Saturday, January 17, 2009

Post Parshah Thoughts - A Name for All Time

It is an uncommon occurrence that Parshat HaShevua melds perfectly with a kabbalistic sefer, but I merited such an occurrence this Shabbat. The reference from the Parshah is Shemot 3:13, where Moshe asks how is HaShem to be called? HaShem responds that his name is, “Eh-iyheh asher Eh-iyheh.” The Kabbalah is courtesy of the Ba’al HaLeshem Sha’ar 7, 4:2 - where he discusses the name of HaShem which indicates the beginning of the ongoing process of creation. (Don’t worry, I will explain this idea!) This name is AHYH (אה-יה) and literally means, “I will be.”

When I was in college one of my professors, Jonathan Z. Smith, referred to this pasuk as one of the great ironies in the Tanakh. (He actually quoted chapter and verse from the Bible.) Moshe asks HaShem to tell him how will the Israelites know that I am telling the truth when I talk to them? What name shall I call You? HaShem responds (flippantly, like the professor), “I will be whatever I will be!” Ever since that fateful chilly day in a lecture hall in Chicago, I have never been able to understand this pasuk. Yet, I finally managed a breakthrough today on a bright and sunny Shabbat morning in Israel.

The word that Prof. Smith translated as a verb can also be translated as a noun - as the name of HaShem AHYH. This is the name that is connected to the highest of the Sefirot, which is called Keter. (Here comes my quick summary of the Sefirot, which are commonly translated as emanations. They are ten different and distinct ways to discuss how HaShem relates to the world. The Sefirah of Chesed is used to describe how HaShem is kind with the world. Additionally, the concept of Min HaKoach el HaPoal also applies to the Sefirot. Chesed is the Koach of kindness and Netzach then becomes the Poal of kindness.) The main concept for us is that Keter is the highest of the Sefirot and is the Koach for all of them. This concept is similar to the post on Tzimtzum, where I described that there was a first substance from HaShem that rapidly expands and becomes the universe. The name AHYH represents the Koach for the creation of the universe, or the beginning of other processes. This name can be used to describe this first substance. (This is a general summary of ideas that were being discussed in the Ba’al HaLeshem that I was reading today.)

The insight that I had into this week’s Parshah is that HaShem tells Moshe this name at the beginning of the redemption from Mitzraim. The pesukim are describing that HaShem tells Moshe how he will lead B’nei Israel out of Mitzraim. It is entirely appropriate to use the name AHYH at this point because no redemption has actually happened yet. The entire process of redemption is still in the Koach, and during the next three Parshiyot we will read about the actualization of the process of redemption.

One last thought about the concept of Keter and the name AHYH - this concept was not only the beginning of a historical process. I mentioned in the opening paragraph that the process of creation is ongoing - Kabbalah states that the world is constantly under the Divine influence of HaShem. The world is constantly being created every second. Thus Keter and the name AHYH, represent the very beginning of the ongoing process of creation and this is the name that also described the beginning of Yitziat Mitzraim.

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