Friday, January 27, 2006

parshat Va`era: The Avot Did Not Know Shem Hashem?!

Parshat Va`era begins (Shemot 6):

ב וַיְדַבֵּר אֱלֹקִים, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה; וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, אֲנִי ה. 2 And God spoke unto Moses, and said unto him: 'I am the LORD;
ג וָאֵרָא, אֶל-אַבְרָהָם אֶל-יִצְחָק וְאֶל-יַעֲקֹב--בְּאֵל שַׁדָּי; וּשְׁמִי ה, לֹא נוֹדַעְתִּי לָהֶם. 3 and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name YKVK I made Me not known to them.
How could this be? Many times throughout Bereishit Hashem (YKVK) appears to the Avot and speaks to them? If one were to accept the Documentary Hypothesis, there would be an obvious solution. However, for those of us who do not, there are a number of other possible solutions. The meforshim all address this issue, as it is an obvious one. One can make grammatical distinctions (e.g. Ibn Ezra), or talk about the difference between נוֹדַעְתִּי and hoda'ti, where the latter would have meant simply telling them the name (Rashi). I'm not going to go through all the various opinions here.

However, I would point out the approach that takes the making known of a name as not just informing someone that X is the name. Names of God represent ways in which He interacts with humanity. We see this almost overtly in the previous parsha, Shemot, in which Moshe's asks which name of God he should present to the Israelites. Shemot 3:13-15:
יג וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-הָאֱלֹהִים, הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי בָא אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתִּי לָהֶם, אֱלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵיכֶם שְׁלָחַנִי אֲלֵיכֶם; וְאָמְרוּ-לִי מַה-שְּׁמוֹ, מָה אֹמַר אֲלֵהֶם. 13 And Moses said unto God: 'Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them: The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me: What is His name? what shall I say unto them?'
יד וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה; וַיֹּאמֶר, כֹּה תֹאמַר לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶהְיֶה, שְׁלָחַנִי אֲלֵיכֶם. 14 And God said unto Moses: 'I AM THAT I AM'; and He said: 'Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: I AM hath sent me unto you.'
טו וַיֹּאמֶר עוֹד אֱלֹהִים אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, כֹּה-תֹאמַר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי אֲבֹתֵיכֶם אֱלֹהֵי אַבְרָהָם אֱלֹהֵי יִצְחָק וֵאלֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב, שְׁלָחַנִי אֲלֵיכֶם; זֶה-שְּׁמִי לְעֹלָם, וְזֶה זִכְרִי לְדֹר דֹּר. 15 And God said moreover unto Moses: 'Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you; this is My name for ever, and this is My memorial unto all generations.
The Israelites should know the name of the God of their forefathers. There seems more to the question, and indeed the answer is about God's delivery of His promise. Here as well, the specific name has import, and so one can say that while the forefathers knew of the name, they did not experience the import of the name, whatever that import might be. Indeed, following this cryptic statement that He did not reveal to them YKVK, the next verse is how He will fulfill his covenant with them. Context strongly suggests that the name is not just a name but carries meaning of fulfilling His Promise.

Two specific explanations of the verse that I enjoyed, because I like reparsing of pesukim. See Tg. Yonatan:

While we have the etnachta right before the word shemi, Tg Yonatan appears to read the verse:

"and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty, and by My name YKVK. However, I made Me not known to them."

Thus, by both names does Hashem appear to the forefathers. The end of the verse states that he did not "make Himself known," which Tg Yonatan explains as that He did not appear face to face with them, panim el panim, as he is currently appearing to Moshe. Moshe, after all, was the greatest of the prophets.

Rashbam, also in the text pictured above, says something quite similar, if I read him right. (I am not so sure that I am.) Regarding וּשְׁמִי ה, he says vezeh kefel lashon. Thus, "I appeared to them as El Shaddai, and my primary name is YKVK." Still, I did not reveal myself to them by the primary name but rather by El Shaddai, where reveal means fulfilling the various promises. Thus ushemi is connected above but not below. He then channels Rashi, highlighting the difference between noda'ti and hoda'ti, and states that had it said hoda'ti, then shemi would connect to phrase that follows, but since it states noda'ti, is is connected to the phrase above.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you haven't, you should read "Haaretz ve-Eretz Kenaan Batorah" by R' Yoel Bin Nun, published in Megadim 17:9-46, also as the first chapter of the book "Pirkei Haavot". It makes the same distinction you do, in much more depth.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin