This week’s Torah portion is called Va’era, “and I appeared.” In it, God uses several names to describe God’s-Self to Moses, including the name that is found nowhere else in the Bible, Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh.

Although the name is a Hebrew phrase and not strictly a name, it is nearly impossible to translate. It can be read in both the present and future tense. It can mean “I am that which I am,” or “I will be that which I will be.”

But what does that mean? Maimonides said that “this name expresses the idea that God is a Being of absolute existence. He was never without existence and He never will be without it.”

I could go on telling you what sages who were much smarter than me have said. Instead, I want to spend a moment thinking about the name in the context of God appearing to Moshe and using multiple names during the introduction.

Why so many?

Perhaps it is because God can’t be pinned down. And let’s face it, God’s not the only one with lots of names. We all do. Family names, nicknames, professional names.

There is a beautiful poem by Zelda, about names, called Each of Us Has a Name:

Each of us has a name, given by the source of life, and given by our parents
Each of us has a name, given by our stature and our smile, and given by what we wear
Each of us has a name, given by the mountains, and given by our walls
Each of us has a name, given by the stars, and given by our neighbors
Each of us has a name, given by our sins, and given by our longing
Each of us has a name, given by our enemies, and given by our love
Each of us has a name, given by our celebrations, and given by our work
Each of us has a name, given by the seasons, and given by our blindness
Each of us has a name, given by the sea, and given by our death.                               (translation by Marcia Falk)

Despite our many names, our essence remains the same. I am who I was 10 years ago, 20, 50. And I am different, because over time I have evolved. I have made mistakes, had set-backs, failed, got up again, and failed again. And I have had successes and joys. From all of these experiences, I have grown into the person I am today.

God is God. And yet, God is so much more than that word. Especially for those of us who grapple with the word G-o-d, perhaps it’s time to choose another name for the Unnamable.

And maybe that’s what God was trying to tell Moses. Because it doesn’t really matter what word we use; no single name can capture God’s essence, just as the name Jennifer cannot capture my essence.

Back to our text in which all of these names came in the context of God appearing. What are to make of God having an appearance? But maybe, the text is talking about making an appearance. Showing up. Being there for those in need.

Just a couple of hours ago, we buried a man whomI’m sure  none of you knew, Rubin Weinberger. And you probably don’t know his daughter Mindy, who is a member of Kol HaNeshama but hasn’t been to services much over the past couple of years because of her father’s illness. She was his primary caretaker, and even though he lived in a nursing facility, she still spent every day seeing that his needs were met.

We knew that Mindy and her mother Carolyn would be the only family members at the funeral, so we put out a call to Kol HaNeshama members to come to the cemetery so they would have a minyan, the requisite quorum of ten to say the Mourner’s Kaddish for him. I am happy to say that more than 10 people came. They showed up when they were needed.

Those who came now have another name, along with the ones that their friends and family use for them. The name is Angel of God.

God appeared to Moses in a burning bush. Today, angels appeared in a cemetery. I would have liked to have seen that bush; but I know that today I saw the face of God.

 

This is the sermon that I gave at my synagogue during Shabbat services.