We sometimes overlook the fact that a Parashah does not always begin at the beginning of a new Chapter, which is strange. Va’era begins in verse 2 of Chapter 6 of Shemot. So what is the opening verse trying to tell us?
“And God (Elo-him) spoke to Moshe and said to him ‘I am God (HaShem)”
Verse 3 goes on to say “ … and I appeared (Va’era) to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov as ‘E-l Shaddai’ but I didn’t make My name (HaShem) known to them.”
But as Rabbi Lord Sacks points out, this is not correct; to the contrary, God’s first words to Avraham, “Leave your land, your birthplace and your father’s house,” were said using the name HaShem, and just a few verses later (Gen. 12: 7), Vayera Hashem el Avram: “HaShem appeared to Avram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So God had appeared to Avram as Hashem. And in the very next verse it says that Avram built an altar and “He called on the name of Hashem” (12: 8). So Avram himself knew the name and had used it.
Yet it is clear from what God says to Moshe that something new is about to happen, something that not even the people closest to God, has yet seen. What was it?
The answer is that through Bereishit, God is the God of creation, the God of nature, the aspect of God we call, with different nuances but the same overall sense, Elokim, or E-l Shaddai, or Koneh shamayim va-aretz, Creator of heaven and earth.
The aspect of God that appears in the days of Moshe and the Israelites is radically different.
For the first time in history God was about to get involved in history, not through natural disasters like the Flood, but by direct interaction with the people who shape history.
God was about to appear as the force that shapes the destiny of nations. He was about to do something no one had ever heard of before: bring an entire nation from slavery and servitude, persuade them to follow him into the desert, and eventually to the promised land, and there build a new kind of society, based not on power but on justice, welfare, respect for the dignity of the human person and on collective responsibility for the rule of law.