The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: Tevet 28, 5770/January 14, 2010

"And these are the names... "

(Exodus 1:1)

The Book of Exodus is known in Hebrew as the book of Shemot, literally, the book of names, taken from the book's opening verse, "And these are the names (shemot) of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt; with Yaakov, each man and his household came." (Exodus 1:1) But the book of Shemot is not just the book of the names of the sons of Israel. It is also the book of the names of G-d, as made evident by the opening verses of this week's Torah reading, Va'era: "G-d spoke to Moses, and He said to him, 'I am Hashem. I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov with [the name] Almighty G-d, but [with] My name Hashem, I did not become known to them.'" (ibid 6:2-3)

Now there is only one G-d, and one G-d only, but we know G-d by many names. For each name expresses a different understanding of how G-d manifests His presence in our lives and leads us in this world. When G-d introduces Himself to Moshe, employing different names, names that He never before made known, He is articulating a new relationship between Himself and the children of Israel.

Up until now, G-d had related to the patriarchs in the guise of Almighty G-d. That is, as our sages teach, the G-d of creation Who visits the righteous through the medium of His created world, and Whose Torah respects the boundaries of His created world.

But now G-d introduces Himself to Moshe, saying, "I am Hashem" and He does so to prepare Moshe for what is about to transpire. For, if up until now, G-d has played by His own rules, as it were, now, through His previously unrevealed name of Hashem, He is going to deliver the Israelites from Egyptian bondage and fulfill His promise to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov, with abounding, limitless love.

This endless love of Hashem for His people will overcome His own time-honored restrictions on nature, in the form of the ten plagues, the splitting of the sea, and the revelation at Sinai. This endless love of Hashem for His people will, (making use of another aspect of His will, as designated by yet another name of G-d, Elokim, who defines our reality through harshness or judgment), strike down Pharaoh and his nation. This endless love of Hashem for His people will guide the children of Israel into the land of Israel, and this endless love of Hashem for His people will shape history throughout the millennia, reaping havoc on those who would oppress Israel, and bless those who would bless Israel. This endless love of Hashem for His people is the Divine light that shines forth from Zion, the light of the Holy Temple, the light of the coming redemption.

And this brings us back to the first names mention in the book of Names - Shemot, the seventy names of Yaakov and his children. These seventy souls soon multiplied and became 600,000, and each and every one of these souls stood at Mount Sinai and there received Torah. And so it is that every soul that clings to the G-d of Israel today is a descendent of these same souls that stood at Sinai. From this we can gather two things: Our names and our souls are also mentioned in the book of Names (Exodus), and the different names of G-d that He revealed to Moshe, He reveals to each of us each and every day. It is incumbent upon us to see ourselves and discover our own names in the book of Exodus. And it is incumbent upon us to see G-d's wonders and discover His boundless love for us today.

Concerning the patriarchs, we are told: The deeds of the patriarchs are a sign to the children. That is, we are to see in the lives of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, lessons that we can apply to our lives today, and learn from. But concerning the children of Israel who are first introduced to us in the book of Exodus, this teaching is not applicable. And that is simply because we are the children of Israel, and the signs and wonders that G-d is preparing Moshe for, those miraculous manifestations of His love for Israel, these are the signs and wonders that today, and every day, are evidence of G-d's limitless love for us.

Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the Midrash's timeless lessons that shed light upon Pharoah's character and conduct, the horrific specifics of our ancestor's slavery in Egypt, and the living essence of the stories of the Torah, which are no more and no less than the magnificent stories of our as-yet-unfolding lives, and much more.

Part 1
Part 2