PARASHAH: Sh'mot (Names)
ADDRESS: Sh'mot (Exodus) 1:1-6:1
AUTHOR: Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy

(Note: all quotations are taken from the Complete Jewish Bible, translation by David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., unless otherwise noted)

*Updated: January 15, 2006

Let’s begin with the opening blessing for the Torah:

“Baruch atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-‘Olam,
asher bachar banu m’kol ha-amim,
v’natan lanu eht Torah-to.
Baruch atah YHVH, noteyn ha-Torah.

(Blessed are you, O’ LORD, our God, King of the Universe,
you have selected us from among all the peoples,
and have given us your Torah.
Blessed are you, LORD, giver of the Torah.

This week we begin a new book of the Torah.  The familiar English title “Exodus” was applied much later when the Torah was canonized, but the Hebrew name “Sh’mot”, derived from the first few words in the book, has always been the title among the Jewish community.  The root word “shem” (say “shame”) means “name”.  Moreover, it is the name of the eldest son of Noach.  If you will remember, Shem was the recipient of the righteous blessing in B’resheet (Genesis) 9:24-27.  Etymologically, we derive the modern word “Semitic” from this man’s name.  A Semite is a descendant of Shem.  According to B’resheet chapters 10, and 11, Avraham was a descendant of Shem, thus, the Hebrew People, as well as the Arabic Peoples, spring from the Semitic race.  Also, the word “HaShem”, which is what I and many other Orthodox Jewish People call God, is made from the Hebrew words “ha”, meaning “the”, and “Shem” meaning “name; thus, “HaShem” literally means “The Name”.  So, Sh’mot (“shame-ote”) means “names”.

Parashat Sh’mot signals the beginning of the most significant event in the history of the Jewish Nation: the Exodus from Mitzrayim (Egypt).  Why is it so significant?  It is the Exodus from Egypt that brought the great multitude to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah of HaShem.  Surely it is significant for us believers today, for only after our deliverance from Egypt (sin), does HaShem graciously give us his written revelation, the Torah, written upon the tablets of our circumcised hearts (Jeremiah 31:33).  Only with circumcised hearts can we worship him in spirit and in truth, according to his Will.  Also, as we shall discover during this book, the deliverance from Egypt is meant to forever signify, to those who have genuinely experienced it, a deliverance from bondage.

This bondage, taught elsewhere in the rest of the Torah, has been characterized as a type of sin.  Moreover, we as believers in Messiah Yeshua are taught that this physical deliverance of the Jewish People, from Egypt, is a picture of our deliverance from the bondage that sin held us in, prior to coming to Yeshua.  It is significant, therefore, that we as non-Jewish believers, gain an appreciative understanding of the events and circumstances surrounding the “exodus” from Egypt.

Let us go to the text.

“He (HaShem) replied, “I will surely be with you.  Your sign that I have sent you will be that when you have led the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”" (Sh’mot 3:12, emphasis mine)

Isn’t it fantastic that at this early stage in HaShem’s dealings with ‘Am Isra’el (People of Isra'el) and Moshe (Moses) their prophet, that he is already promising that he will indeed deliver them?  I believe that this demonstrates the heart of our loving Abba, in that he wants us to realize that not only is he willing to deliver us, but that he is able to deliver us—and that it is his desire that we BE delivered.  Plus, when we hear all of this wonderful good news, we are inclined all the more to place our trusting faithfulness in him.  Unfortunately, like Moshe, sometimes even the assurance from the mouth of the Almighty himself is not enough to convince us.  Moshe still finds it necessary to “argue” the situation with HaShem.  In this way, perhaps we can identify with his initial doubt.

But HaShem goes on to reveal something about his unchanging character so vital to the oppressed Jewish Nation then, and now, and is likewise important for non-Jews today.  In verses 13-21 of chapter three, a very significant dialogue takes place between the Holy One, Blessed be He, and Moshe.  It is here that my commentary will find its focus this week.

Sh’mot (Names)

Moshe informs HaShem that when the time comes for him to introduce this invisible deliverer of theirs to the people, that they in turn will inquire about his name.  In Hebrew thought, a name implies a reputation.  The name is the embodiment of the character of an individual, based upon who they are, or what they have done.  In verse 14, HaShem reveals his nature to Moshe in a way that has never been done before in the Torah, up till this point.

HaShem tells Moshe that his “name” shall be referred to as,

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh [I Am/will be what I Am/will be].”

