Parashat Va’era: encountering God both as Ani and Adonai

As we begin to read Sidra Va’era one phrase jumps out – God says “אֲנִ֥י יְהוָֹֽה (Ani YHVH I am Adonai)” four times in the first seven verses, and we are also told in verse 3 “and I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as El Shaddai, {God Almighty), but by My name  יְהוָֹֽהYHVH I made Me not known to them”.

Now we know of course that the name of YHVH was actually used repeatedly before this conversation with Moses, so it is clear that something else must be happening rather than the revelation of a name for God.

The four letter name given to Moses reveals something of the essence of God. An amalgam of the verb ‘To Be’ in past present and future form, it bespeaks continuous being, eternal existence.

It may also be a causative of being, the bringer forth of existence. In a sense it contains everything we can know of God, formulated as being that is outside of time. Here in Va’era it seems to me that God introduces God-self to Moses with the information that this is the same God who spoke with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all those generations ago. This is the Being who continues to be; the link to our history and roots, the companion of our present as well as the one who will walk with our children’s children. Did Abraham Isaac and Jacob know this or were they somehow caught in the moment of their relationship, aware of the covenantal promise but not fully understanding that this same God would be with their descendants. The same God, but experienced differently in each generation; the God who brings forth and is brought forth in our interactions.

What can we really say of God? Not much. And yet here is God repeating with a sense of urgency and emphasis    “ אֲנִ֥י יְהוָֹֽה Ani Adonai”.

Judaism bases itself on this two word statement. Everything our religion expresses can be said to flow from it, how we see the world, how we see ourselves and our possibilities in it:

YHVH that God is, was and will be.

And Ani – that God has an aspect that we can relate to, God is “Ani: I am” and exists in relationship to our own Ani or our collective Anachnu.

So with יְהוָֹֽה YHVH, this four letter name of God, we can understand something about the nature of God and existence but this is a cerebral connection only and we cannot encounter God in the understanding. But when the wordאֲנִ֥י  Ani is added we can be in relationship with God, can experience directly the divine rather that have our religion mediated through language and thought. We meet god in both ways. And this I think is new with the meeting in Va’era. A richer understanding of divinity, a gateway opened to our relationship with an ineffable God.

אֲנִ֥י יְהוָֹֽה Ani Adonai. Everything for us flows from this short phrase. It reminds us that God sustains existence, our mortal lives and the variety of lives that connect with us over time and space. It reminds us that we can create a relationship with the immanent aspects of God but that that relationship whilst rich and sustaining will only ever be partial. It reminds us that God is bigger than we can understand and has relationships with all who choose to be in relationship themselves. It reminds us that we relate to God as much through our relationships with others as we do in an I-Thou bond.

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had individual encounters with God, each had a blessing, each was given a sense of continuity that would live long past them. But when Moses encounters God, he encounters the one who says אֲנִ֥י יְהוָֹֽה – the Sustainer and Creator of existence who wants to work together with the people of Israel, for them to learn to sustain and bring forth existence too.

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