Happened To Meet Us
This week we begin the second book of the Torah, the book of Exodus. The book relates the history of the People of Israel from their beginings in the land of Egypt through the Exodus from Egypt and the Revelation at Sinai. The final chapters of the book relate some of the mitzvot received at Sinai and the laws relating to the construction of the Tabernacle in the wilderness.
Below we look at a verse about God's command to Moses to take the Elders of Israel to meet Pharaoh and request freedom for the People of Israel.
"They will listen to your voice and then you and the Elders of Israel will come to the king of Egypt and say to him 'Hashem, the God of the Hebrews, happened to [meet with] us. Please let us go a way of three days into the wilderness to offer a sacrifice to Hashem, our God.' "
Happened to [meet with] us - RASHI: [The word "nikra" with a "heh" at the end] means "happened." Similarly, "And Hashem happened to meet." Or, "And I will will be met by Him here."
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?
Rashi points out the meaning of the word "nikrah" here which seems a bit strange and inappropriate. The root "karah" (with a "heh" at the end), means "happened" as if by accident. A similar word, "karah," (with an alef at the end) on the other hand, means "called." The latter would seem most appropriate here. God called to them. But our verse has the unusual word "karah" meaning "happened," Rashi comes to clarify its meaning. He cites some other verses where God called to someone and yet the Torah used this word "karah."
So Rashi tells us that although the use of this word here is unusual, it is not unique. There are other places in the Torah where the word is used to mean called although its basic sense is "happened."
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN "NIKRAH" AND "NIKRA"
The difference between the use of these words in the context of God's speaking to man - this is what we refer to as prophecy - is that sometimes the prophecy is more intentional and other times it is more "happenstance," so to speak. Then the appropriate word is "nikrah." The word "nikrah" (with an alef), on the other hand, would mean directly calling, in a full-fledged prophecy.
It seems, for whatever reason, that the prophecy in our verse was of the lower level.
Compare our verse with verse 5:3. and ask your question:
A QUESTION ON THE VERSE
In verse 5:3 Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh with the message which, in our verse, God had commanded them to convey.
They repeat the same words from our verse, yet the word "nikrah" is spelled with an "alef" and not a "heh." Since it is a quote from our verse, we should expect the exact same word to be used. But it is different! Why?
Can you think of an answer to this puzzle?
UNDERSTANDING THE TORAH'S CHOICE OF WORDS
An Answer: Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin, zt'l, in his Torah commentary Oznayim LaTorah offers the following explanation.
When Hashem told Moses to go to Pharaoh, he told him to take the Elders of Israel with him. Rashi tells us (in verse 5:3) that, one by one, the Elders abandoned Moses and Aaron on their way to Pharaoh. They were afraid to confront this mighty ruler. Apparently these Elders were not of the highest spiritual calibre. Granted that they were the leaders of the People, but this was relative to the spiritually low state of the nation as a whole, at that time.
Thus, when Hashem spoke to Moses and the Elders, His prophecy was of a lower nature due to the audience, the Elders, who were not on a permanent level for receiving prophecy. Thus the word "nikrah" (with a "heh") was used. Their prophecy was, so to speak, an accidental or circumstantial event. It "happened" but only because of the need of the hour.
On the other hand, when Moses and Aaron finally arrived at Pharaoh's palace, they were alone - the Elders had left them. These two men were certainly on a permanent, and not accidental, level of prophecy. Thus in that verse the word is "nikrah" with an "alef," meaning that God actually called to us in a bona fide prophecy.
I had been bothered by the discrepancy between these two verses for many years. Then I saw Rabbi Sorotzkin's explanation, which truly satisfied me. It only goes to show, that while the mysteries of the Torah are many, with thought and faith they can be reasonably explained.