Importance of individual relationship with God

In last week’s Torah portion, when Moses first encounters God, Moses learns God’s enigmatic name: Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh. In this week’s Torah portion, Vaera, there is an interesting contradiction regarding God’s name: “God spoke to Moses and said to him, ‘I am the Eternal (yud hay vav hay). I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai (God Almighty), but I did not make Myself known to them by My name Eternal.’” Actually God, yeah, You did. In Genesis 15:7 You appeared to Abraham: “I am the Eternal who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to assign this land to you as a possession.” And again in Genesis 28:13 You appeared to Jacob: “I am the Eternal, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.”
Fortunately, Rashi explains the contradiction for us. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob knew God as El Shaddai, the God who makes promises. God is saying to Moses that Moses will know God as The Eternal, the God who keeps promises. That is, Abraham was promised the Land of Israel as a possession, but he had to buy the Cave of Machpelah to bury his wife Sarah. Isaac should have been able to dig and get water from the wells that Abraham had established, yet he kept getting driven away. Jacob finally came back to the Land of Israel and wanted to set up his tent near Shechem, but he first had to buy the land from the locals. Yes, God Almighty, El Shaddai, had promised the Land to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but they never actually lived to see the fulfillment of God’s promise. Now, God is saying to Moses, God, the Eternal One, is here to fulfill God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Personally, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. So God was known by different names to different people — what’s the big deal? My mother calls me Ben. Unless I’m in trouble and then she calls me Benjamin. Unless I’m really in trouble and then she calls me Benjamin David Sternman. My father called me Benjie. To this day, my sister calls me Boo, shortened from Benjie-boo. My nieces and nephews call me Uncle Ben, as do a number of my friends’ kids. In my synagogue I’m called Rabbi Ben. What’s the big deal?
The names we give to people, or God, depend on the relationship we have with them. At Yom Kippur we might know God as “Avinu, Malkeinu; Our Father, Our King.” Or we might be put off by such gendered language and know God alternately as “Our Parent, Our Ruler.” When we stand guilty and wish to receive forgiveness for our sins, we know God as “The True Judge.” In troubled times, we pray to know God as “Maker of Peace.” Yet too often we know God as “The Distant One” or “The Silent One,” when we feel alienated from God’s presence.
The name by which we know God is in the relationship we have to God. At any one time, in our relationship at that moment, we know aspects of God: Healer, Maker of Peace, My Rock, My Redeemer. Yet we don’t know the totality of God. How appropriate and true, then, God’s initial answer to Moses who asked, “What’s Your name, God?” And God answered: Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh, I will be what I will be. God will be what we let God be in relationship to us individually. I pray that each of us throughout the world will one day recognize God as “The Known One.”
Rabbi Ben Sternman is the spiritual leader of Adat Chaverim in Plano.

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