Let Me Be What I Can Be
Torah Portion, 1st in Shemot
Shemot 1:1-6:1 (124 verses)
We begin this week with a new book of the Torah, the Book of Exodus. We begin that unfolding story that leads to the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt after 430 years of slavery. What is fascinating is the name of the book. When we pick up an English bible, we actually read the Greek word, “Exodus.” The Hebrew name for this book is Shemot, meaning “Names.” The first thing we have in Chapter 1 is this listing of the names of Jacob’s children who died over four hundred years earlier.
There is one more name that appears for the first time in Chapter 3 of Exodus. A name for God appears here that befuddles some, intrigues others, and confuses everyone else. Moses asks God for the Divine name. We already have a number of names for God in the book of Genesis – Elohim, Adonai, El Shaddai. There are over eighty names for God. But here we have a name for God which is not quite a name, Ehyeh–Asher-Ehyeh (3:14). Some bibles have translated this as “I am who I am.” That is not a bad translation of the Hebrew. God’s name actually appears as a verb rather than a noun. The verb is in the imperfect, future tense, so some have translated this as “I will be who I will be.” This name for God is quite different than the names the Israelites had become familiar with, names like Elohim or Adonai and may have been attributed to a particular place or a particular event. This name however is something quite different.
I have used these names of God to challenge atheists who have approached me and asked, “Is it okay to be an atheist and still be Jewish?” I ask them to describe the God they do not believe in. It is often Elohim or Adonai who is so angry at individuals and nations, who destroyed or advocated the destruction of lives and property. That is the God they do not believe in. I ask, “What about God whose name is Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh? Perhaps God in the twenty-first century for you is different than Elohim or Adonai described in the bible over three thousand years ago.” That gives them pause.
One of my colleagues, Rabbi Michael Oblath, has suggested that instead of translating Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh as “I will be who I will be,” he suggests “Let Me be what I can be.” This name introduces to us an energy within that is always available to bring sh’leimut to ourselves and others. It represents energy that flows through us bring balance into our lives.
You are at a party. You meet someone new. You ask their name and what they do and how long they have been doing that. You get an impression of that person and you label them. These labels help determine if you can have a relationship with them, if you can be friends, if you can sell something to them, or if they can sell something to you. Those labels you are giving to others –those names- represent only the static nature of the person – who that person is in that moment or in your consciousness. Those answers, in the form of nouns, determine what I can get out of that person or what I can give to that person. But those descriptive nouns or labels keep them exactly where we think they are.
“Let Me be what I can be” rather than a description or a label, is a call to action, challenging you to think differently. “Let Me be what I can be” is an offer to elevate you not only to do more, but to be more.
Often you ask someone, “What can I do for you?” The answer is always, “Nothing, I am fine.” Perhaps the person does not want to be a burden or impose upon you. In fact, to be honest, often we look forward to being dismissed because it will take time away from what we are doing. “Phew. What a relief! She does not need my help.”
Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh , “Let Me be what I can be” is a name of God that eliminates the question, “What can I do for you?” and the desired rejection that follows. Rather it is a change in energy level from static to kinetic. When God said to Moses, Ehyeh–Asher-Ehyeh, there was no pause, no hesitation. This was a movement forward for God, for Moses and the Israelites. God told Moses to tell the Israelites, “I am the God of your ancestors … and this is My name forever” [v. 15] … Go assemble the elders … I have taken note of their misery [v. 16] … and I will take you to the land of milk and honey” (v. 17). A transformative forward momentum began to take place without a question from God, “Can I help you deliver the people from their enslavement?” Instead, God and Moses began to act optimistically and positively forward.
Instead of asking my children what they would like to do, to which the answer is often “Nothing. I want to continue watching TV or playing this video game.” Instead let me be who I can be for you – your father – “Let’s go.”
Let this be a challenge for us. Let us take on the mantle to be more, to act more and to make a difference in the lives of our family members and community members not by asking if we can be more, but by acting to be more. Today let your energy change. Don’t wait. Today, take on the mantle of God’s name at the Burning Bush. Today, Let me be what I can be is the name you will be known by.
Rabbi Thomas Louchheim
January 11, 2015