“Moses replied to God, ”Who am I that I should go to Pharoah
and that I should take the Children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11)
Parashat Sh’mot opens the second book of the Torah by describing Pharoah’s enslavement of the Children of Israel and God’s choice of Moses to lead them to freedom. God appears to Moses through a burning bush, and Moses, a reluctant prophet, asks for God’s name to persuade the Israelites to follow him (Ex. 3:13). Yishayahu Leibowitz (1903–94; Israeli intellectual known for his outspoken opinions on Judaism, ethics, religion and politics) notes God actually gives Moses two answers and in so doing, identifies a basic truth about people.
God first replies, “Eheyeh asher eheyeh, I shall be as I shall be, “ (Ex. 3:14; an elliptical response, for sure) but then adds, “Say this to the Israelites: Adonai, the God of your forefathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob has sent me to you. This is my name forever…” (Ex. 3:15) The first name identifies God’s uniqueness. The second places God in history.
It’s nice to know God is completely different from anything else in existence, but it’s hard to process that abstraction completely unless you’re a theologian or, like Moses, a prophet chosen by God. The average Israelite, though, needs a more coherent context to make sense of God. By reminding them of the family history, God makes a personal connection and becomes more recognizable (and easier to follow).
The book of Exodus (and the rest of the Torah) describes a God simultaneously “up on high” as well as “up close and personal.” God performs many mighty and magnificent deeds; over time, each Israelite comes to believe God does so particularly for them.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom