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LORD HAVE MERCY

by Rabbi Elie Cohen    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

This week's Torah portion, Vaera, opens with the following sentence: "And the Lord [Elokim] spoke to Moses, and He said to him, 'I am G-d [Hashem].'" The switch in names used to refer to G-d, from Elokim to Hashem, is dealt with by various commentators.

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This week's Torah portion, Vaera, opens with the following sentence: "And the Lord [Elokim] spoke to Moses, and He said to him, 'I am G-d [Hashem].'" The switch in names used to refer to G-d, from Elokim to Hashem, is dealt with by various commentators. One 20th-century scholar, Rabbi Yaacov Konievsky, offers the following elegant approach. The Talmud tells us that the name Hashem refers to G-d as the Merciful One. Moses, when invoking his great "Request for Mercy" after the sin of the golden calf, begins "Hashem, Hashem, Merciful and Gracious Lord." Conversely, Elokim indicates G-d's attribute of judgment. In Exodus 22:8, the Torah actually uses the term Elokim to refer to human judges. In light of this, Rabbi Konievsky interprets our verse, "And Elokim the judge spoke to Moses, and He said to him, `I am Hashem the Merciful One'." G-d was informing Moses that even His acts of justice were truly acts of mercy. Not always is G-d's mercy apparent, but it is there. Often, man's inability to see the complete picture clouds his vision, driving him to view G-d as cruel and uncaring.

This verse, it was once suggested, is particularly appropriate considering its context. At the end of last week's Torah portion, Moses, in seeing the bitterness of the Jews in their increasingly oppressive situation, asks the Almighty, "Why have you dealt badly with this nation? Why have you sent me?" G-d's response to Moses is that he must ultimately trust Him and recognize that all He does stems from mercy. Just as a child does not understand why his parents sometimes deals sternly with him, so too must man realize his limits of comprehension when observing how the Omniscient runs the world.

The Talmud (Tractate Niddah 31a) relates a parable which illustrates this point. Two men went to board a ship. A thorn got stuck in the foot of one of the men, and he thereby missed the ride. He became very annoyed. Days later, this fellow heard that the ship had sunk and that all of its passengers perished. At that point, the man praised G-d, for he saw that the thorn had saved his life.

It is true that it may take several years, or even a lifetime, for us to see the compassion and mercy of divine acts. Some things may not be clearly understood by us, as the Talmud in the Tractate of Pesachim suggests, until the coming of the Messiah. The life lesson that we can learn from our Torah portion is that G-d is our loving father and acts accordingly.

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Rabbi Elie Cohen, who lived in Atlanta, is currently studying at Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore.

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