"And Elokim [G‑d] spoke to Moses and He said to Him, I am Havayah!" (Ex. 6:2)
…All the miracles performed by G‑d in Egypt which defied all known laws of nature, were invoked by the Ineffable Four-lettered Name, "Havayah", which symbolizes G‑d as a composite of the Hebrew words for "He was, He is, He will be", the One who created the world ex nihilo and Who is eternal. The name "Elokim", on the other hand, symbolizes nature, i.e. the laws of nature. We have repeatedly mentioned that the Hebrew word for "the nature/ha'teva", has the same numerical value as the word "Elokim". According to the Zohar, that name represents a "kav", or "line", the rule of law and order, i.e. justice. The characteristics of all living creatures were determined by G‑d invoking His attribute Elokim.
[Ed. note: In the words of the Arizal: "After G‑d had created the place for a universe, He created all that was to fill that place. This was accomplished by means of a kav, a sort of pipeline. The light G‑d created entered and dissipated within the "place" designated for the universe by means of the kav.]
The fact that the name Havayah is a "higher" attribute than that of Elokim is documented: (Ex. 18:11) "That Havayah is greater than [any] Elokim", when Jethro acknowledges the superiority of that attribute of G‑d over all others. All other attributes [i.e. names] of G‑d are derived from the Ineffable Name. One of the allusions to this is found in Psalms (136), in which the Psalmist commences by calling upon us to praise: "Praise Havayah because He is good, because His kindness is eternal"; (Psalms 136:1) "Praise Elokim of all lords, because His kindness is eternal" (Psalms 136:2); "Praise Ado-nai [Master] of all masters, because His kindness is eternal". (Psalms 136:3) Pharaoh had no difficulty in accepting G‑d in His attribute as Elokim…
G‑d created the system of planets, which are referred to as Ad-anim. Every Shabbat we read in a liturgical poem "G‑d equipped them with might and power to rule in the midst of the world". G‑d nonetheless remains Master of all masters. On a higher level than the planets are the Celestial Forces who are in charge of these various planets and basic forces of nature. They are known as Elokim [Lords]. Above those celestial forces is the attribute known to us as Lord of lords. The Ineffable Four-lettered Name [Havayah] towers above the aforementioned three names for deity-like powers that operate in the universe.
It was this name and what it implies that G‑d employed when performing supernatural miracles in Egypt. Whenever Moses appeared before Pharaoh he appeared as a messenger of that attribute. Pharaoh's reaction (Ex. 5:2) was that he had certainly never heard of such an attribute of any deity "Who is Havayah that I should heed Him"? Pharaoh had no difficulty in accepting G‑d in His attribute as Elokim, as we know from Gen. (41:38) The Zohar already comments on the verse where Joseph says, "G‑d will provide a reply for the welfare of Pharaoh." (Gen. 41:16):
Rabbi Aba said: "Observe the wickedness of Pharaoh who claimed not to have heard of G‑d. He was extremely clever and exploited the fact that Moses had not presented himself as a messenger of Elokim - whom he could not have denied - but as a messenger of Havayah. He found it puzzling that Moses did not come in the name of the "same" G‑d as the G‑d of Joseph whom he recognized. He could not come to terms with that name of G‑d.
When the Torah writes "And Havayah hardened Pharaoh's heart", the meaning is that it was the use of that name that made Pharaoh's heart become obstinate. This is the reason that Moses never used a different name for G‑d when confronting Pharaoh. (Sulam edition, Miketz, page 13)
Thus far the Zohar. Pharaoh duped himself…
When we follow the approach taken by the Zohar we realize that G‑d never interfered with Pharaoh's decision-making process at all. Pharaoh duped himself. The cause of his obstinacy was "ani" [meaning "I"], as in "Ani-Havayah" - "I am Havayah" (Ex. 6:2). When G‑d said to Moses, "I shall make the heart of Pharaoh obstinate" (Ex. 7:3), the implied meaning is: "My revelation to him that I am Havayah, will harden his heart."
When the magicians acknowledged that the plague of lice was not the result of superior magic by Moses or Aaron (ibid. 8:15), they limited their acknowledgment of its origin to Elokim, thereby excluding Havayah.
Pharaoh had learned the meaning of Elokim from Joseph and acknowledged this deity as superior to other deities. His acknowledgment did not extend to such a deity's control of what he considered the laws of nature. We have a rule: (Berachot 48) "Since G‑d has assigned sovereignty to a certain king, or kingdom, another king or kingdom must not infringe on the sovereignty of such." [The Talmud illustrates this principle by pointing out Saul's artificially delayed arrival in order that the commencement of his kingdom should not shorten by as much as a minute the period G‑d had designated for the leadership of the prophet Samuel - Ed.]
Pharaoh understood that the existence of the kingdom of Elokim, though presumably greater than that of his own or other kings, would not interfere with the sovereignty of other kingdoms. There are many kingdoms in this world which co-exist although some are more powerful than others. …If I do not do for me who will do for me?
It is also possible that Pharaoh acknowledged G‑d as the Master of the Universe, but did not consider the Universe as G‑d's creation, but rather considered Him part of the Universe. Other philosophers conceive of G‑d as inseparable from the world, much as they view light as inseparable from the sun. For all these reasons, i.e. limiting G‑d's possible domain, Pharaoh was angered when Moses pointed out that there was an added dimension to G‑d. Pharaoh reacted by increasing the workload of his Jewish slaves, as we read (Ex. 5:9).
When Moses observed this result of his first mission, he called out: "Ever since I have come to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, i.e. Havayah, he has made the burdens of the Jewish people even harder to bear" (ibid.5:23). This was something like a challenge to G‑d to demonstrate the full impact of His Four-lettered Ineffable Name.
At the beginning of our portion, G‑d therefore responds to Moses by saying that what He will do will prove that "Ani ['I am'] Havayah" (Ex. 6:2). When Hillel coined the phrase "If I do not do for me who will do for me? And if I do only for myself what good am I?" (Avot l:14), this was a rhetorical question posed to describe man's inadequacy in this world when he acts only as an individual. G‑d posed a similar question concerning His position in the universe, by indicating that if He did not now demonstrate the true meaning of having described Himself as "Ani" - "I", then who else would do so on His behalf? Pharaoh's comment "Who is Havayah…?" would then be justified! On the other hand, if I do reveal My Essence ["myself"], then…in the phrase "What good am I ['ani']?", "I" can demonstrate the greatness of G‑d's works, how they were all initiated with profound wisdom, a reference to creation ex nihilo.
[Translation and commentary by Eliyahu Munk.]