Parashat Va’era

Parashat Va’era by David Wein, Tikvat Israel, Richmond, VA

Exodus 6:2 – 9:35; Ezekiel 28:25 - 29:21; Rev 16:1-21

O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name. . . . What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other word would smell as sweet.

Shakespeare’s famous soliloquy has Juliet asking why Romeo has to be called by that name, by that family. “Gee, if that Romeo could just get rid of his name, and go by Stanley Smith or something, all our problems would be solved!” Perhaps.

But what’s in a name, indeed? Why do we call people or things by a particular name? Is the name of that thing something you can just change out for something else, or is the name of something integral to the identity of that thing? If a rose were called a “gurglemoosh” would it still smell as sweet, as Juliet suggests?

Unlike the philosophy of the Bard, in Hebraic thought the name and the identity are linked; hence, the word Shem, is name, reputation, and identity. When we refer to Hashem, THE Name, the Tetragrammaton name of God, we are referring to the God of Israel, specifically revealed in this week’s parasha:

God spoke to Moshe; he said to him, “I am Adonai. I appeared to Avraham, Yitz’chak and Ya‘akov as El Shaddai, although I did not make myself known to them by my name, Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh [Adonai]. Also with them I established my covenant to give them the land of Kena‘an, the land where they wandered about and lived as foreigners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Isra’el, whom the Egyptians are keeping in slavery; and I have remembered my covenant. (Exod 6:2–5, CJB)

All of the times Adonai appears in this text it signifies the Name, which is specifically referenced here as a new kind of revelation about the identity of Hashem in the narrative of Moses. This would imply that Hashem’s very essence is wrapped up in covenant with Israel, and with the redemptive act of rescuing Israel from Egypt, and that these two are linked together. Consider the opening of the Ten Instructions, the framework for the Torah: I am Adonai your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the abode of slavery. (Exod 20:2, CJB)

That is, before the Ten Instructions are listed, this reminder of redemption appears. The covenant-redemption connection is brought up multiple times in the Torah, always linked with the Name as well. In Leviticus: “Don’t defile yourself with a creature that swarms on the ground, because I am Hashem, who brought you up out of Egypt” (Lev 11:44–45). “Use an honest balance, because I am Hashem who brought you up out of Egypt” (Lev 19:36).

Why do we follow Torah? One valid response is because we were rescued out of Egypt and became God’s people. Somewhat akin to: “Mom, why do I have to clean my room?” “Because I c