Therefore, say to the children of Israel “I am YHVH, and I shall take you out, etc.” And “therefore” means an oath, as it is said:

Therefore I have sworn that the iniquity of the house of Eli shall never be forgiven (Sam 1, 3:14)

(Midrash Tanchuma, Vaera 2)

Rashi also says that God’s full name, YHVH, is the name that indicates fulfillment of a promise. Shemot 6:3 reads: and my name YHVH I did not make known to them (Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov). We see that God does appear to them by that name, so Rashi helps us to better understand the meaning of this verse.  Whereas God made a promise to the Patriarchs to give the land in which they lived to their descendants, and to release them from slavery in Egypt, that promise was not yet fulfilled in their time:

It is not written here “I did not make My name known to them” but “I did not become known to them by that name.” I was not known to them by My attribute of faithfulness, which is called by My name YHVH; trustworthy of  being true to My word, as I promised them (the Patriarchs) and had not yet fulfilled that promise. 

Here are two places in which God’s holiest name indicates promise and that promise’s fulfillment. What can we make of the fact that this name, which is a combination of the word “be” in the past, present, and future tenses at once, is taken by some voices in the tradition to mean fulfillment of a promise?

There is one other Divine name which indicates “being,” which we saw in last week’s parashah. When Moshe asked God what he should call God, the answer was “Ehyeh asher ehyeh”, I will be that which I will be. Rashi’s interpretation on that verse (3:14) is “Just as I will be with you in this distress, I will also be with you in your future sufferings.”

A clinical chaplain, when visiting patients and families, performs one’s role by being with them. The chaplain’s job is not to effect cure, or to bring promise of recovery. The chaplain, through compassionate, empathic presence, and through prayer or meditation, when requested, brings spiritual healing in the forms of equanimity in the face of suffering, or finding meaning in one’s circumstances, or sacredness in one’s life.

What, then, do we make of the fact that this name Ehyeh, “I will be,” was revealed to Moshe before the full name of God was revealed, which means “being” beyond time? The first name indicates presence and compassion. The second indicates fulfillment of promise, and redemption from slavery. Are these names ever the same? Is compassionate presence a form of redemption if it does not effect any physical cure or rescue? Or are they different? Is Ehyeh a name of potential, not actualization?

The fullest name of God is a name of being at its fullest. It is a name of actualization, not just potential. The fullest form of being is one of full integrity; it is the way of making a promise of a vow, and making good on it.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Aaron Shub    

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