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Parsha Shemot: What’s In A Name?

What’s in a name? Shakespeare didn’t think much. But it turns out everything is in a name, especially when it comes to God’s name. 

In this week’s Torah reading, the first of the second book, Sefer Shemot/Exodus, God is enlisting Moshe to be the leader to confront Pharaoh and redeem the nation from Egypt. As we know, Moshe was somewhat reluctant to take the job and he poses a number of issues and queries to God during the interview. One thing troubling Moshe is that he is unsure how he should present God to the people when they ask who God is. 

And Moses said to God: “Ok, I am going to come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you’ And they are going to ask me ‘What’s His name?’ What am I supposed to tell them?”

God response is a bit of a head-scratcher: God said to Moses, “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh – I Will Be that which I Will Be”. He (God) then said:  “So shall you say to the people of Israel, Ehyeh – I Will Be – has sent me to you.”

There are a couple questions here. What exactly does this strange name of I Will Be mean, and also why does God change the name midway and shorten it from I Will Be that which I Will Be to just I Will Be. 

Rashi helps us out with both of these issues:

“I Will Be that which I Will Be” signifies that I, God, will be with them during this difficulty just like I will be with them in future difficult times when subjected to other nations. When Moshe heard this he protested and said to God  “O Lord of the universe! Why would I mention to them other future troubles? They have enough problems right now with this one!” God said to him, “Good point, you have spoken well. Let’s just keep it to “I Will Be” meaning, I will be with them during this difficulty.” 

So Moshe convinced God to drop any reference to future difficulties that the Jewish people will encounter in the long, anticipated Exile that would come about much further down the line. He pointed out, rightfully so, that it would be too much for the nation to hear of other problems they will encounter beyond Egypt. Their plate is pretty full right now with the hardship of slavery. 

But the bottom line is that, Moshe’s fears notwithstanding, we get an important glimpse of God’s relationship with the Jewish nation for all time with his initial, unedited, response. This is the first time God is referring to Himself vis-à-vis the Jewish Nation as a whole, and thus it holds great significance. 

I Will Be that which I Will Be testifies that God is unchanging. Although our circumstances on a national level have their ups and downs, God is telling Moshe that, rest assured, He is with us during any of our tough times, no matter when they happen. The Israelites in Egypt may not have wanted to hear about any future problems but we need to take note of I Will Be that which I Will Be. 

We need to take this to heart since that terrible day of October 7th when everything changed for Jews – not only in Israel but all over the world. As events unfolded and continue to do so, many people have expressed despair and fear as the world seems to be closing in around us. I Will Be that which I Will Be testifies that God has not left us. He has not abandoned His people. “He neither slumbers nor sleeps, the Guardian of Israel”. He is there with us, just like He was with the Israelites in Egypt. 

And we all know how that story ended. With the dramatic Redemption of our nation where God upended all laws of nature to save His people. 

So no matter how bad it might look, no matter how many enemies it seems we have, I Will Be that which I Will Be still stands by our side to protect, defend, guard and look after His cherished people. I Will Be that which I Will Be is God’s name. It’s His Definition. It always was, it is now and it shall always be forever more.   

Now if you feel that you can’t go on
Because all of your hope is gone…
And your feel the world has grown cold 
And your drifting out all on your own
And your world around is crumbling down

Darlin’ reach out
Come on, girl reach out for me
I’ll be there 
with a love that will shelter you
I’ll be there 
with a love that will see you through
-Four Tops

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