This appears to be very strange until we understand that HaShem is about to deliver his people in a way that he has never before performed.  Not only is he going to do this, but he will forever be remembered for this deliverance!  This is why the phrase “I Am” is not really the best rendering of the Hebrew phrase “Ehyeh”.  Rather, the phrase carries with it the idea that HaShem is about to perform a mighty work, never before witnessed by his people (i.e “I Will Be”)!

HaShem continues in verse 15 to say that the God of their fathers Avraham, Yitz’chak, and Ya’akov is to be remembered forever as “Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh”!  Now here is where slight difficulty arises.  According to the literal Hebrew text, this “name” is to be “remembered” forever.  To be sure, HaShem tells Moshe in the latter part of verse 15, that this is his (HaShem’s) “name” forever.  The word translated “forever” is not spelled using the usual lettering that Torah readers are accustomed to.  The usual spelling of “forever” in Hebrew, transliterated letter-by-letter as “o-l-a-m”, is comprised of the Hebrew letters, “ayin-vav-lamed-mem”.  However, in this verse, the word “forever” is spelled “ayin-lamed-mem”.  The “vav” is NOT present.  What could the Holy One have meant by this seeming omission of a letter? (For more on omitting letters when spelling the names of God see my excursus below)

The rabbis would have us to believe that this word can be pronounced “ah-leym”, owing to the fact that originally, the Hebrew Scrolls contained no “vowel markings” facilitating the correct pronunciation.  This subsequent rendering of the letters “ayin-lamed-mem” means “secret”, or “unspoken”.  Hence, the traditional understanding is that HaShem is instructing Moshe to teach the Children of Isra’el that the God of Avraham, Yitz’chak, and Ya’akov is “YHVH”, and that we are NOT to mention his name aloud.  Moreover, this “silence” is to be “remembered” forever.  Don’t get me wrong here!  I am NOT suggesting that we lose all reverence for the Holy Name of “YHVH” (supposedly pronounced “Yahweh”, and other times supposedly pronounced “Jehovah”.  In actuality, neither one of these pronunciations may be etymologically correct).

What I am saying is that because of the above assumption on the part of our ancients, we may have temporarily lost the correct, original pronunciation of these four letters.  Some today feel that unless we somehow recapture the original rendering of these four letters, that we are somehow in error in addressing our God as “LORD”.  I believe that this is an unnecessary distraction as well.  In all reality, we may just have to wait until Messiah returns to earth to teach us the correct way to say it.  In the mean time, I believe that we DO have something just as powerful and acceptable to “YHVH”.  Allow me to elaborate.

Shem Mashiach (The Name of the Messiah)

What I am about to suggest runs counter to the above argument, offered by most rabbis of today.  I offer my interpretation as someone that has been renewed within my mind by the effectual work of the Messiah Yeshua, and has therefore likes to believe that he has discovered the “name that is above all names!”  I believe that, according to a literal understanding of this verse, HaShem was instructing Moshe to teach the Children of Isra’el to forever remember that “YHVH”, the God of their fathers, not only “IS” (I AM), but, that he “WILL BE” the God who delivers them from the bondage of sin, characterized by Egypt!  And that forever, they were to remember that there is NO other god besides “YHVH”!  In remembering (as opposed to shrouding it in obscurity) the Eternal, unchanging “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh”, they would be ever mindful of the nature and character that their One, True God displayed in his mighty works!  In other words, they were to forever remember his reputation and his name (i.e. his “shem”)!

How do we possibly internalize the above-mentioned revelation when we are constantly concerned with mispronouncing the original spelling of a Hebrew text that originally used no vowel markings in the first place?  I feel that the ancients have missed the point of this wonderful revelation of the character of God embodied in a name.  I also feel that moderns who today place too much emphasis on correct pronunciation of this name of HaShem are also missing the point.  You might argue that many are simply seeking to recapture what I am purporting should have been preserved all along.  That may be true.  But by allowing our energies to be consumed in this area, we just might miss an even clearer revelation from our God!  In other words, you could say that since we messed it up the first time around, HaShem has decided to graciously give us another chance, but this time it involves his Son!  To bolster my argument, allow me to use a very significant New Covenant passage.

In Philippians 2:9-11, Rav Sha’ul (Apostle Paul) teaches us that when “Yeshua the Eternal Word of HaShem” became a man (cross-reference John 1:1, 14), that HaShem granted—indeed gave him—a name which is ABOVE every name!  Now how can this be, unless we naturally assume this to mean that the name “Yeshua” is somehow above the name “YHVH”?.  This is meshugga (crazy)!  Of course that CANNOT be what the verse is meaning, for that would pit the Son against the Father in a contest of names, where the Son emerges ABOVE the Father!  We know from the rest of the teaching in the Torah that Yeshua the man is “subjective” to the Father.  Yet, the rabbi is teaching us something about the equality and divinity of the name of Yeshua that stretches the limits of normal modes of speech, whether Hebrew, Greek, or today’s English!

