It has been said that the life of Moses can be seen as three distinct movements, forty years each. First Moses spends the first forty years thinking he is somebody. He has fallen by providence into the royal court of Pharaoh, raised as a prince of Egypt while his people, the Jewish people suffer unbeknown to him. In the second act he discovers that he is nobody. In a rather extended midlife crisis he winds up down and out, tending sheep in the wilderness among the tribes of Midian. But it is in the third forty years of Moses’ life that he discovers what Hashem can do with somebody who accepts he is nobody.
Parashah Va’eira begins as Shemot ended, with Moses returning to the presence of Hashem, pleading petulantly. Moses was sent to Pharaoh to demand the release of the Israelite slaves. But instead of releasing them, Pharaoh takes away their straw for brickmaking and they are absolutely outraged. Moses asks the Holy One how he might expect Pharaoh to listen to him, when even the children of Israel seem totally uninterested in his leadership. Moses goes so far as to accuse God of being unfaithful. “My Lord, why have you done evil to this people, why have you sent me? From the time I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name he did evil to this people, but You did not rescue Your people.” (5:22-23)
What appears to be an absolutely audacious indictment of the Holy One, may just be indicative of the intended maturation of Moses. By most normal measurements of success, Moses seems to be on a continual downhill spiral. He has gone from prince to outlaw, to sheep farmer, to dissident, to rejected and dejected labor leader. But something unique is happening in Moses. Instead of fleeing Egypt forever, Moses returns to the presence of Israel’s God to plea the case of a people that he has oddly identified with since his youth (2:11). Upon originally returning to Egypt to confront Pharaoh, Moses’ wife Zipporah circumcises their sons with a flint knife, a material act of identification into the covenant between God and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This timely interruption to the narrative suggests that Moses no longer sees himself as an appointed deliverer from outside the community of faith, rather as a fully enfranchised member of the family of Israel. In other words Moses has come to recognize and appreciate his heritage and his task.
What follows, is a rebuke and an encouragement from Hashem that are in some ways indistinguishable from each other. God spoke to Moses saying, “I am Hashem. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shaddai, but with my Name Hashem (YHVH) I did not make Myself known to them.” (6:2-3) Prior to calling Moses into service, the Torah informs that God “remembered the covenant with the patriarchs (2:24), but now the disclosure of the Divine Name establishes the covenant with Moses as part of the natural progression of the patriarchal covenant. Moses and Israel are entering into their inheritance together.
Hashem then promises that the land of Canaan will be part of the inheritance; it will be the Eretz Yisrael. (v.4) Then after stating His intention to liberate Israel and take them for His people, Hashem declares again concerning the land, “And I shall give it to you as a heritage (Morashah) (6:8).” This Hebrew term, morashah, heritage appears twice in the Torah. It is first mentioned in relation to the Land of Israel, and later in Devarim 33:4, in connection with the giving of Torah. The term morashah is used in two places to teach us that the heritage represented by the Land of Israel can remain ours only if we commit ourselves to the keeping of Torah.
In the same way that Moses the liberator, law giver and teacher needed to mature into his heritage as a fully enfranchised member of Hashem’s Holy Nation, so we, the sons and daughters of Israel must mature into our heritage as well. The promises of morashah, Land and Torah are inseparable. The thrice daily prayer Alenu declares that our inheritance is our task. We are called to be a light to the nations, to draw all people to the service of the one true God. This is our heritage, this is our call, and it cannot be measured by any of the normal standards.