The Evolving Name Of God

The divine name that God tells Moses at the burning bush expresses the different and evolving relationship that God has with every individual.

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That is also why, in the Avot prayer at the beginning of the Amidah, we say, "...the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob..." Why not just say, "the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob"? It is the same God, after all. But God was known by each of the Patriarchs (and Matriarchs) in a unique and individual way. Each had a different experience of God, as did Moses, all those who left Egypt, and all those who followed (including us).

The text here really is brilliant. In choosing the future tense of "to be," (which is also, by the way, the only truly gender neutral tense in the otherwise gender specific Hebrew language) the Torah allows the linguistic structure itself to transmit the message. While God is absolute, there are no divine absolutes; each of us, in our own time, will come to know God in our own way.

Dvar Aher

Moses came to Mount Horeb (or Sinai), where the Torah was ultimately to be given. God appeared to him in the form of fire, within a bush, but the bush was not consumed by the fire. Chizkuni (R. Chizkiya ben Manoach, mid 13th century commentator) and Rabbi Bechaye ask: Why did God appear through fire? Because when the Torah would be given it would be accompanied by flames.

Moses said, "I will go to see why that bush is not consumed." God called to him, "Moses, Moses," and he replied, "I am here." God then told him, "Remove your shoes from your feet, for the earth upon which you are standing is holy."

Why did he hear his name twice? Because the voice of heaven is very powerful, and sounds like two separate voices. Another reason is because the first time a man hears a heavenly voice he is overwhelmed and is rendered speechless, so he must be called a second time.

God told him, I am the God of your father (3:6). With this He informed him that his father was dead, because God does not couple the divine name with the name of a person still living. Why did God tell him that his father was dead? Because God knew that out of deference Moses would refuse to assume any authority as long as his father was alive. (From Tz'ena Ur'enah)

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Rabbi Jordan D. Cohen

Jordan D. Cohen is the rabbi of Temple Anshe Sholom in Hamilton, Ontario. Previously, he worked as Associate Director of KOLEL - The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning in Toronto, Canada. Prior to his return to Canada, Rabbi Cohen served as Rabbi of the United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong, and Associate Rabbi of the North Shore Temple Emanuel in Sydney, Australia.