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Torah Portion

Home > Torah Portion > VaEra

Torah Portion: Vaera
January 26, 2001
2 Shevat, 5761
by Rabbi Stephen M Wylen


[God said to Moses:] I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as El Shaddai, but by My name Y-H-W-H I did not become known to them. (Exodus 6:3)

COMMENTARY: paraphrase of the Safat Emet, in Arthur Green's The Language of Truth

The spiritual labors of the patriarchs were for the sake of the Jewish people, which is why the patriarchs are called our fathers. They lived within the natural world, and not the supernatural world. They went from place to place, finding and revealing the spark of divine light that is hidden behind the natural world of appearances. The natural world is a world of illusion, a covering that hides the true being which is the spiritual light of God.

In this world every element of true insight is surrounded by falsehood. Only by great effort can we strip away the falsehood to discover the light of truth.

The Torah tells us that no prophet was ever the equal of Moses in his recognition of God. (Deut. 34:10). The midrash puts it this way: Moses saw as through a mirror brightly, while all the other prophets as through a mirror darkly. (Leviticus Rabba 1:14)

We may ask, if the mirror of the other prophets was dark, why is it still called a mirror? The answer is that the glimmer of divine truth shone through the darkness of appearances.

Moses saw as all will see in the messianic future. He saw right through the world of appearances to the shining light of God's life-force which fills all creation, the beautiful light which in this world is clothed in the garment of nature.

As a person sanctifies himself in the world of nature and being, he rises to a higher level of holiness, and this is seeing God as through a mirror darkly. This is demanding work.


If one could be Moses, then the holiest life would be a life of contemplation. One would spend all of one's time basking in the light of God's presence. This is supernatural being.

For those of us who are not Moses, and that means everyone else, such a life is not possible. For us, the patriarchs provide a better role model of religious living. They lived naturally, within this world, uncovering sparks of holiness in their daily existence. This is hard and demanding work, to seek holiness within the natural world. But that is our highest reasonable spiritual aspiration. We may never see God like Moses did, through a mirror brightly. But, by following the example of the patriarchs, striving towards holiness, we may come to perceive God's light shining through the course of natural and human events.


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