>One of the films I remember watching in my teens was the Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor comedy: ‘See No Evil, Hear No Evil’. The premise of the film was that Gene Wilder’s character was deaf, Richard Pryor’s character was blind, and together they witnessed a murder. The film played on the importance of these two senses, with hilarious consequences. For a full picture of the crime both Wilder and Pryor were necessary, alone neither possessed enough pieces of the puzzle.
In this week’s Torah portion the interplay between what is seen and what is heard appears important in regards to God’s relationship with Moses.
After an apparent failure last week, when Pharaoh refused to release the Israelites, and just increased their toil and suffering, Moses requires reassurance from God before moving forward. ‘I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as El Shaddai, I did not make my name Adonai known to them’ (Exodus 6:3). Although God stresses the different names with which our Patriarchs knew God (El Shaddai) and the name given to Moses (Adonai); it is also important that the word used to describe the relationship with our Patriarchs is “appeared” – va’era. It is this word which gives the Torah portion its name.
The word va’era relates specifically to the idea of being seen, coming from the root which always conveys a sense of vision with ones eyes (resh-aleph-hey). While God does appear to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Book of Genesis, the relationship is most often verbal: ‘And God spoke to…’ Our Patriarchs heard God’s words and followed God’s instructions, but it is the fact that they saw God which is stressed here. Perhaps our Patriarchs had a deepened relationship with God because they were able to witness God with multiple senses.
The significant change in the relationship which God establishes with Moses is not related to the way in which God appears visibly, it is in the way that God is heard by Moses. God does not introduce Godself to Moses by the name ‘El Shaddai’, this name was for the Patriarchs. Now, with Moses, God’s name is to be ‘Adonai’ – what Moses hears is different from the experience of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
When we consider the two names of ‘El Shaddai’ and ‘Adoani’ it is significant that while ‘El Shaddai’ is a direct transliteration of the Hebrew, the name ‘Adonai’ is a representation of the root yud-hey and vav-hey, which we do not know how to pronounce, we do not know what this word should truly sound like.
While our ancestors saw and heard God, we are a combination of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in ‘See No Evil, Hear No Evil’, in that God does not appear to us, and we cannot hear God’s name. The challenge for us is to strain, and train, our senses so that we might catch a glimpse of God, or hear a whisper of God’s presence. It won’t be the same relationship which God had with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses; but we can still have a connection through recognising God in different ways.