Last week, we read about Yetziat Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt. We saw Rashi’s interpretation of the idea that until Moshe, none of the Israelite ancestors knew God by the ineffable Four-Letter Name, that name which means “being” in past, present, and future tenses simultaneously, but which we euphemize with names such as “Lord.” Because we have a verse in which God tells Moshe that God was not known to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov by that name, even though we see many verses in which God does indeed appear to them by that name, Rashi needs to explain the apparent contradiction. He says that it is not that God did not make that name known to them, but rather, God was not known to them by that name. The Four-Letter Name is a name of completion and fulfillment. God told them about the upcoming enslavement in Egypt and the subsequent redemption, but that promise of redemption was not fulfilled in their lifetimes. God only lives into that most holy of names by virtue of the redemption from slavery. 

In his first commentary on the Torah, Rashi asks why the Torah began with the Creation story instead of with the first commandment given to Israel; that of Rosh Chodesh, the establishment of Nisan as the first month, and soon after, the commandments surrounding the Passover holiday. His answer is that if the world is God’s, then God may give any piece of land to any nation that God sees fit to give it to. Rashi’s answer centers on the right of the Jewish people to live in the Land of Israel. Creation itself is only a means to an end: that the people Israel may live in the Land of Israel and live by the Torah there.  

It may seem surprising that the birth of the universe may be given such short shrift compared to the specific needs of one group of tribes of one species living on one planet out of billions in one galaxy out of billions.  

But when we look at the Midrash (Devarim Rabbah 2:32) written about Sinai, we see a mystical revelation given to Israel. They looked up and saw that God had opened up the seven firmaments, and that Israel saw through them. When did this happen? When they said “Shma,” acknowledging the oneness of the Eternal. The Jewish ways to acknowledge the Divine are through prayer, acts of tzedakah, and through Torah study; much less through mystical speculation.  

It is the consequence of Divinity and holiness that matters in Judaism much more than any supernatural cosmology. That consequence is the obligation of Jewish people to live lives of Torah and mitzvot. When we read the Passover Haggadah, we see that the question of the wise child is “What are the testimonies, laws, and statutes….?” The question is not “What existed before the world?” or “What is the nature of the universe?” 

To bring this back to Rashi’s other point about who God is, the first of the Ten Commandments names the Eternal as the God who took us out of Egypt. That is said in the same breath as the prohibition against idolatry. What matters most about God in living a Jewish life is God’s role vis-a-vis Israel: The One that took us out of slavery so that we may serve God through Torah. 

Shabbat Shalom! 

Comments are closed.


Visit the
Shaarey Tphiloh Facebook Page

ST Facebook image link

Upcoming Events