Parashat Va’era: Exodus 6:2 to 9:35

Week of Friday, January 12, 2024

Our Torah portion begins with the verb “Iappeared,” meaning that God “appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make myself known to them by my name JHVH.” (Exodus 6:2)

This famous phrase challenges us to think about the different names that are used to refer to the divine, the ineffable one. The answer God give Moses at the burning bush, concerning his name, is that Moseswill know Him as “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh,” which means “I will be whom I shall be,” although most older translations render these words as, “I am who I am.”

The Torah makes it clear that the name used in Genesis, “Shaddai, is not the entire story. To be sure El Shaddai implies the ultimate source of sustenance, the provider. But when God reveals himself to Moses and employs the tetragrammaton, the implication is that this is not only a new “name,” but the meaning of this name is highly significant.  The names for God that we read in Genesis are really about the Almighty as Creator. But in Exodus, the four letter name for God is about the One who is the source of redemption, and the source of love for the Israelite people. To be sure, the four letter name for God was used in Genesis, but Rashi (writing in the eleventh century) points out the subtle differences in referring to the divine. Rashi says, “I did not make myself known, I did not allow my real character to be recognized….keeping my promises which have yet to be fulfilled.” What is this incredible promise? To liberate the Israelite people from Egyptian bondage! Hence every name in the Torah carries with it deeper meanings, and visions of the future.

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