Our Forefathers Could Content Themselves 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 about to reprimand Moses for having asked: “Why have You done evil to this people?” (Exodus 5:22). Furthermore, did G-d not reveal Himself to the Patriarchs using the name “the L-RD”? In fact G-d said to Abraham, “I am the L-RD, Who brought you out of Ur-Kasdim” (Genesis 15:7), and He 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 cite the Holy One, blessed be He, as saying: “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]. However 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).
It is difficult to understand the connection between the question, “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 asking, “What is Your Name,” but not angry for saying, “Neither have You delivered Your people at all”? In fact what is the phrase, “What is Your Name” doing here?
According to the Midrash, “May E-l Sh-ddai grant you mercy” (Genesis 43:14) means 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,” for when the Holy One, blessed be He, created Heaven and earth, they continued to expand until He said, “enough” (see Tanhuma, Mikeitz 10).
It seems that the Name Sh-ddai represents reduction and scarcity, for it was through this Name that Heaven and earth were stopped from expanding further. Thus the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: “Perhaps you believe that you merited to speak with Me because I revealed Myself to you by the Name “the L-RD,” and therefore you think that you can reprimand Me and learn how I direct the world. Consider that the Patriarchs, despite being great tzaddikim who overcame trials, did not ask Me for anything or try to learn how I direct the world. Because you seek to know My Name, it means 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 felt like foreigners in this world, for just as foreigners do not ask for anything and are satisfied with little, they did not ask for anything and were satisfied with little.”
The Name Sh-ddai contains the notion of restriction, and the Sages have said: “Thus Scripture says, ‘For we are like sojourners before You, and like temporary residents, as were all our forefathers’ [I Chronicles 29:15]. Likewise the tzaddikim are the essential part in this world, and yet they make themselves as nothing. Thus we find that although Abraham was essential to the world, he made himself secondary, 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]” (Agadat Bereshith 58).
The Mishnah teaches, “Whoever possess 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 really a rebuke. In other words: Do not think that you can take Me to task as you try to understand My ways! Your fathers did not try to understand My ways, and there were satisfied with everything that I did to them. They were content to see and accept it, just as a servant who is told by his mater to do something: He does not ask why, but instead goes and does it as soon as he is told.
This is what constitutes “I appeared.” It is why Hashem told 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, doing so immediately and without protest.
We may also explain this by noting that the term va’eira (“and I appeared”) 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. With regards to Abraham we read: “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). Further on we read, “Behold, a ram achar [behind] caught in the thicket by its horns” (ibid. 22:13), and concerning Isaac we read, “Sojourn [gur] in this land” (ibid. 26:3). The word gur has the same numerical value as achar. This is similar to what Jacob said to Esau, “I have sojourned with Laban va’echar [and delayed] until now” (ibid. 32:5). Concerning Joseph we read, “May E-l Sh-ddai grant you mercy before the man, that he may release your acher [other] brother to you” (ibid. 43:14).
The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: Although your forefathers endured trials before you, they were content with little and accepted My decrees without protest. You should have done the same by not protesting.