Congregation Etz Chaim of DuPage County

Passover Questions

Fri, 03/31/2017 - 10:08am -- Rabbi Cosnowsky

The Haggadah tells us that God redeemed us with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Following 413 years of slavery and affliction, God sent the plagues to our oppressors, and we were about to leave Egypt. However, the Pharaoh reconsidered his decision to set us free and sent the Egyptian army to annihilate us. This was the first stage of God's redemption.

The second stage of redemption took place when God let the waters come down upon the Egyptian army and they all drowned. Then the Israelites were finally free to serve God. But this story brings up many questions: First, why was the redemption done in stages? Why couldn't God just have annihilated the Egyptians in Egypt?

Second, the Torah asks, after the Egyptians pursued the Israelites, would "the Egyptians know that I am God?" (Exodus 14:4) Wasn't it made clear to them who God was during the ten plagues? To answer these questions, we must understand that there are two statements in the Torah about Moses' demands of Pharaoh about the immediate release of the Israelites. When Moses (actually, it was Aaron) tells Pharaoh, "Let my People Go," Moses refers to God as Adonai. Pharaoh answers that he has never heard of Adonai and refuses to set them free. Immediately, Moses again demands that Pharaoh release the Israelites. This time he refers to God as, "The G-d (Elohim) has called to us."

Why does Moses first refer to God by the name Adonai and the second time around as Elohim? The Ramban, a classic 13th -century commentator, says that although Pharaoh acknowledged Elohim, he would not recognize Adonai. Pharaoh would not admit the Israelite God was mightier than his Egyptian deities. He was forced to acknowledge it at the redemption at the Red Sea. This is why the Israelites broke into song when they crossed over and saw that they had prevailed. They understood God was powerful by the demonstration of the plagues. But it was only at the second redemption at the Red Sea that they knew.

So, as we celebrate Passover, let us begin to recognize the wondrous miracles God has done for us - then and now. Then can we know that God is wondrous and we too can join the Israelites in singing "Who is like You among the gods, Adonai! Who is like You, adorned in holiness" (Exodus 15:11), and "God (Elohim) shall reign for all eternity" (Exodus 15:18).

May you and your family be blessed with a Zissen Pesach - a happy and healthy holiday filled with miracles and wonder at the unfolding of another Spring season.