Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha




V. 3-4         Moses said, ‘I must turn aside to look at this great sight—why doesn’t the bush burn up? And when Adonai saw that he had turned aside to look,God called to him out of the bush: “Moses, Moses!”  And he answered, “Hineni.”

                  TANCHUMA… “Moses said, Let me turn aside to look…”  R’ Yochanan said, “Moses took three steps.”

                  But R’ Shimon ben Levi said, “He took no steps, rather he twisted his neck around.”  So God said to him, ‘You went to trouble to see, so are you worthy—that I should reveal myself to you.’

                  GOTTLIEB-ZORNBERG…God chooses to reveal Himself to Moses for “he has gone to trouble to see.”   As over against R’ Yochanan’s spatial reading—three steps constituting movement into a different space, R’ Shimon suggests Moses’ movement involves a deviation from the obvious, a counter-image to the stiff-necked intransigence of those who set themselves against seeing any new possibility. 

SH’MOT RABBAH…Only when Moses “turned aside to see”  did the Holy One exclaim: This one is worthy.

MEKHILTA…When he turned towards the bush, the Holy One saw Moses’ face, filled with the burden

of his brothers and sisters, suffering in Egypt, and God knew, ‘This one is worthy of pasturing My people.’

V. 6     I am, He said, the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”  And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

TALMUD…Because Moses “hid his face,” the Holy One’s face shined upon him…Because he was “afraid to gaze,” Moses was allowed to see the Holy One’s likeness…Because he “feared looking,” the people would look upon him and stand in awe. [Berachot 7a]  

RAMBAN… “I am the God of your father…”  On the P’shat level, that is, “the God of your fathers.”  However, he mentions the singular for the intent is: “The God of each of your ancestors.”  

V. 11-12   But Moses said to God: Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?” And He said: I will be with you; that shall be your sign it is I who sent you

RASHI…God answered Moses’ questions in the order he asked.  You said: “Who am I to go to Pharaoh”  Yet it is not your assignment alone, but mine as well, for “vEhYeH Imach”  And that marvelous sight you saw at the bush shall be your sign “Ki ANOCHI—that I sent you.”

V. 13-15   When I come to the Israelites and say: The god of your fathers has sent me to you, and they ask “What is His Name?”  what shall I say?  And God said to Moses: Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh

                             Thus shall you say to Israel: Ehyeh sent me to you…The Lord, the God of your fathers…This is My Name forever—my Remembrance from generation to generation: RASHI…God answered Moses: Tell them  I will be with you in this time of trouble as I will be with you when you are enslaved by other kingdoms.”  Moses replied: Master of the Universe!  You want me to let them know there will be more troubles?  God replied: “You have spoken well.  Just tell them “Ehyeh—I will be” has sent you.

SARNA…The phrase has been variously translated: “I am that I Am; I will Be What I Will Be.”  It clearly evokes YHVH, know in English as the tetragrammaton.  The phrase also indicates that the earliest recorded understanding of the divine name was a verb derived from the stem “HVH/HYH—to be”  Either it expresses the quality of absolute being, the eternal—unchanging—dynamic presence, or it implies “He causes to be.”…In the course of the Second Temple period the Tetragrammaton came to be regarded as charged with metaphysical potency and therefore ceased to be pronounced…and this original pronunciation was eventually lost…God’s response to Moses’ query cannot be the disclosure of a hitherto unknown name, for that would be unintelligible to the people and would not resolve Moses’ dilemma.  The implication is that YHVH only came into prominence as the personal name of God in the time of Moses…Without doubt, the revelation of this divine name registers a new stage in the history of Israelite monotheism.

RAMBAN…Since past and future and present are in the Creator—for with Him there is no time, and in Him there is no change, He is therefore called by all tenses in a single name, for His existence is always necessary…ONKELOS apparently thought that Ehyeh was the name and that “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” the explanation of its meaning, for Moses question “Pray, let me know Your ways that I may know You.” [Ex 33:13]  was aimed at discovering God’s ways from His name. RAMBAM says [Guide 1:63] that God is necessarily existent and cannot be non-existent…But mention of the Name alone is no argument to eliminate the heretical belief in the pre-existence of the universe.  Rather, this name is a response to the people’s cry.  God is informing the Moses that he was being sent to the Israelites by the attribute of justice that is within the attribute of mercy…So, “ADONAI” in v.15.

                  RASHBAMThe Lord, God of your fathers… It is not proper for them to use My Name in everyday speech, just as one does not use the king’s name when talking about him., but says “The king has sent me on a mission.” [I Sam 21:3] One mentions the King by His appellation, not by his personal name.  As to why we write the tetragrammaton with a Yud instead of an Alef, I shall explain that in code…

                        [The next comment is written in Atbash—where the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet—Tav is substituted for the first, alef, the second to last for the second…and so on.  RASHBAM explains in his comment that the Name is actually the verb “will be.”  Beyond that, he warns, “This should only be shared with those who are discreet.”]

RASHI  “This is My Name forever.”  We read “L’olam—forever” but its actually missing the Vav, which makes it L’alem—to be concealed.”


