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Free to Be What I Will Be

by Rabbi Yehudah Leow

Adapted by Shlomo Mallin, from "The Book of Divine Power" (Horev Publishers)

  

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Moses said to G-d, Now, I will come to the children of Israel and say to them: "The G-d of your fathers has sent me to you. And they will say to me 'What is His name?' What then should I say to them?"1

Why did Moses anticipate that Israel will ask him the name of G-d? It is quite clear that Israel knew the name of G-d. Indeed, even Abraham, the first Hebrew, already knew this name and explicitly referred to G-d by His name: "Abraham said to the king of Sodom, 'I swear by Havayah, the uppermost G-d...'".2 So too Jacob said: "The G-d of my father Abraham, the G-d of my father Isaac, Havayah, Who said to me...".3

If this name was so very familiar to their ancestors, it must have also been transmitted to them, and they too must have been familiar with it. If so, why did Moses anticipate that Israel will ask him the name of G-d?

This question can be answered as follows: Moses did not mean that Israel did not know the name of G-d, for they obviously knew this name. However, though they all knew the name, this could not be considered real knowledge at all, for they did not understand the meaning of the name. Moses thus anticipated that Israel would ask him the meaning of G-d's name, and this is no simple thing, as can be inferred from a dictum in Tractate Kidushin:4 "The Sages would transmit the name of G-d to their students once a week."

Moses did not mean that Israel did not know the name of G-d, for they obviously knew this name. However, though they all knew the name, this could not be considered real knowledge at all, for they did not understand the meaning of the name
Now, if the dictum "the name of G-d" merely means the superficial name, what point was there in transmitting this once a week? Everybody knows the name of G-d superficially. The dictum must be referring to the deeper meanings of G-d's name. Moses thus anticipated as follows: If I am a Prophet of G-d, it is only right for me to know the deeper meanings of G-d's name. Hence, as a test of my authenticity, Israel will surely ask me to expound this to them....

It is in this sense that Moses' statement - "They will say to me, 'What is His name?'" -should be understood.

However, even if we take this verse literally, and assume that Israel will ask for the name of G-d, not the meaning of the name, this question can still be answered. We can assume that Moses anticipated that Israel will ask the "Exodus name of G-d". Moses anticipated as follows: Israel will say to me, "Aha, so you claim to be the Savior of Israel, who has come to redeem us. If you want us to believe you, first tell us the name of G-d by which He will bring about the Exodus. Surely, if you are the true Savior, you must know this name."

By "name of G-d" Israel meant the "essential order of Exodus". There is a name of G-d related to the order of all G-d's actions, including the order of Exodus. It would surely be appropriate for Moses to know this name of Exodus, if he is the true Savior of Israel.

This interpretation is borne out by the answer that G-d gave to Moses, as it is explained in the first chapter of Tractate Berachot.5 "Eh-yeh Asher Eh-yeh ", [which literally means "I will be what I will be" and is often translated "What will be, will be"]. The Holy One said to Moses, "Say to Israel, I will be with you [to redeem you] in this subjugation (corresponding to the first), and I will be with you in the subjugation of the future (corresponding to the name 'Asher Eh-yeh').

Said Moses: "Master of the world, it is enough to mention one trouble at a time. Said the Holy One: "You are right. Say to Israel, 'Eh-yeh has sent me to you'."

Footnotes

  • 1. Ex. 3:13.
  • 2. Gen. 14:22.
  • 3. ibid 32:9.
  • 4. 71a.
  • 5. 9b.

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History » Egypt
G-d » What is G-d?

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Abraham
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
Jacob
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Isaac
Second of the three Jewish Patriarchs, son of Abraham and Sarah. Lived in Canaan (Israel); b. 1712 BCE, d. 1532 BCE.
Exodus
1. The miraculous departure of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage in 1312 BCE. 2. The second of the Five Books of Moses. This book describes the aforementioned Exodus, the giving of the Torah, and the erection of the Tabernacle.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.