motifs are independent now of the
acts of the Israelites and their responses, and they obligate the Lord, as it
were, to take them out of
Much has been written on the chiastic structure (crosswise arrangement) of the speech revealing tidings of redemption,  with the proclamation, “I am the Lord,” at the beginning, end and middle; the covenant and promise to the patriarchs is mentioned towards the end and after the beginning; likewise the land, which at the beginning of the revelation is referred to as the “land of Canaan” and for the patriarchs was the land of their sojourning (since the patriarchs lived there as nomads), and at the end of the revelation it is called the “inheritance” of Israel. The expression “inheritance” (Heb. morashah) comes from the hiphil form of y-r-sh, to give as inheritance, whether it means that the Lord or the patriarchs gave the land as an inheritance to Israel, or that those who were to conquer the land would give it as an inheritance to their descendants.
A chiastic structure can also be seen within
each of the two halves of the revelation:
the Lord’s message to Moses (Ex. 6:2-5), and what Moses was to relay to
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Christian division of the Bible into chapters is misleading, because it begins
a new chapter between Moses’ complaints and the Lord’s response (, 6:1). This contrasts with the
division in the masorah (parasha setuma, a closed paragraph),
which begins with the new mission (6:2) and also begins a unit of reading (sidra)
in the one-year cycle as well as the ancient three-year cycle used in the land
of Israel. Scripture does not say
how much time passed between the failure of the first mission and the second
tidings. If we suppose that it was
thirty years, that would provide an elegant solution to the problem of an
additional thirty years of bondage due to the noncompliance of the elders of
Israel, added to the four hundred years of bondage in Egypt that were specified
in the covenant of the pieces (see Gen. 15:13; Ex. 12:40-41).
This time span would also ease the
chronological difficulties presented by Scripture:
Moses’ flight from
 Tanhuma – Buber ed., Exodus 21; Tanhuma Exodus 24; Exodus Rabbah .
 The exceptions are Pharaoh and the Egyptians, who must acknowledge the Lord’s greatness in the process of the exodus from Egypt (7:8, 7:17, 8:18, 14:4, 14:18), because the Lord addressed Pharaoh personally through Moses’ mediation.
 Babylonian Talmud, Nedarim 22b.
Leibowitz, Studies in Exodus,