Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Va’era 5766/ January 28, 2006

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University. Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,



The Second Tidings of Redemption


Menahem Ben-Yashar


Department of Bible


Ashkelon College


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 Israel (Ex. 3:1—4:17).   Now, at the beginning of this week’s reading, we are told about a new revelation of the Lord to Moses, with new tidings of redemption (Ex. 6:6-8): “I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage.”   Why these second tidings?

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. [1]

Why did the first mission fail?   The Lord sought to involve the Israelites in their redemption from Egypt, just as He would later involve them in conquering Canaan.   The Lord’s help to His people went hand in hand with an active effort on their part.   Therefore the Lord prophesied to Moses at the burning bush and also commanded him:   “They will listen to you; then you shall go with the elders of Israel to the king of Egypt and you shall say to him” (Ex. 3:18).   Indeed, the people believed that Moses had been sent by the Lord (Ex. 4:29-31), but they were fearful, and recoiled at the thought of positive action.   Regarding the audience with Pharaoh, Scripture says, “Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh” (Ex. 5:1), raising the question asked by the Sages, “Where had the elders gone?”   Their answer to this question paints a picture of what ensued:  “The elders went with them, but they stole away one by one, two by two, and went off”, until only Moses and Aaron were left. [2]   The slaves did not have the spirit to stand up to their masters, for, as the Rabbis said, a prisoner does not free himself from captivity.  When the Israelites did not participate, the mission failed and the bondage worsened.

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).

The 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 Israel were chosen and made into a people specially set aside for the Lord.   This destiny would not be achieved immediately upon leaving Egypt, but only in the revelation at Mount Sinai, when the covenant established with them there marked the first stage.   Their destiny would be fully achieved when this covenant was maintained on the soil of the Land of Israel.   Announcing this destiny to the Israelites now was intended to convey the message that even though they had not listened to Moses and even though the elders of Israel had not done what the Lord had commanded them through Moses, nevertheless the Lord would redeem them, since their redemption was necessary to establish a kingdom of priests and a holy nation that would worship the Lord.

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:  first Israel must acknowledge the name of the Lord through the Lord’s signs in the exodus from Egypt, and of course through all the miracles the He wrought for them afterwards.   Only in the second stage do the other people come to realize, through the exodus from Egypt, that the name of the Lord is on the people of Israel, [3] and any weakness that Israel might have would henceforth be interpreted by the Gentiles as a strike against the name of the Lord.

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 Egypt.   Through them the revelation as a whole charts the ideological and ideal history of the Israelites:   from the patriarchs and the covenant the Lord makes with them, through the descent to Egypt, where in the isolation of bondage they become a nation, through their exodus from there and redemption in the Israelites becoming the Lord’s people at Sinai, until their inheriting the land on which they shall dwell securely forever, since “were it not for Israel having sinned, they would have been given nothing but the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua.” [4]

Much has been written on the chiastic structure (crosswise arrangement) of the speech revealing tidings of redemption, [5] 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 Israel (Ex. 6:6-8).  The first part opens and closes with the patriarchs and the covenant that was made with them, and in between the two lands are mentioned:  the promised land of Canaan, and the enslaving land of Egypt.   The second part, to be relayed by Moses to the people, opens and closes with proclamations, “I am the Lord.”   In between them the same two lands are mentioned, but since the reference is now to the future (as opposed to the past in the first part), the order is reversed; the land of Egypt and the exodus from it, after the introduction of “I am the Lord,” and at the end, before the concluding words, reference to the land of Israel.   Thus the central axis of the second part, that which lies in the future, relays the religious destiny:   the Lord will redeem Israel and take them to be His people, they will accept Him as their G-d out of their knowledge that it is He who delivered them from Egypt.


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[1] The Christian division of the Bible into chapters is misleading, because it begins a new chapter between Moses’ complaints and the Lord’s response (5:23, 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 Egypt to Midian in his youth, his marriage to Zipporah forthwith (Ex. 2:11-22), a son of Moses and Zipporah who was circumcised after the events at the burning bush (Ex. 4:24-25), and Moses carrying out the second mission when he was eighty years old (Ex. 7:7).

[2] Tanhuma – Buber ed., Exodus 21; Tanhuma Exodus 24; Exodus Rabbah 8:14.

[3] 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.

[4] Babylonian Talmud, Nedarim 22b.

[5] N. Leibowitz, Studies in Exodus, Jerusalem ENGLISH PUBLICATION DATE, p. ?? (p. 87 in Hebrew); . Samet, Iyyunim be-Farashot ha-Shavua, Genesis-Exodus, Jerusalem 2002, p. 170.   The structure suggested by Nehamah Leibowitz can be further elaborated:  if in the innermost parallel structure we place “I am the Lord” in verse 6 in parallel with the same phrase in verse 7, then the central pivotal point gives tidings of rescue, redemption and taking the people of Israel to be the Lord’s people.