ישיבת כרם ביבנה

The Service of Hashem

הרב משה סתיו

The Torah describes the initial meeting between Moshe and Pharaoh as follows (Shemot 5:1-3):

Afterwards, Moshe and Aharon came and said to Pharaoh, "So said Hashem, the G-d of Israel, 'Send out My people that they may celebrate for Me in the wilderness.'" Pharaoh replied, "Who is Hashem that I should heed His voice to send out Israel? I do not know Hashem, nor will I send out Israel!" So they said, "The G-d of the Hebrews happened upon us. Let us now go for a three-day journey in the wilderness and we shall bring offerings to Hashem, our G-d, lest He strike us dead with the plague or the sword."

Pharaoh responded to Moshe's initial statement with a response of outright denial and not understanding -- "I do not know Hashem" -- whereas he reacted differently to Moshe's second statement, and seems to have understood him. (See Midrash Tanchuma and Kuzari.) Many commentators address this difference. However, there are a number of other discrepancies in the words of Moshe to Pharaoh which we would like to relate to:

The first time, Hashem turns directly to Moshe, "So said Hashem," unlike the second time when the message is roundabout and not clear, "The G-d of the Hebrews happened upon us."

The first time, Moshe refers to celebrating, which is primarily establishing a joyful holiday before Hashem, while the sacrifice is merely a means to happiness (a korban "chagiga" is a shelamim, peace-offering), unlike the second time when the emphasis is on the worship and offering of sacrifices itself, which can be understood simply as referring to burnt-offerings (olot).

The first time, there is no threat of punishment if Bnei Yisrael will not serve Hashem, whereas the second time Moshe justifies the request based on fear of Hashem, lest they be punished if they will not offer sacrifices.

Perhaps we can explain these discrepancies as follows. The difference between idol worship and the service of G-d is not only in the object of the worship -- the true G-d vs. a block of wood, but also in the place that worship occupies in man's consciousness. The idolaters' concept of god is the source of the natural forces, as the simple meaning of the word "Elokim" -- Master of all forces. The service of the deity to him is taken as the natural need of every person to consider the natural forces that rule, out of concern for his very existence and his well being. In contrast, when a person merits to recognize G-d in a manner expressed by the name YKVK (whose simple meaning is eternal -- past, present and future), he is aware of the desire that stands behind the Creation, which comes to allow man to elevate himself and to reach spiritual perfection.

These two levels express themselves in the difference between slaves and sons. A slave does his master's bidding, but not out of identification with him and desire, but out of submission to the natural necessity and the need to appease the god in order to live. A son, however, sees in his father one who loves him and is interested in his well being, and strives to please him out of identification with him.

Pharaoh, who saw the world through a natural perspective, recognized the Divine forces that direct the world, but did not recognize the Creator, who created the world out of his own will with the goal of bestowing good on others and who is not bound to any system of rules. Therefore, since the natural state is that the strong one rules, Pharaoh was convinced that Bnei Yisrael would remain under his control. However, the Exodus from Egypt expresses the idea that G-d rules the entire creation without any submission to the system of nature and its rules. It indicates that G-d created the world ex nihilo, and directs and rules the world completely. (See Ramban at the end of Parshat Bo.) This recognition is expressed by the name YKVK, which connotes the creation of the world, whose pinnacle is the choosing of Israel and the giving of the Torah.

These two understandings are also indicated by the change used in G-d's name. The service of Hashem is a joyous celebration of the feeling of relationship between man and his Creator, through which a person merits to connect to Hashem through His service and to achieve happiness. On the other hand, the superficial conception of G-d expressed by the name Elokim sees in the worship of G-d a debt that has to be paid in order not to be punished.

Similarly, with the name YKVK a person merits prophecy and a direct connection with Hashem, in contrast to the name Elokim which is an external Revelation with a mercenary purpose of punishment and reward. Therefore, when Moshe talks about the name Hashem he speaks of joy and connection with G-d, whereas when he is forced to speak in terms that Pharaoh is more familiar with, he speaks of punishment and suffering, and of sacrifices that come to pacify and appease the angry G-d, as it were.

This perspective sheds light on the purpose of the process of exile and redemption, to clarify and establish the recognition that there are no absolute rules other than the Will of G-d, and this recognition is the basis for the formation of Am Yisrael and its eternity.

 

 

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