According to Yeshua’s own testimony in John 10:30, he and the Father constitute an “echad”, that is, they are “one”.  This Hebrew word “echad” can be understood as describing a “composite unity”.  This means that one revelation of the unity doesn’t detract from the other part (or parts) of the same unity.  In plain English: Yeshua is ONE with the Father in such a way as to share the exact same Purpose, Will, and Glory with the Father, but Yeshua never subtracts any of these attributes from the Father.  To be sure, Yeshua did just the opposite—by his life of servitude, he brought clarity of meaning to the Purposes of the Father; he correctly defined the divine Will of the Father by becoming obedient even unto death; and he demonstrated the majestic Glory of the Father by being raised from the grave!.  Yeshua never usurped any authority from the Father, and this is proved not only in his very own words recorded in the Synoptic Gospels, but also in the very same chapter mentioned above (see Phil. 2:6).  So we find that the Torah sometimes uses language that stretches the limits of our finite understanding of the nature and name of HaShem, in relation to the nature and name of the Messiah, yet the Torah remains foundationally true!

I believe that HaShem wants us to come to the awesome realization, through the Ruach HaKodesh, that the “name” of the LORD is Yeshua!  If you don’t believe me, read the rest of Philippians where the Torah teaches that one day, everyone will acknowledge that Yeshua is ADONAI, to the glory of God the Father!  This word “adonai” is the Greek word “kurios” , which can be translated “sir” or “lord” depending on the context.  Since Sha’ul is quoting from the TaNaKH book of Isaiah, then the context demands the rendering “LORD” (i.e. YHVH).  In fact, to further the seeming controversy, Isaiah 45:23 is specifically referring to ADONAI the Father!  This means that the verse in Philippians is hinting that Yeshua will be acknowledged as ADONAI without explicitly stating that Yeshua IS the Father.  We must be careful not to put something into the text that is not there.

We as believers in Messiah know in our spiritual intellect (our new man) that Yeshua is the Father veiled in flesh, yet the Torah never comes right out and tells us that Yeshua is the Father (God).  Moreover, we will not find a text that states explicitly that the Father (God) is Yeshua.  Rather, the Torah uses unique language such as that which is found in our current parashah to reveal to us the intimate character and identity of our otherwise unfathomable God.  Moshe becomes privy to the revelation that would someday be fully realized in Yeshua: that HaShem’s name is to be forever remembered as “Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh”, the God who IS and WILL BE the deliverer of Isra’el!—and that his Son is also the great I AM!  To be sure, our Messiah posses these unique qualities otherwise found solely in HaShem!  This a is wonderful revelation indeed!  For a more complete look at the NAMES of HaShem ask for my “What’s in a Name?” commentary; for a more complete look at the ECHAD of HaShem ask for my “Shema” commentaries (Part One, Part Two, Part Three).

Practical Application

Our parashah goes on to teach us about the method that HaShem would use to demonstrate his mighty power, not only to the Jewish People, but to the Egyptians as well.  HaShem instructs Moshe to perform various signs and wonders in the sight of the king of Egypt, but, that even these would not convince the Pharaoh to free the people.  Only in the end with a mighty, out-stretched arm would HaShem cause the Pharaoh to let the people go.  We need to understand that the king of Egypt willfully hardened his own heart until HaShem himself saw fit to use this for his glory by confirming (hardening) the Pharaoh’s heart also.  Please don’t misunderstand!  HaShem only confirmed the hardness of a heart that was originally and willfully hardened by Pharaoh himself!

Today, the lesson for us should be one of willful obedience, rather than disobedience and eventual hardening. To be sure, the more Pharaoh hardened his heart towards HaShem, the more difficult it became to change that heart.  Similarly, today, the more we say “no” to HaShem and his Son, the more difficult it becomes to ever say “yes” to HIM.

Pharaoh’s hardness is vividly displayed in the phrase found in Sh’mot 5:2, where he declares, “Who is ADONAI… I don’t know ADONAI!”  This is a willful denial of the God of the descendants of Avraham.  This is the attitude that eventually brought the king to destruction, and his country along with him.  But HaShem does not allow the stubbornness of one ignorant king to thwart his masterful plans!  Instead, as we read the story of the Exodus from Egypt, it is precisely in this disobedient vessel that HaShem displays his awesome power in deliverance!  This deliverance will be spoken of for generations to come!

