web analytics
May 26, 2016 / 18 Iyar, 5776
Judaism
Sponsored Post


Home » Judaism » Parsha »

When History Was Born


The parshah of Va’eira begins with some fateful words. It would not be too much to say that they changed the course of history because they changed the way people thought about history. In fact, they gave birth to the very idea of history. Listen to the words:

God said to Moses, “I am Hashem. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as El Shaddai, but by my name Hashem I did not make Myself fully known to them (Exodus 6:2-3).

What exactly does this mean? As Rashi points out, it does not mean that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah did not know God by the name Hashem. To the contrary, God’s first words to Abraham, “Leave your land, your birthplace and your father’s house,” were said using the name Hashem.

It even says, just a few verses later (Genesis 12:7), “Va’yeira Hashem el Avram – Hashem appeared to Abram” and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So God had appeared to Avram as Hashem. And in the very next verse it says that Avram built an altar and “He called on the name of Hashem” (12:8). So Avram himself knew the name and had used it.

Yet it is clear from what God says to Moses that something new is about to happen, a Divine revelation of a kind that had never happened before, something that no one, not even the people closest to God, has yet seen. What was it?

The answer is that through Bereishit, God is the god of creation, the god of nature, the aspect of God we call, with different nuances but the same overall sense, Elokim, or El Shaddai, or even Koneh Shamayim Va’aretz, Creator of heaven and earth.

In a sense, that aspect of God was known to everyone in the ancient world. It’s just that they did not see nature as the work of one God but of many: the god of the sun, the god of the rain, the goddesses of the sea and the earth, the vast pantheon of forces responsible for harvests, fertility, storms, droughts, and so on.

There were profound differences between the gods of polytheism and myth and the One God of Abraham. But they operated, as it were, in the same territory, the same ballpark.

The aspect of God that appears in the days of Moses and the Israelites is radically different, and it’s only because we are so used to the story that we find it hard to see how radical it was.

For the first time in history God was about to get involved in history, not through natural disasters like the Flood, but by direct interaction with the people who shape history. God was about to appear as the force that shapes the destiny of nations. He was about to do something no one had ever heard of before: bring an entire nation from slavery and servitude, persuade them to follow Him into the desert, and eventually to the promised land, and build a new kind of society there – based not on power but on justice, welfare, respect for the dignity of the human person, and on collective responsibility for the rule of law.

God was about to initiate a new kind of drama and a new concept of time. According to many of the world’s greatest historians – Arnaldo Momigliano, Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, J. H. Plumb, Eric Voegelin, and the anthropologist Mircea Eliade – this was the moment history was born.

Until then, the basic human drama was struggling to maintain order against the ever-present threats of chaos, whether through natural disasters, foreign conquest, or internal power struggles. Success meant maintaining the status quo. In fact religion in the ancient world was intensely conservative. It was about teaching people the inevitability of the status quo. Time was an arena in which nothing fundamentally changed.

And now God appears to Moses and tells him that something utterly new is about to occur, something the patriarchs knew about in theory but had never lived to see in practice: a new nation, a new kind of faith, a new kind of political order, a new type of society. God was about to enter history and set the West on a trajectory that no human beings had ever contemplated before.

Time was no longer going simply to be what Plato beautifully described as the moving image of eternity. It was going to become the stage on which God and humanity would journey together toward the day when all human beings, regardless of class, color, creed or culture, would achieve their full dignity as the image and likeness of God. Religion was about to become not a conservative force but an evolutionary, and even revolutionary, one.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.”


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “When History Was Born”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike in  northern Gaza.
Israeli Air Force Strikes Gaza After Midnight Rocket Attack
Latest Judaism Stories
Lag

As Lag B’Omer bonfires blaze across Israel, we know that the holy essence of Am Yisrael guarantees that the Nation will return to its roots no matter how secular it looks on the outside.

Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo

“I’m sure that if Maimonides, or Rabbi Yosef Karo lived today, they would say: We never wrote our codifications for a time when the State of Israel would be established.”

Rabbi Francis Nataf

Had the Jews not sinned with the spies, they would have gone into the land led by Moshe at the end of Parshat Shelach. Hence the end of Vayikra would have basically been the end of the Torah

Gross-052016

After the kohanim, leviim and yisraelim lies the outermost circle, representing the nations of the world.

We are all familiar with the idea of preparing for matan Torah, but in which way does counting the days help us become worthy of receiving the Torah?

Dani unwrapped the book and was very happy as it was exactly what he wanted.

In Spite Of The Consequences
‘There Is Birtha di’Satya In Babylon’
(Kiddushin 72a)

“Do you really think it’s theirs?” asked Shlomie. “They’re only kids.”

Question: Is there a requirement to say “Hineni muchan u’mezuman…” before Sefirat HaOmer? Also if a person arrives late for Maariv, should he count sefirah first with the minyan or proceed immediately to Maariv?

Moshe Jakobowitz
Brooklyn, NY

This mitzvah seems very difficult to understand. The answer lies in our understanding how our middos are shaped.

In a way not shared by any other festival, Sukkot celebrates the dual nature of Jewish faith: the universality of G-d and the particularity of Jewish existence.

On the other hand, perhaps the fetus she is carrying is a male, and she is obligated to ensure that he does not become tamei.

The Hebrew word for coincidence is ‘mikreh.’ It comes from “karah min Hashem – it happened from G-d.” G-d arranges our footsteps.” You must only learn how to listen.

The Torah is telling us something here: Though we may sometimes act too rashly, there are times when rash action is the only way to prevent a complete catastrophe.

The difference between becoming widowed and becoming a divorcee is the former evokes compassion while the latter suffer differently enduring gossip

More Articles from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Sacks-Rabbi-Jonathan-NEW

In a way not shared by any other festival, Sukkot celebrates the dual nature of Jewish faith: the universality of G-d and the particularity of Jewish existence.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

As Jews became defined by religion, Christians could work to convert them–You can change your religion but you cannot change your race

Social media brought about a return to an ancient phenomenon, public shaming providing us a way of understanding the otherwise bewildering phenomenon of tsara’at,

The sedrah of Tazria begins with the law of circumcision Why this physical mark on the flesh? What does it tell us about the nature of Jewish identity?

What is the logic of kashrut? And why are they placed here in parshat Shemini? AND what is their connection with the sanctuary?

What was sacrifice in Judaism and why does it remain important, at least as an idea, even today?

Like our bodies, our souls were not made for sitting still. We were made for moving, learning, searching, striving, growing

For G-d, the Sabbath was the last day of the week; for human beings, it was the first.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/when-history-was-born/2012/01/20/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: