Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Shmot
To dedicate this lesson

Name That G-D


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Tevet 20 5776
Speaking of Shmot-names, there is One specific name in the Parsha that needs exploration, & that is the name of G-d.

Moshe petitions the Almighty: "When I tell Bnei Yisrael that the G-d of our fathers has sent me, & they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ – what shall I tell them?"

And Hashem answers: "Say to them: ‘Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh; Ehyeh has sent me to you.’ "

And G-d continues: "Hashem, the G-d of your forefathers - the G-d of Avraham, the G-d of Yitzchak, the G-d of Yakov - has sent me to you. This is My name forever ("l’olam")."

So many questions jump out at us:

- What does "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh" mean?
- Why, after using this name, does G-d tell Moshe to identify Him through the Avot?
- Why does He say, "the G-d of Avraham, the G-d of Yitzchak, the G-d of Yakov," rather than, ‘the G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak & Yakov?!"
- And the word, "l’olam" - which Rashi says means "hidden" - what is it exactly that G-d hiding from us?

So let us try to make some sense of this name-game; for we know that the essence of anyone or anything – including Hashem – is to be found in its (Hebrew) name.

Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means, literally, "I shall be what I shall be." One explanation of this cryptic statement is, "I was (‘haya’) with you in the past; I am with you in the present (‘hoveh’); and I shall be with you in the future (‘yih’yeh’)." That is, I am with you every step of the way.

But a deeper meaning of, "I will be what I will be" is, "I will do what I need to do, I will act as I see fit, I have My own plan for the Universe, I have My own timetable for action; & mortal man is not necessarily privy to it."

However, says Hashem, that does not mean that Man is helpless or useless. "Man is My partner, & he must do his part as well. He must act in tandem with Me to move the chains of history."

And this is the example set by each of the Avot – in their own way – who played a key role in our development as a nation by making dramatic - and often risky - moves to do what they felt needed to be done. Avraham, when he argued for S'Dom, or fought the Four Kings; Yitzchak, when he knowingly went along at the Akeida; or Yakov, when he acted to claim the birthright, or when he fought the angel. They had choices to make, & they made them.

In fact, it is precisely the fact that G-d is hidden, and "holds Himself back," that compels us to take the initiative & act decisively; for if we knew exactly what Hashem’s plan was, our power of free choice would be compromised; we would essentially be reduced to automatons, or slaves, robotically obeying the master. And that is not why Hashem created us; He wants us to do our share, and has faith in us that we will ultimately make the right decisions.

That is the operative message behind our national name, Yisrael. Actually, it is composed of two words: "Yashar-El:" Straight ahead (Yashar) to Redemption, with G-d (El) at our side."
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