Moshe said to G-d: “Behold, when I come to the Bnei Yisrael…and they will
say to me, ‘What is His Name?’ what shall I say to them.” G-d said to Moshe:
“I shall be as I shall be.”
What’s in a name? When it comes to HKBH – everything! We do not learn about
Hashem with our eyes, but with our ears. After our minds finish churning the
aural information passed on to them, we arrive at some sort of human
understanding of Who He is. Streamlining the concept, reducing it to an
economy of words, we are left with a Name. (Shem, or “name,” is related to
sham, or “there,” the word that indicates a place. What place is to physical
objects, name is to conceptual ones. A name is the “place” in our minds
occupied by a concept.)
When Moshe asked for a Name, he was aware of the dual nature of his mission.
On the one hand, he had to convince a mocking Paroh to free the Jews. On the
other, he had to prepare the nascent Jewish people for their freedom and
their destiny. He had to make them worthy of redemption, and worthy of the
Torah they would receive. The second task was the more difficult one. He
asked HKBH for assistance: What is the revelatory, breakthrough
understanding about You that I can give to the people? What insight can I
bring them that will lead to a sea-change in the way they relate to You, and
that will inspire them to begin moving in the direction I know they must travel?
Hashem answered with, “I shall be what I shall be.” Significantly, he does
not say “I am” in the present tense, but “I shall be” in the future. He
stresses that the future is not already predicted by what is. For G-d,
freedom is absolute. There are no preconditions or limitations. The future
for Him is purely a function of His Will.
For too many people, the relationship between G-d, Man, and the universe is
frozen in one instant of time. Seen their way, at the moment of creation,
G-d set into motion inexorable laws of Nature, which are always present, and
never altered. G-d does not transcend these laws, so much as He is
revealed in them. There is no future, save what has been inscribed in the
past. Man might imagine himself to be free, but the belief is delusional.
With G-d Himself constrained by the limitations of Nature, how could Man’s
freedom be anything but illusory, the product of misleading, unconscious
influences of his past?
One simple phrase shatters and obliterates this notion. “I shall be what I
shall be.” The future remains breathtakingly unwritten. All things are
possible to Him. Within the absolute freedom that belongs to Him, the future
of Man becomes quite a different thing. Sourced within Him is the
possibility of freedom of the will for Man as well. Because such freedom is
a reality in Him, not an illusion, it is possible for Man as well to share
and experience it if He so wills.
G-d hinted at this once before, in a coda to the symphony of Creation:
“which G-d created to do.” His creation was not finished. Whatever He
called into existence would keep on working, particularly in regard to the
last step and pinnacle of Creation – the creation of Man. Man would become
the steward of this world, the guide to all that would come.
There words mark the transition between Hashem’s creative role in Nature,
and the new creative role in the history of Man. A midrash pithily
describes the new role. “He rested from the work of creating His world, but
He did not rest from the work on the tzadikim and resha’im. Rather, He would
work with these and with those. To each He would show the future that is in
store for them.” The work of Hashem, so to speak, is thus not fixed at the
beginning of time. To the contrary, Creation only serves as the backdrop.
The dynamic relationship between G-d and the world continues as He responds
to the free-willed choices that He left for the realm of Man.
The transition is also marked by a shift in the Name of G-d. Till now, the
Torah uses only the Name Elokim – signifying fixed, causal Nature. From here
on, the four-letter Name – telescoping within it past, present and the
all-important future – is put to use as well. Similarly, on the threshold of
the geulah, approaching the first intervention in the flow of the history of
Mankind on the mass level, the Torah once again introduces a new Name: “I
shall be.” It is a clarion call to Man to use his free-will responsibly in
shaping the future – to make His Will our will.
Hashem’s Speakers Bureau5
He shall speak for you to the people. He will be your mouth, and you will
be the leader.
This does not describe an arrangement of convenience, but a separation of
roles that would endure. Two very different gifts would be required to
communicate the Divine word: the message, and the medium.
Moshe represented absolute clarity and accuracy in comprehending the Divine
message. Yet he found himself suddenly stymied when faced with the task of
relating its content to the skeptics. To succeed, he knew that the message
had to be delivered through eloquence and oratory – and he found himself
The role was thus split into two, with Aharon assuming the oratory role.
This separation manifested itself in the days of Chazal in the institution
of the meturgamon. He was the popularizer, the one who would take the
precision of the chacham in comprehending the law, and convey it to the
people in a manner that the chacham could not. The same relationship exists
in the tension between the שמעתתא – the content of the law – and the אגדתא –
the popular presentation that would appeal to the heart and soul, not just
to the mind.
The master of oratory, the one who is painfully conscious of the level of
his audience, it s receptivity and its needs, faces an occupational hazard.
To make himself heard and accepted, he can unintentionally lose much of the
clarity of the very teaching he wishes to convey. He can easily weave in
extraneous ideas that not only dull the original teaching, but compromise
it, or stand in actual opposition to it. Orators can easily become
comfortable with using a great number of words, all of which say very little
– or say things that are wrong!
The roles of Moshe and Aharon remind us that the two parts to communication
must work together, and cannot be separated. The chacham, the repository of
the accurate message, must be appreciated even when he is of slow speech and
less than scintillating eloquence. It all begins with the accuracy of the
 Based on the Hirsch Chumash, Shemos 3:13-14
 R Hirsch probably takes aim here at Deists, plentiful in his day in
liberal circles. G-d was seen as necessary to account for how the world came
into being, but once He created it, it manages nicely without Him. The reins
of power are now fully in Man’s hands – although, as R Hirsh shows, any
feeling that he has any real choice would be illusory. Man’s “choices,”
should be no different according to this view than any other phenomena. They
would all be determined by laws of Nature.