Martin BUBER …[ 1878-1965, Great 20th Cent Jewish Existentialist; Transmitter of Hasidism to Western world, Prof of Social Philosophy at Hebrew Univ in Jerusalem, Author of nearly 100 books, over 850 titles including I & Thou

Of all the various suppositions regarding the prehistoric use of the name YHVH there is only one which is pertinent to our understanding…It was expressed by Bernhard Duhm in an unpublished lecture: “Possibly the Name is in some degree only an extension of the word Hu, meaning he, as God is also called by other Arab tribes at times of religious revival—The One, The Unnameable.  The Dervish cry “Ya-Hu is interpreted to mean “O He!”  And in one of the most important poems of the Persian Mystic Rumi, “One I seek, One I know—One I call, One I See.  He is the last—He is the first; He is the outward—He is the Inward.  No other I know except Ya-Hu”  The original form of the cry may have been “Ya-Huva.”  Such a name could have later produced both YaHu and Yahveh.

Certainly it is more typical that in the course of the ages, particularly at en epoch of increasing religious laxity, as the Egyptian period appears to have been for Israel, the Name itself could degenerate into a sound simultaneously empty and half-forgotten.  Under such conditions as hour might well come when the people would ask this question of a man bringing them a message from the God of their fathers: “How about His name?”  That means: What is this God really like?

But there is something else included in the question, namely the expression of a negative experience that the enslaved people had with this God of theirs, “After all, He never troubled us all this while!  When the Egyptians require their gods, they invoke them by uttering their true names…But we have not been able to invoke Him…

As a reply to his question, Moses is told: Ehyeh asher Ehyeh.  This is usually understood to mean “I am that I am,” in the sense that YHVH is the Everlasting One, unalterably persistent in Being.  But that would be an abstraction….It means: happening, being present…God promises to be present…He who promises His steady Presence, His ready assistance, refusing to restrict Himself into definite forms of manifestation—How could the people ever venture to limit Him!

…He who is present here—not merely sometime and somewhere but in every now and every here. Now this name expresses His character…And it is God Himself who unfolds His Name.  The exclamation was its hidden form; the verb is its revelation…Moses is first instructed by an exceptionally daring linguistic device, to tell the people “Ehyeh—I shall be present” sent me to you.”  That “Ehyeh” is not a name; the God can never be named so; only on this one occasion—in this sole moment of transmitting His works, is Moses allowed to take God’s self-comprehension in his mouth as a name.  Again and again, when God says in this narrative: “Then will the Egyptians recognize that I am YHVH,” it is clearly not the name as a sound, but the meaning revealed in it…The Egyptians shall come to know, unlike their gods, I am the present One in the midst of this world; you will know that I am He who is present among you—going with you…

…At this relatively late period, Moses did not establish the religious relationship between Bnei Yisrael and YHVH.  He was not the first to utter that “primal sound in enthusiastic astonishment.  That may have been done by someone long before who, driven by an irresistible force along a new path, now felt himself to be preceded by that invisible One who permitted Himself to be seen.  But it was Moses who established a covenant between God and His people.  Nothing of such a kind can be imagined except on the assumption that a relation which had come down from ancient times has been melted in the fire of some new personal encounter.  The foundation takes place before the assembled host; the encounter is undergone in the solitude of the spirit. [On the Bible, ed Glatzer, pgs 54-62]


                        Reverend Dr. Martin Luther KING Jr.…

   In recent months I have also become more and more convinced of the reality of a personal God.

True, I have always believed in the personality of God. But in past years the idea of a personal God was little more than a metaphysical category which I found theologically and philosophically satisfying. Now it is a living reality that has been validated in the experiences of everyday life. Perhaps the suffering, frustration and agonizing moments which I have had to undergo occasionally as a result of my involvement in a difficult struggle have drawn me closer to God. Whatever the cause, God has been profoundly real to me in recent months. In the midst of outer dangers I have felt an inner calm and known resources of strength that only God could give. In many instances I have felt the power of God transforming the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope.

I am convinced that the universe is under the control of a loving purpose and that in the struggle for righteousness man has cosmic companionship. Behind the harsh appearances of the world there is a benign power. To say God is personal is not to make him an object among other objects or attribute to him the finiteness and limitations of human personality; it is to take what is finest and noblest in our consciousness and affirm its perfect existence in him. It is certainly true that human personality is limited, but personality as such involves no necessary limitations. It simply means self-consciousness and self-direction. So in the truest sense of the word, God is a living God. In him there is feeling and will, responsive to the deepest yearnings of the human heart: This God both evokes and answers prayers.

The past decade has been a most exciting one. In spite of the tensions and uncertainties of our age something profoundly meaningful has begun. Old systems of exploitation and oppression are passing away and new systems of justice and equality are being born. In a real sense ours is a great time in which to be alive. Therefore I am not yet discouraged about the future. Granted that the easygoing optimism of yesterday is impossible. Granted that we face a world crisis which often leaves us standing amid the surging murmur of life’s restless sea. But every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. Each can spell either salvation or doom. In a dark, confused world the spirit of God may yet reign supreme.  [From The Christian Century, “How My Mind Has Changed,” MLK, 1965]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: