By Rabbi Cheryl Weiner, PhD, BCC, ’07
Redemption or What Is in a Name?
Immersed in the narrative of the Exodus, we are confronted with a unique theological proposition presented by God’s name. Previously, God used another name when speaking with the patriarch, El Shaddai, the God of the Hills or Breasts—the literal translation, and an indication of a particular nurturing sense of God or a God of a particular set of hills named Shadai. Here God speaks to Moses naming himself as YHVH, which we pronounce as Adonai, meaning Lord. Previously, at the Burning Bush, God announced God’s self as Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh. This my name forever; this my name for all eternity. So, what do we make of these names?
While “the rabbis” hazal have much to say about the names of God, and Rabbi Arthur Green has actually named a book Ehyeh; I propose this theoretical position. We need different gods to perform various acts of creation as Elohim, of covenantal promise as El Shadai and of redemption as YHVH. For me, the most profound name is Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, because this name expresses a continuous evolution of who or what God is, inherent in its translation: “I will be who I will be.” We get to encounter a godhead through Moses that is appropriate for its moment in the collective history of our people before the Exodus. Yet, we get to develop a relationship with the God who speaks to us personally today, as Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, the “forever” name of God; the name of God for all eternity!
Moreover, what we witness through the text is that the God, YHVH, is going to be the God of redemption in four, actually five ways.
As it says in Exodus 6: 6-8:
“I am YHVH:
- I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.
- I will free you from being slaves to them, and
- I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.
- 7 I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.
- 8 And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession.
I am YHVH”.
I love that God has five ways of redeeming us collectively as a nation, which we commemorate by drinking four glasses of wine during the Passover Seder, symbolizing the four aspects of redemption. However, we can look at these four aspects of redemption personally and spiritually. YHVH is going to bring us out of whatever situation of enslavement that we are in. YHVH is going to specifically free us from those who are enslaving us. YHVH is going to redeem us through restorative justice. But in the most significant way of redemption, YHVH is going to take us as God’s own people; YHVH is going to establish a personal relationship with us. Ultimately, YHVH is also going to re-establish the covenant made with our ancestors and bring us into “the promised land”. I interpret that to be commemorated by the fifth cup of wine; the cup left for Elijah, the harbinger of the Messianic Age, or whatever we experience as our “promised land”.
The Exodus sets up our relationship with whatever God we choose to have in the most profoundly powerful way. We witness miracles and wonders (the plagues and beyond). We experience redemption in four ways. Moreover, we get move into a promised land. Our narrative symbolically establishes an experience of an evolving God whose name is Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, the God of Becoming. Thus, each of us is given an opportunity to engage in our own Exodus with our own source of redemption and our own promised land . What a wonderful way to be a Jew with our own Jewish God, by whatever name we choose!