The portion Shemot is a very significant one. It is one when we find both what's called the Exile, which represents a time of darkness that we know is not simply a recollection of the historical exile, but more importantly, represents any moment of darkness within our lives, and also the beginning of what's called the Redemption, the Gelulah. Shemot is the only portion where we have both the complete Exile, the complete darkness, and at least the beginning of the complete Gelulah, the complete revelation of the Light of the Creator. It is the one moment where the secret of Redemption, the Light of the Redemption, is revealed to Moses. What this means for us is that any time when we find ourselves in darkness and exile, it is from the Shabbat of the portion Shemot that we can draw the Light and assistance to truly be able to get out of that place.
This is the moment in the Torah where Moses asks for, and receives, the Light of the total Redemption. In the physical story, he says to the Creator, “I'm going to go to the Israelites, who have for hundreds of years been in darkness and pain, suffering tremendous, terrible deaths… What can I reveal to them? What secret can I give them to explain not only how we're going to end the darkness now, but more importantly, how they can always have the ability to end darkness in their lives?”
The Creator responds, Ehyeh asher ehyeh, “I will be what I will be.” Three words that are not separated, as some people might think. And the kabbalists say that these three words, Ehyeh asher ehyeh, hold within them the great Light and secrets of the Redemption, always. What is the secret of those three words? To answer, the Ramban, Nachmanides, quotes from the Midrash, “What is the secret of the phrase, ‘I will be as I will be?’ The Creator tells the Israelites, you want to know why, for hundreds of years, you're experiencing darkness, and even though you're trying to connect, even though you are trying to draw Light and end the darkness, it is not happening for you? Because you think it is enough to just do actions.”
We know that in order to connect, we do actions to draw the Light of the Creator; we come on Shabbat, we give some charity, we read some Zohar. But that's not enough, the Ramban tells us, because the Light of the Creator does not give gifts for connections. There’s only one way that the Light of the Creator can behave. It's something we've learned, but unfortunately, we maybe don't completely live and act upon. And this is what the Creator is telling Moses to tell the Israelites: If you want to bring an end to all this darkness and pain, it's not by continuing to be a spiritual person by doing actions, but rather, it is by Ehyeh asher ehyeh, which means, “As you are with Me, so I am with you.” As we, ourselves, behave is the only way the Creator can behave towards us.
Let's say, for example, a person needs a large amount of mercy in their lives. Maybe he is by nature a nice person, such that when he shares with other people, or even thinks about other people, he thinks kindly. But does he think abundantly kindly? No, most people don't. Even those of us who are good people, who give and share, do not even think to give to others abundantly. As such, we have to understand that no matter what spiritual actions we do, no matter how many connections we come to, while we are still not acting with abundant mercy or kindness towards other people, we cannot receive that abundance of mercy or Light from the Creator. No matter how many spiritual actions we’ve done, the Light of the Creator cannot act with abundant kindness towards us, because Ehyeh asher ehyeh – the Creator can only behave towards us as we behave in our lives, no matter what else we do spiritually.
Let’s use another example of a person who may need an abundance of mercy in his life, and therefore, writes a very big check, but who, himself, is still not by nature acting abundantly with kindness and mercy to those around him; to him, the Light of the Creator says, “That's great you reveal all this Light, but that Light can't become manifest in your life, because you are not acting as you want Me to act with you.” Ehyeh asher ehyeh, “I can only act as you act.”
If we give out, as most of us do, only limits of kindness, we can only receive from the Light of the Creator limits of kindness. If we act towards others with endless kindness, we can receive endless kindness from the Creator. Many of us, however, do not act with endless kindness, yet ask the Creator to act towards us with endless kindness. But only when we behave towards others with endless kindness can the Light of the Creator behave towards us with endless kindness.
So, the Creator tells Moses that the Israelites are wandering for these hundreds of years, and the suffering, pain, and death continues even though they are spiritual people and are praying, connecting, and sharing, because Ehyeh asher ehyeh. The Light of the Creator can only behave towards the individual as the individual himself behaves. Therefore, regardless of any spiritual connections and actions that the individual does, as the Israelites did in Egypt, they did not need just some kindness or some Light. They needed an overflow of kindness and an overflow of Light. And the Creator asks if they are behaving towards others in a way such that they are overflowing with kindness and Light. If the answer is no, then no amount of spiritual action will draw the Light of the Redemption.
There came a moment when Moses saw the way the Israelites behaved among themselves and said, “Now I understand.” All the Israelites come to Moses and say, “Look, we're spiritual!” like maybe sometimes we do. Maybe we come to the Creator, maybe we come to our teacher, and say, “Look, I'm a spiritual person! I'm doing all of these spiritual actions, so why isn't the Creator flowing down an abundance of Light and blessings to me?” And the answer is very simple. Ehyeh asher ehyeh. No matter what we do of a spiritual nature, the Creator tells Moses to tell the Israelites, and us, that the Light can only behave with us as we are behaving. If we behave with an abundance of kindness, we’ll receive an abundance of kindness. If we behave with an abundance of mercy, we will receive an abundance of mercy. If we don’t, but do all the “spiritual work,” we will still only be limited in the amount of that Light we can receive. Ehyeh asher ehyeh: the Light of the Creator can only behave towards the individual as the individual behaves in his life.
Therefore, the Ramban says the Creator tells Moses to tell the Israelites it's not enough to give. It's not enough to be kind. It's not enough to be merciful; they have to open themselves up completely. If they open themselves completely, then and only then can the Final Redemption come. Then, and only then, can the Light of the Creator begin acting towards them without limit.
And this is the question for us. Whether we are experiencing times of darkness now or in the future, there's only one way to receive endless kindness from the Creator. Most of us see ourselves as good people, but are we living endless kindness? Are we living with endless mercy towards others? If we're honest with ourselves, we’re not. To what degree is right and wrong only we can know. But as long as the answer to that is no, we cannot expect the Light of the Creator to come to us, no matter how many spiritual actions we do endlessly and mercifully, unless we are also behaving that way, because Ehyeh asher ehyeh- “As you are with Me, so I am with you.” The way we behave is the only way the Light of the Creator can behave with us.