Rabbi Avraham Norin  
Currently teaches in Israel at the Machon Meir and Ora conversion program

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Parasha Va’era begins with powerful verses promising Israel’s redemption (6, 2-8). To fully appreciate them, we must first explain the reason why Hashem begins the “Brit HaBetarim” covenant he made with Avraham using the bleak imagery of “your offspring will be strangers in a land not theirs and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years” (Genesis chapter 12, verses 12-14).  

The reason for this is because Hashem models his relationship with Israel after three types of relationships:

  •  The affectionate relationship between a husband and wife (for example, see Jeremiah 2). This relationship is solidified by their joint place of dwelling.
  • The benevolent relationship between a master and his servant (for example, see Isaiah 44), which is the equivalent of today’s employer-employee relationship. This relationship derives strength from the sense of identity and feeling of uniqueness the employer grants to his employees.
  • The caring relationship between parent and child (for example, see Deuteronomy 32).  This relationship is fostered by the instinctive feelings of parents to protect their children, and children seeing their parents as guardians.

Based on the nature of these relationships, one might have concluded that the experiences Israel had in Egypt demonstrated the termination of Hashem’s covenant. Due to famine, the people of Israel were forced to leave their homeland. The role of slavery seemed to have replaced Israel’s role of a special nation. In addition, Hashem appeared to be apathetic to the severe beatings Israel received from their Egyptian taskmasters.

In order to establish that this wasn’t the case, Hashem made a point in mentioning the situations of being strangers in another land, becoming slaves and experiencing oppression already in his brit with Avraham.  By stating them in advance, Hashem conveyed the message that his covenant with Israel is everlasting, even when the reality appears to be otherwise.  

Now we can appreciate the verses in parshat Va’era where Hashem reiterates his commitment to Israel, using all three models of relationship:

“Say, therefore, to the Israelite people: I am Hashem. I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage” (Exodus 6:6), meaning I am still your caring parent!
“I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God. And you shall know that I, Hashem, am your God who freed you from the labors of the Egyptians” (6:7), meaning I am still your compassionate employer!
 “I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession, I Hashem” (6:8)meaning I am still your loving spouse (and it’s time to come back home).

 Throughout the generations, due to the unwavering faith in these promises, the people of Israel have remained true to Hashem and the Torah. In our times, we have merited to see these promises unfold before our eyes, proving once again that Hashem’s covenant with Israel is as strong as ever.

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