My Name 'Hashem' Was Not Known
Va'eira (Exodus 6:2-9:35 )
The Parsha begins with an important prophecy that Moses receives from Hashem.
Rashi's comment on verse 6:3 is a monumental comment, having great theological and historical import. It all flows directly from the words of the Torah, as Rashi makes clear.
Exodus 6:3 "But My name 'Hashem' (Y.H.V.H.) I was not known to them. "
It is not written here "[ My name 'Hashem'] 'lo hodati' - I did not make known [to them]" Rather [it says] "[ My name 'Hashem'] 'lo nodati' - I was not known [to them]." I was not recognized by them with My attribute of "loyalty" by reason of which my name is called 'Hashem,' that I am faithful to substantiate My promise. For indeed I promised them but I have not [yet] fulfilled [my promise].
This is a complex comment; Rashi is addressing two difficulties in our verse. We will begin our analysis by clarifying what he is saying.
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?
Rashi differentiates between the meaning of two conjugations of the word "to know." The two are:
1. 'lo nodati' - being the passive form, means "I was not known." 2. 'lo hodati' - being the active form, means "I did not make known."
Rashi points out that, of these two, our verse says "I was not known." Now we can question Rashi. What would you ask here?
A Question: Why is this grammatical distinction important to point out? What is bothering Rashi here? Hint: Is it true that the name "Hashem" (Y.H.V.H) was never used with the patriarchs? Can you recall in the book of Genesis the name Hashem in connection with any of the patriarchs?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: In fact, God did appear to the patriarchs using this unique Name. See Genesis 15:7 where it says that God appeared to Abraham:
"I am Hashem (the special four-letter Name) Who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldees to give you this land to possess it."
We also find in Genesis 28:13 in connection with Jacob's ladder dream:
"And behold Hashem (the special four letter Name) was standing over him and He said : 'I am Hashem, God of Abraham your father and God of Isaac; the ground upon which you are lying, to you will I give it and to your descendants."
How then can God say here to Moses that He was not known to the patriarchs by His unique name? This is what is bothering Rashi. How does his comment, with its grammatical distinction between "I was not known" and "I did not make known" help us out of this difficulty?
An Answer: If Hashem had said "I did not make My name known" it would have been untrue, since He did tell Abraham and Jacob this Divine name. Rather, what it says here is " I was not known by My name" - this implies the lack of a subjective, personal understanding of the significance of this name by Abraham or Jacob. The meaning is actually that God had conveyed His name, but neither Abraham nor Jacob had fully appreciated its meaning in their own lives. It is in this sense that the Name was not made known to them.
This is a subtle point. To understand it, we must understand a basic principle of Torah interpretation regarding the Names of God. His Names are not an arbitrary assortment of labels given to the Almighty; instead, each Name conveys a particular attribute of God. This Rashi stresses when he says: "I was not recognized by them WITH My attribute of 'faithfulness' by reason of which My name is called Hashem - faithful to substantiate My promise..." The grammatical distinction that Rashi makes is, thus, crucial to a correct understanding of this verse. It correctly avoids the difficulty that was posed by a superficial reading of the verse.
A DEEPER LOOK
This is truly a monumental Rashi, as we noted at the outset of our analysis. Rashi's comment makes it unequivocally clear that God's Names in the Torah are not names in the ordinary sense, but are, rather, terms for His attributes. We must accept this view, otherwise the contradiction between our verse and those in Genesis 15:7 and 28:13 is irreconcilable. This insight shakes the whole foundation of the school of biblical criticism and its assumption that the Names of God reflect different scribal traditions and thus, as they claim, the Torah was not written at one time by Moses. For those students unaware of this academic tradition, suffice it to say that it was this school of thought that contested and helped to undermine the Divine authority of the Torah in the eyes of the 'Enlightened.' It is referred to as "the Documentary Hypothesis." The Torah view, which vigorously rejects this thesis, is strongly validated by the recognition of the contradiction between our verse and the ones in Genesis. The only way to reconcile this is by means of Rashi's explanation.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."