Today, if you have experienced the deliverance from the bondage of sin, then you have something exciting to talk about!  To be sure, the Torah instructs us to proclaim the “good news” of this “salvation from spiritual Egypt”!  If we are to be living testimonies of the power of HaShem in the Earth today, then we need to know from whence we came, and why.  As we study the story of the Exodus from Egypt, the Torah is going to provide us with the necessary “inspiration” and foundation to share that redemption with others.

I want to challenge you to grab a seat, sit back, and get ready to “go through the Red Sea”!  The Torah is about to take you on one of the greatest adventures in the history of the sons of Avraham.  And because of your Messiah Yeshua, as non-Jewish believers, you need to know that THEIR history is YOUR history!

Excursus: G-d?

Why do some people write the name of God without the “o” (as in “G-d) or why do some spell the title “LORD” with a dash (as in L-RD)?

*May it be noted that my personal preference is to use all of the letters when writing “LORD”, “God”, and such.  But due to sensitivities I have often used “HaShem” as a reference for the Tetragrammaton Name of God in my commentaries.  However, I will break with personal tradition and omit the required vowels in this excursus.

Based on the words in Deut. 12:3-4, the Rabbis deduced that it is forbidden to erase the name of G-d from a written document. Since any paper upon which the name of G-d name was written might be discarded and thus "erased", the Rabbis forbade explicitly writing the name of G-d, except in Holy Books, with provisions for the proper disposal of such books.

According to Jewish Folklore, G-d has 70 names. However, only one of these names is the ineffable name, which cannot be erased or pronounced. Further, of the 70 names, seven may not be erased but they can be pronounced on certain occasions (such as when reading the Torah). The other names may be erased and pronounced, but still must be treated with respect. The Talmud (Shevuot 35a-b) makes it clear that this prohibition applies only to seven Biblical names of G-d and not to other names or attributes of G-d, which may be freely written.  The prohibition was later codified by Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Yesodei HaTorah 6:1-2). The practice of writing "G-d" is supported in Shut Achiezer, 3:32, and, where it is endorsed and accepted as the prevailing custom. Rambam cites Deut. 12-03:04, which states "and you shall destroy the names of pagan gods from their places. You shall not do similarly to G-d your Lord." The intent of this is to create an atmosphere of respect for G-d's name vs. pagan gods names.

As a result of this, people acquired the habit of not writing the full name down in the first place. Strictly speaking, this only applies to Hebrew on a permanent medium, but many people are careful beyond the minimum, and have applied it to non-Hebrew languages, hence, "G-d".

One explanation is that using G-d is a reminder that anything that we may say about G-d is necessarily metaphorical. Spelling out the Name (even in a language other than Hebrew) would imply that one could speak meaningfully (not just metaphorically) about G-d.

However, the Shach (Yoreh De'a 179:11) ruled that "God" spelled in a foreign language does NOT have the status of a "shem" and thus may be erased, lehatkhila. There is a story about Rav Soloveitchik (z"l) intentionally writing GOD on the board while teaching a class and then just as deliberately and intentionally erasing it, so as to demonstrate by his own example that this was not halachically a problem.

Conservative and Reform practice is to use "God". However, even some who are not strict (or even observant) in general will write "G-d", to emphasize that Jewish conceptions of G-d are meant.

Note: There is one exception to the destruction of G-d's name. In Numbers 6, the Suspected Wife Ceremony (Heb: Sotah), a man who suspects his wife of adultery (with witnesses seeing a forbidden seclusion) brings his wife to the temple. The Priests test the woman by pronouncing the horrible Biblical curse. After reading the curse it is written on parchment and dissolved in water (which the woman drinks). If she is guilty she dies and otherwise the couple gets their marriage back. Thus, G-d actually allows the ineffable name to be dissolved in water that the woman drinks. As the Talmud notes: G-d allows the ineffable name to be erased for the sake of bringing peace between a husband and wife.

The closing blessing is as follows:

“Baruch atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-‘Olam,
asher natan lanu Toraht-emet,
v’chay-yeh o’lam nata-b’tochenu.
Baruch atah YHVH, noteyn ha-Torah.

(Blessed are you O’ LORD, our God, King of the Universe,
you have given us your Torah of truth,
and have planted everlasting life within our midst.
Blessed are you, LORD, giver of the Torah.

"Shabbat Shalom!"

Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy