Rabbi David Walk
What do we really know? That's not such an easy question to answer. Even when people are confronted with irrefutable facts, they often continue to persist in their erroneous assertions. I could obviously use the American president to prove my point. His electoral victory was not historically huge, and this was not the largest tax cut in US history (eighth place). As Daniel Patrick Moynahan famously said, 'You have a right to your opinion, but not your own facts.' There are 'facts' which are verifiably wrong which everybody continues to accept and promulgate; Napoleon was not short (at 168 cm, he was slightly over average for Frenchmen at the time, that's 5 foot 6 inches for stubborn Americans), the Great Wall of China can't be seen from space, and water flushed in Australia does not rotate the other way. People tend to filter information to only accept the data which reinforces preconceived notions, 'confirmation bias'. People prefer reassuring falsehoods over inconvenient truths. That reality was not only true of the Jews in Egypt (and, later, everywhere else), but even of Moshe Rabbeinu. As we shall see.
The first half of this week's Torah reading is the answer to the questions Moshe asked at the end of last week's parsha. Moshe and Aharon had just returned from their first encounter with Pharoah, and it went badly. Their signs and instructions from God were mocked, and the burdens upon the Jews were increased, because they now had to supply their own straw for their brick production. In exasperation, Moshe turns to God and kvetches: O Lord! Why have You harmed this people? Why have You sent me? Since I have come to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has harmed this people, and You have not saved Your people (Exodus 5:22-23). There are really two questions which must be addressed: Why have You made things worse? and Why have You sent me? God deals with them in order.
Our parsha begins with God describing the evolving relationship between the Jews and our Parent in heaven. Initially, our ancestors knew God as Elokim or Keil Shakai. These names denote power and control of nature. They designate God as the replacement for the false gods of idolatry who were seen as the purveyors of natural phenomena. However, the Tetragrammaton or four-letter name of God was not 'known' to them. But they did know that name. It's in many verses in Genesis. That's why the Hebrew word I translated as 'known' is nodati, which really means 'did not make known'. God didn't reveal that aspect of Divine reality