Being Content with Little
It is written, “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as E-l Sh-ddai, but with My Name the L-RD I did not make Myself known to them” (Exodus 6:3).
We need to understand what the expression “I appeared” is doing here, since G-d is reprimanding Moses for having asked Him: “Why have You done evil to this people?” (Exodus 5:22). We also need to understand something else: Did G-d never reveal Himself to the Patriarchs using the name “the L-RD”? We find that G-d said to Abraham, “I am the L-RD, Who brought you out of Ur-Kasdim” (Genesis 15:7). He also said to Jacob, “I am the L-RD, the G-d of Abraham your father and the G-d of Isaac” (ibid. 28:13).
Our Sages have taught that the Holy One, blessed be He, said: “Alas for those who are gone and not to be found! For how many times did I reveal Myself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by the Name E-l Sh-ddai, and they did not question My character or say to Me, ‘What is Your Name?’ I said to Abraham, ‘Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth, for I will give it to you’ [Genesis 13:17]. Yet when he sought a place to bury Sarah, he did not find one, but had to purchase it for 400 silver shekels. However he still did not question My character. I said to Isaac, ‘Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and bless you’ [ibid. 26:3]. However his servants sought water to drink and did not find it without a dispute, as it is said: ‘The herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying: “The water is ours” ’ [v.20]. Still he did not question My character. I said to Jacob, ‘The ground upon which you are lying, to you will I give it and to your descendants’ [ibid. 28:13]. However when he sought a place to pitch his tent, he did not find one until he purchased it for 100 pieces of money. Still he did not question My character, nor did he say to Me: ‘What is Your Name?’ Yet now you say to Me, ‘Neither have You delivered Your people at all’ [Exodus 5:23]” (Sanhedrin 111a).
This is difficult to understand. What is the connection between the questions, “What is Your Name” and “Neither have You delivered Your people at all”? Can we possibly think that Hashem would get angry with Moses for having asked, “What is Your Name,” but not angry for, “Neither have You delivered Your people at all”? Therefore what is the phrase, “What is Your Name” doing here?
The Tzaddikim Consider Themselves as Nothing
Consider the verse, “May E-l Sh-ddai grant you mercy” (Genesis 43:14). Here the Aggadah states that Jacob was praying to G-d Alm-ghty and saying: “He Who said to Heaven and earth dai [enough], may He say to my misfortunes dai” (Tanhuma, Mikeitz 10), for when the Holy One, blessed be He, created Heaven and earth, they continued to expand until He said “enough.”
This teaches us that the Name Sh-ddai denotes restriction and scarcity, for it was through this Name that Heaven and earth were stopped from expanding further. Hashem said, “Moses, do you really believe that you spoke with Me because I revealed Myself to you by the Name ‘the L-RD’? Do you really think that you can reprimand Me and ask how I guide the world and act in the way that I do? Consider that the Patriarchs, despite being great tzaddikim who overcame their trials, did not ask Me for anything or try to learn My ways. The fact that you are trying to know My Name indicates that you are not content with little, as they were, for they did not ask me if My Name was Sh-ddai or the L-RD. Furthermore, your fathers acted like foreigners in this world, for just as foreigners do not ask for anything and are content with little, likewise they did not ask for anything and were content with little.” As the Sages said on the verse, “For we are like sojourners before You, and like temporary residents, as were all our forefathers” (I Chronicles 29:15): “Likewise the tzaddikim are essential to this world, and yet they consider themselves as nothing. Thus we find that although Abraham was essential to the world, he assumed a less important status, as it is written: ‘I am an alien and a resident among you’ [Genesis 23:4], and Jacob said: ‘I sojourned [garti] with Laban’ [like a ger, a foreigner]” (Aggadat Bereshith 58).
The Sages have also said, “Whoever possesses the following three characteristics is among the disciples of our father Abraham, and the three opposite characteristics is among the disciples of the wicked Bilam: The disciples of our father Abraham possess a good eye, a humble spirit, and a meek soul. The disciples of the wicked Bilam possess an evil eye, an arrogant spirit, and a greedy soul” (Pirkei Avoth 5:19).
Therefore what G-d said to Moses (“I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as E-l Sh-ddai, but with My Name the L-RD I did not make Myself known to them”) was a rebuke. In other words: Do not think that you can criticize Me and try to understand My ways! You should instead emulate your fathers, who did not try to understand My ways. They considered and accepted all that I did for them, just as a servant who is told by his master to do something. He does not ask why, but instead goes out and does it as soon as he is told.
That is the meaning of “I appeared.” It is why Hashem said to Moses, “With My Name the L-RD I did not make Myself known to them,” for they did not seek to know it. Instead, they did everything that Hashem told them to do, immediately and without questioning G-d’s ways.
Va’eira and Achar
We may also explain the meaning of the term va’eira (“and I appeared”) by noting that it has the same numerical value as achar (“after”).
In fact the word achar appears in three places that describe the trials endured by the Patriarchs. Concerning Abraham it is written, “It happened achar [after] these things that G-d tested Abraham and said to him, ‘Abraham,’ and he replied, ‘Here I am’ ” (Genesis 22:1). In the same parsha it is written, “Behold, a ram achar [behind] caught in the thicket by its horns” (ibid. 22:13).
Concerning Isaac it is written, “Sojourn [gur] in this land” (ibid. 26:3). Here the word gur has the same numerical value as achar. Similarly, Jacob said to Esau: “I have sojourned with Laban va’echar [and delayed] until now” (ibid. 32:5). Concerning Joseph it is written, “May E-l Sh-ddai grant you mercy before the man, that he may release your acher [other] brother to you” (ibid. 43:14).
Thus the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: Although your forefathers endured trials before Me, they were content with little and accepted My decrees without protesting My actions. You should have adopted the same conduct and not have questioned My ways.