There are three main Biblical events upon which all of Judaism stands: the Creation of the world, our release from slavery in Egypt, and the Giving of the Torah. While there may be inspiration to be found in saying of any of those three “dayenu,” it would have been enough, we include all three in our daily davening. Before saying Shma, we say a blessing over Creation, followed by one over the Giving of the Torah. After the Shma, we have a blessing over release from slavery, and that leads us into  the Amidah, or “The Prayer.” 

For Rashi, the most important manifestation of God’s presence in the world is not Creation, but Exodus. When God reveals God’s self to Moshe, it is said “I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov as ‘El Shaddai,’ and by My name YHVH I was not known to them.” It can be seen that those ancestors did indeed know that name, so Rashi explains that the promise of redemption from slavery had not yet been fulfilled during their time. YHVH is the name of fulfillment and completion.  

This is reflected in what the Sefat Emet wrote on this week’s parashah: 

The Midrash on the Song of the Sea begins with a quote from Psalm 93: Your throne was established eternally.’ What does this mean? At the time of Creation, Gods involvement in the world was hidden. At the time of redemption from Egypt, it was revealed. 

God only sits on Gods throne when human beings know about Gods involvement in the world. This is why it is written in the Ten Commandments: I am the Eternal Your God who took you out of the Land of Egypt,’ not I am the Eternal… who created you. 

According to this, God can only be called “King” in light of the redemption from Egypt, which is the quintessential way in which Divine involvement in human history presents itself. This suggests that what God is, or rather, how God is named, is dependent on human experience and perspective. If our vantage point is that of the Exodus, then Divinity is that which overrules human power and human cruelty. A God that brings the world into being, but does not save from oppression, is less complete a God, and not known by the four-letter-name that represents complete, ultimate, being.  

On the other hand, from a vantage point of Creation, God is that which always was and always will be, even before and even after there may be a world at all. God is ultimate being. No name can be more fitting for a Creator than the four-letter-name mentioned above. The Ruler of the universe is the one that spoke it into being. How many are your works, O Eternal one! So profound are Your thoughts! (Psalm 92) 

And lastly, if our vantage point is Sinai, then God’s chief relevance is that of commander and law-giver. God is the King that Jews are bound to obey and swear loyalty to. Our source of moral standards and rules of living and behavior, the Torah, is the expression of God’s will. There are teachings to the effect that the world was created so that Jews may follow the Torah. 

As we can only see from one perspective at a time, we meditate on each of these different aspects of God in the three different blessings that surround the reading of Shma. Once we have moved through each of those aspects of the Divine, we are ready to confront the Divine in prayer. 

Shabbat shalom! 

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