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Two Minutes of Torah: Vaera - What's in a Name?

Just under 22 months ago my name changed.  I didn’t change my name from Danny or Daniel or anything like that, but suddenly I started to be called Daddy with the birth of our daughter, Gabriella.  And similarly my wife became Mummy, and ever since then, we refer to each other far more frequently by the names Daddy and Mummy than by any other in our house.  

I like to think that that name was always there, it was just waiting for Gabi to unlock it.  But it is interesting that this new relationship brings with it a new name in our family,

This week as our Torah portion begins with God continuing to urge Moses to go to Egypt, we have a very interesting moment as God speaks to Moses and says to him “I’m the Eternal, I’ve appeared to Abraham, Isaac & Jacob as El Shaddai  But I did not make myself known to them by my name, Adonai, the Tetragrammaton, the yud-hay and the vav-hay

Before considering why now is the appropriate moment for a name change we need to go back and consider when the name El Shaddai was used.  Back in Bereshit in Genesis 17:1, God is speaking to a 99 year old Abraham and says to him, “I am El Shaddai, walk along before me and be pure of heart and I will set the covenant between us and multiply you exceedingly.”  As they enter into this covenantal relationship, God uses the name El Shaddai.  There is not necessarily an agreement on what this name means, but commentators claim it could be God Almighty, could be related to the mountain, related to rain or related to the fact that God has sufficient divinity. 

Whatever it is, its striking that now as God speaks to Moses, God uses a different name, Adonai, the yud=hay and the vav-hey, to introduce God’s self.  One might wonder if this is a moment where God is asserting the fact that with Moses there will be a new and different relationship.  Moses stands as the representative of the people’s relationship with God and so, in many ways, this is not just about God’s relationship to Moses, but God’s relationship with the whole Israelite community.  

As God enters into a relationship with all of us, God doesn’t want to be known as the God of this or the God of that, God wants to be known by Gods personal name and in many ways this allows for a deepening of the relationship that we have with God.  Moses is the one who gets to know God face to face and maybe through him we gain a glimpse of God.  With this name we’re able to enter into a personal relationship with God.  

The name Adonai was always there, it is used in the book of Bereshit several times.  But at this moment, we get given that name as a gift.  A gift of insight, so that we might know God and enter a relationship so that God will be our God and we will be God’s people and together we can begin our journey of Exodus, away from slavery in Egypt towards the promised land.

About Rabbi Danny

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