Tag: Vaera

What in God’s Name is God’s Name?

This is one of the more profound theological questions. To be able to name something or someone is to have a specific relationship to it or them, even a form of control. One can call out not just “Hey, You!” but “Hey, David!” or whatever, and expect some form of response. By using a name one potentially opens a dialogue. It is, therefore, no coincidence that most prayers begin with “Baruch Atah – Something.” “Blessed are You…”and then a Name.

The problem is: The Name. What is the name, what can we use to address God, what does it mean?

In Exodus 3:14, God has refused to answer Moses directly, saying simply, “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh”, “I am Who I Am”—or even “I Will Be whom I Will Be”. So, no name for God, or……..?

We have the Four-Letter Name, the ‘Tetragrammaton’ which is used in many places in the Torah for God’s name. Traditionally, one reads “Adonai” instead of the consonants ‘YHVH’ – but this is only a tradition because we have to say something. The fact is that No-one actually knows. Which makes it theology, not physics.

At the outset of this parashah (Ex. 6:3) God simply tells Moses, “I am the same God who appeared under a different name to your ancestors”. That’s a bit of a relief, because we can learn from here that God has not only one name and that there are many ways to encounter God. And it opens up a range of other possibilities when God appears but is described as something or someone else; it leaves the gender issue open; it allowed the rabbis to determine whether different names indicated different qualities—such as justice or mercy. It allows modern theologians to discuss whether ‘God’ and ‘Allah’ are the same, it allows archaeologists to place bits of inscription with ‘Shaddai’, and it allows translators to find alternative words like ‘Lord’ or ‘The Eternal’ or ‘The Creator’, and so on.  But being honest, No-One knows, God’s name remains a secret from us. 

In the end, I suppose what is important is that we pray, that we say ‘Baruch Atah’, Blessed are you – that we open a dialogue regularly—and that God knows who God is, and will listen, and may respond.

–  Rabbi Adrian M Schell

(Source: Rabbi W Rothschild on Vaera)

Parashat Va’eira: Each person has a name.

Each person has a name.
We each have a name given by God and given by our father and mother.
We each have a name given by our stature and smile and given by our attire.
… We each have a name given by the sea and given by our death.

(Poem by Zelda, Mishkan T’filah, ed., Elyse D. Frishman [New York: CCAR Press, 2007], p. 579

The revelation of God’s name YHVH (pronounced Adonai) does lead us to think of Zelda’s poem. But what does it mean to have a name given to us by our parents, our yearnings, our fears, or our enemies? Each of these gives us a name based on what we mean to them or what they expect us to do for them. A name based on our attire or a name we choose ourselves is a name based on what we want the world to think of us. Where do we get the name that calls us by who we really are?

In the commentaries of Rashi and Ibn Ezra on Exodus 6:2, we are told that our ancestors did not know God by the name YHVH because that name means that God is faithful to fulfill promises. The promises made to our ancestors in Genesis were not fulfilled in their time, but God speaks and fulfills promises immediately in Exodus. Unfortunately, this just means that YHVH is another description of what the Holy One can do for us.

Rambam’s commentary hints that the name YHVH is God’s true essence: not how we see God, not what God does for us, but Who God really is. I don’t believe that human beings can understand the true essence of God. Perhaps that is why we cannot pronounce the Name. Nor do we fully understand the true essence of people around us. Perhaps that is why people need more than one name.

However, I do think God can understand our true essence and God knows our true name. It would be nice to think that when we die, God will call us by that name. When we hear it we will recognize it immediately, and all of our behaviour, character, and history will, in that moment, finally make sense.

Wishing you a wonderful Shabbat Rbbi Adrian M Schell
(Source: Rabbi Tom Gardner )



Torah Reading Shabbat Va’eira

Exodus 6:2−9:35 – Reading: Ex 6:26-7:19
Plaut p. 384; Hertz p. 235

Haftarah: Ezekiel 28:25-29:21
Plaut p.401; Hertz p.244

Rosh Chodesh Sh’vat is on Wednesday 17.01.18