The conversation between G-d and Moshe at the burning bush is a
conversation for the ages. It has deep implications for Jewish history –
and for our own lives. If we pay attention to this conversation, we will
have a key to dealing with the most difficult issues we will ever face.
When Moshe beheld the burning bush, he asked G-d a profound
“When I tell the Jewish people that ‘the G-d of your fathers’ has(Exodus, 3, 13)
sent me and they ask ‘what is His name’, what shall I say unto
The question implies that there may be more than one answer. G-d turns
to Moshe and says:
“I Shall Be That While I Shall Be. Tell them that ‘I Shall Be’ has sent you.”(Exodus, 3, 14)
So first, G-d tells Moshe that the name is “I Shall Be.” Then HaShem goes on to spell out a second name:
“And HaShem said further unto Moshe, so you shall say unto Bnei Yisrael: ‘HaShem, the G-d of your fathers, the G-d of Avraham, the G-d of Yitzchak and the G-d if Yaakov has sent me to you’. This is my name forever and this is my remembrance from generation to generation.“(Exodus, 3, 15)
I Shall Be
This is quite a moment. There are two names that must be conveyed to the Jewish people. Consider that first name. I Shall Be That Which I Shall Be. Sounds a bit…on the edge.
When G-d told Moshe that I Will Be That Which I Will Be, he concluded by saying, tell them that I Will Be sent you. That second phrase throws us back two versus earlier.
When Moshe asked, “who am I that I should go unto Pharaoh?”, G-d told him, “for I will be with you”. So when we think about it, Moshe was had already been introduced to the name, “I Will Be”, though it was presented as more of a concept than a name. What is the meaning of this name, “I Shall Be”? Let’s look deeper.
There is a perplexing dynamic in verse 14. First, G-d tells Moshe, “I Shall Be That Which I Shall Be.” Then he goes on to say, “tell them that ‘I Shall Be’ sent you.” In a sense, it feels in the second half of the verse like G-d is retracting on a part of the name mentioned in the first half of the verse.
The First Name
Rashi explains that this “retraction” was part of a conversation between Moshe and HaShem. According to the Midrash, when G-d said, I Will Be What I Will Be, He was saying, “I will be with them in this travail just as I will be with them in future travails and exiles.”
Moshe was discouraged by this line of thinking. Why are You already mentioning future travails? Don’t they have enough problems to deal with right now? Therefore, for G-d partially retracts. Tell them that I Shall Be has sent you. Forget about future travails. Focus on the here and now. I am with you in this travail!
There are two deep aspects that G-d revealed to Moshe about his name. The first is the very first inkling G-d gave Moshe of his name. How can I go unto Pharoah? How can I do the impossible? Answer: I Shall Be With You. The most basic thing that a creation can know about G-d is that G-d is with us.
The very essence of G-d’s revelation at the burning bush was, “Imo Anochi Batzara”(G-d is with us in times of travail). A most basic concept or way we relate to G-d is that G-d is with us. We look at our life, our body, our universe. We come to the inescapable conclusion that there is a Creator beyond us.
On His Terms
But there is a second aspect to G-d’s name. I Will Be That Which I Will Be. G-d will be with us, but it will be on his terms. G-d is so beyond us, so unfathomable, we cannot expect G-d to conform to the terms and conditions we desire.
There is an ultimate Other – G-d. G-d’s existence is true. But we must live with G-d’s truth. I Will Be That Which I Will Be. My existence is dependent entirely upon me, not your expectations of me.
All this is a revelation of how we relate to G-d. He Will be. G-d is with us. AND – He Will be That which He Will be. How G-d relates to us emanates from G-d alone, not our own expectations. All that is encapsulated in the first name that G-d revealed to Moshe.
But then there is another name. HaShem adds and says, HaShem Alokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak, Elokei Yaakov has sent me unto you. This is my name forever and this is my remembrance from generation to generation.
The first revelation of “I Shall Be” gave Moshe a glimpse of G-d’s presence. The second revelation of “this is my name forever” gives us a way of calling out. G-d is with us. AND we have a way to call out to G-d. It did not all start with us. He was the G-d of our fathers. He has an eternal name, a remembrance from generation to generation.
Who Am I?
A person who is self-aware needs to ask themselves a basic question. Who am I? Where do I come from? What is it that makes me – me? For a person who connects to their inner soul, a profound discovery this: “I Shall Be With You.”
One of the deepest things that we can realize is that we are walking with G-d. At the same time, sooner or later, we come to a difficult realization. G-d’s presence in our lives is on his terms.
These are two deep truths about our relationship with G-d. G-d is with us. G-d is with us on his terms. The reason that G-d is with us is that he is the unfathomable Creator. The reason that it is on G-d’s terms is that G-d is the unfathomable Creator.
Recently, I was talking with a friend of mine whose sister suffered a severe tragedy. He was telling me that this sister of his is devastated and angry at G-d. I was thinking about her situation after he told me about it and I felt troubled. I could not think of how she would find comfort. How could she not feel devastation and even anger at G-d?
The Fact of Existence
I had to resign myself to the following. I am not the one suffering. And yet, I can see that this person and it bothers me on a deep level. As much as any person suffers, the problem is that they still exist. Our universe still exists.
It is true that we face debilitating pain and grief at times. But there we are. As long as we exist, we have to get back that core question. Who am I? Where do I come from?
For the Biblical personality, there is a deep answer. I Shall Be With You. G-d is with us in times of need, in spite of the pain. Just as G-d is there with us to help us achieve the impossible, so to He is there to be with us to face the impossible.
I was recently reading about someone who lost his wife to cancer. He wrote that no amount of philosophy could prepare him to deal with the actual grief and devastation. And yet, in the same breath, he recalled his wife’s last optimistic words which were: it’s an amazing world.
The Second Box
We live in this world and it is a limited prism. There are so many challenges. While this man’s connection to G-d did not dissipate the pain or grief, his belief opened up something in his life. It is what he called a “second box”.
A box of positive light. While he carried the pain, he also carried the potential and the hope. He lived with the sense that G-d is the ultimate hope and that while our world is a limited prism, it is leading to a larger illuminated place.
G-d is with us. G-d is with us on his terms. And, we have a way to call out to G-d. The G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. Remember that G-d is with you in times of travail. Call out to G-d.
This is my name forever.
This is my remembrance for all generations.