Whom Shall I Say Is Calling?

Moses asks God how he should describe the One who has promised to deliver the people from enslavement in Egypt.

God says ehyeh asher ehyeh. Conventionally, this is translated as I AM WHAT I AM or I SHALL BE WHAT I SHALL BE.

As difficult as these words are to understand, it is simply remarkable that we have them in the Bible.

What are we to make of them? Here are some of the many superb ways our sages explain the answer:

1. It means God is of the past, the present, and the future to come. God shall always be, and always be what tomorrow demands. (R. Yitzchak)

2. It means God will not be limited or put in a box by any created being.

3. It means God will be with the people no matter what – whether in their distress, their redemption, or, especially, in their service to the Divine.

4. It means God will be both in judgment and in mercy. Ehyeh teaches the unity of the two attributes. (Ramban)

5. It means God is to be called by the Divine’s deeds: Elohim, when judging creations; Tzevaos, when waging war against the wicked; El Shaddai, when suspending judgment for a person’s sins and withholding deserved punishment; and Hashem, when merciful, compassionate, and full of grace. (Midrash Rabbah)

At bottom, this account of God is all verb – exist, act, create, redeem, be with us, judge, love, support, show mercy, and will be and do what the Divine intends.

God is not a noun, and is thus incapable of objectification.

It is this verb force – ehyeh asher ehyeh – that reigns sovereign over the Pharaoh and all other created beings on the earth, irrespective of the extent of their seeming power.

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