This week’s parashah tells us of the giving of the Laws to Moshe on Mt. Sinai, and it’s aftermath. But what exactly is Divine Law? And do human beings have any say in what the Law is to be? An incident much later in the Torah hints at the dynamic relationship between the Children of Israel and the Laws of God.
All Parashat HaShavua essays
God has made two unconditional promises to the Jewish people: one that we are eternal, that we will not disappear; and the second that He will ultimately redeem us. Unfortunately, He has also warned us that a certain kind of irrational hatred will be our lot throughout the generations.
This week’s parashah takes place in the midst of the dramatic ceremony of the Covenant at Sinai. The Israelites have accepted the terms and conditions and now stand poised to sign on the dotted line. Now comes the small print: the actual terms and conditions they are to keep. But there’s something very odd about the way the names of God come up in presenting these laws…. The names of God hint at the nature of law, causality, and justice.
Is it appropriate to sing God’s praises, when God is utterly silent to our distress? Jewish tradition has addressed the question in different ways throughout history. Some of these answers may be helpful to us, living through a period that includes both unimaginable lows and historic highs.
One of the more perplexing aspects of the Exodus story is the repeated “hardening” of Pharaoh’s heart. This phrase—together with another that is equally mysterious—is the key to understanding the true miracle of the Exodus. Virtually every encounter with Pharaoh involves a dialog between two key concepts: the hardening of the heart is paired with God’s showing Pharaoh, the Egyptians, or the Israelites “that I am Hashem.” Why is it so important that the Egyptians learn the mysterious name of God? Surely the primary target for this lesson would be the Israelites themselves!
The solution to both questions is bound up in the true miracle of the Exodus—and it isn’t what we commonly think!