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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Provided by KOLEL--The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning, which is affiliated with Canada's Reform movement.

We begin reading now from the second book of the Torah, called "Exodus" in English. This is from the Greek translation of the Rabbinic name of the book, Sefer Yitziat Mitzraim ("the book of the going out from Egypt"). In Hebrew the book is called Sh'mot ("Names"), following the tradition of naming a book or portion after the first significant word. Therefore, this first parashah of Sh'mot is also called Sh'mot.

Sh'mot begins directly where Bereshit left off: listing the "names" of the descendants of Jacob who came down to Egypt after Joseph. Seventy members of Jacob's family went down to Egypt, but we are told they were very fertile and increased greatly in Egypt.

The action really begins when we are told that a new king comes to the throne in Egypt. Fearing that this growing band of Israelites might prove to be a threat, he enslaves and oppresses the people. When that did not succeed in curbing their growth, he issues orders to the midwives to kill at birth all new-born Israelite boys. But, fearing God more than Pharaoh, the two midwives refuse the order, setting the stage for the birth of Moses, the man who will become the great leader of Israel.

Moses is Born

Born to the tribe of Levi, the infant Moses survives his birth and is hidden for a few months after he is born. When she can no longer hide him, his mother leaves him in a basket floating on the Nile, under the watchful eye of his older sister Miriam. He is found by the daughter of Pharaoh, who adopts him and hires his mother as a wet-nurse. Thus Moses emerges as a man living in two worlds: the world of the Israelite slaves in which he was born, and the world of Egyptian royalty, in which he was raised.

The text then jumps ahead. Now a man, seeing a taskmaster beating an Israelite slave, Moses kills the Egyptian and then must flee. He runs to Midian, where he is welcomed by a Midianite priest and is given his daughter Zipporah as a wife. She gives birth to a son.

While tending his new father-in-law's flocks, Moses is called by God from the burning bush. God instructs Moses to return to Egypt to free the Israelites from slavery. Moses returns and is reunited with his brother Aaron. Together they go and pay their first visit to Pharaoh. But Pharaoh dismisses Moses and his God, and increases the workload of the slaves.

In Focus

Moses said to God, "When I come to the Israelites and say to them 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you.' and they ask me, 'What is His name?' what shall I say to them?" And God said to Moses, "Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh (I will be what I will be)." (Exodus 3:13-14)

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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.