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The Divine Name Foreshadows the Deliverance

Parshat Vayera

Exodus 6:2 -9:35

Why does God reveal God’s intimate name twice to Moses?  In the book of Exodus in this week’s portion, Vayera, God is still speaking from the midst of the bush that is not consumed by flames. Ironically we call it the burning bush.  Last week in Parshat Shemot God called out to Moses and revealed God’s name as “Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh” – “I will be that which I will become.”  In the opening chapters of Exodus God’s name reveals something about God’s essence –that Source, that Presence that we call God is a process of creating, a process of becoming something, a process of transformation.  This moment at the burning bush of Divine and human interaction points to the journey that Moses and the Children of Israel will embark upon.  It is a journey of becoming a people and a nation.

 But as our parshah opens, Moses is still at the burning bush that is not consumed by the flames. It burns and yet it is not used as fuel.  There is a glowing and holy presence of God in its simple midst.  Not a majestic tree but a simple and humble bush.

 And there is a second revelation.  God links God’s name again to the Hebrew ancestors, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob providing for continuity this time calling upon a name revealed in Genesis 17:1 to Abraham. God was called-El Shaddai.

 This name El Shaddai is usually translated as God Almighty but some link it to the name of a mountain God.  The bush that burns but is not consumed is located according to the text at Mt. Horeb which our tradition associates with Mt. Sinai.  This God is a mountain God and speaks from the heights.  But El Shaddai might also mean breast as the word for breasts is Shaddayim.  This might be another way to see God as one who suckles and nurtures.  The strength and heights of the mountain coupled with the intimacy of the breast makes our God both immanent and transcendent at the same time, both male and female imagery. 

 But in this week’s portion God’s name is revealed as YHVH. This four letter name of God is revealed in Genesis but now to Moses. But here is the difficulty. The patriarchs did know God by YHVH.  So why in this second revelation does God tell Moses that God was not known to them by this name?   I think that Rashi points to something so powerful in his comment on this verse.  Rashi says that God did not “make Myself known to them by that Name” meaning that the essence of YHVH was not revealed to the patriarchs.  Remember Moses relationship to God will become so close, so deep that Moses will come to know God “panim el panim” face to face.  God will pass before Moses on Mt. Sinai and Moses will forever be changed. His face will glow and radiate the Divine Glory.   And so this revelation at the burning bush (that also glows with the Divine Glory) foreshadows that Moses will know YHVH more intimately than any of God’s patriarchs.  

 For the patriarchs God promised redemption and liberation.  But God is about to make real on this promise.  And so the essence of God will forever be connected with not just the promise of redemption and liberation and freedom but the actual living of those ideals. And Moses will help God carry that message to the people of Israel and to the Egyptians as well.

 God reveals the ultimate Name to Moses, his precious beloved one in the wilderness at the Mountain is also foreshadowing of the moment when this God will reveal the covenant to the People Israel in the stillness of the thunder.  I am YHVH.

 And so the redemption from Egypt begins.  At a mountain height with God’s presence revealed in the fire and the hush of a voice that declares-I am Adonai your God.  Moses heard it. The Children of Israel will hear it next.  And Pharaoh will come to know the power, glory and might of Source of All Being.