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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Shemos (5762)

When G-d decides to redeem His people Israel from their Egyptian servitude, Moses is chosen as the prophet to lead the people out and the spokesman to confront Pharaoh. He tries desperately to avoid accepting this responsibility from G-d (Exodus 3:11-4:14) until, left with no choice, he accepts. In the discussion between Moses and G-d we find the following interaction:

Exodus 3:13,14 And Moses said to G-d ‘Behold when I come to the Children of Israel and say to them, “The G-d of your forefathers has sent me to you,” and they will say to me ‘What is His name?’ – what shall I say to them?’ Hashem answered Moses “I Shall Be As I Shall Be” (“Eheyeh asher Eheyeh”) And he said “so shall you say to the Children of Israel ‘I Shall Be has sent me to you.”


I Shall Be As I Am: Rashi. I will be with them in this suffering I who will be with them in the servitude of other kingdoms. [Then] Moses said to Him, L-rd of the Universe ! Why should I mention to them other sufferings, they have enough with this suffering. G-d replied to him: You have spoken rightly - THUS SHALT THOU SAY etc [ ‘Eheyah has sent me to you] (Without the additional ‘Asher Eheyeh ).

What question would you ask Rashi about this comment?

Your Question:


A Question: Why rely on a midrash to explain this verse, it seems clear enough as it is?

What’s bothering Rashi here?

Hint: Look at the whole verse

Your Answer:


An Answer: Actually several things may be bothering Rashi here. First, and most obvious, is the problem with the two quotes from G-d. First He tells Moses that His name is “Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh”, then practically in the same breath, He tells Moses to tell the Israelites that “Eheyeh” (alone) sent him. Why the shortened name?

How does the midrash deal with this change in Names?

Your Answer:


An Answer: G-d did shorten the name to be conveyed to the children of Israel from Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh to Eheyeh? The midrash tells us why He did so. G-d shortened the name in response to Moses’ telling question: Why should He burden the people with the thought of future suffering when their present predicament was bad enough?

The shortened name of Eheyeh thus, refers only to the present - G-d will be with the children of Israel in their present servitude in Egypt. G-d accepts Moses’ argument and drops all reference to future suffering.


A closer look at the verse will reveal another problem that was bothering Rashi.

Reread the verse.

Hint: Do you see a redundancy in it?

Your Answer:


An Answer: Twice it says “and He said.” “And G-d said to Moses....and He said: So shall you say...” It is G-d speaking both times with no interruption, why then repeat the words “And He said” twice in the same verse ? If it only had said “And G-d said” at the beginning of the verse it would have been sufficient, the same meaning would have been conveyed.

How does Rashi’s comment deal with this redundancy?

Your Answer:


An Answer: The apparently unnecessary repetition implies that something did in fact transpire between the two “and He said”s. The midrash fills in the missing piece - Moses’ retort to G-d “Why should I mention to them other sufferings etc.” This isn’t recorded in the Torah but the midrashic interpretation fills it in.

We see now that that Rashi’s comment (based on the midrash) explains both difficulties:

1) The name is shortened, (Thus Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh becomes just Eheyeh ) in response to

2) Moses’s interruption. (Therefore it says “and He said” twice).


The Ramban comments here accepting the midrash and expanding on it.

Ramban 3:13

“This verse calls aloud for an explanation.....

[after quoting Rashi] Thus the language of Rashi quoting the words of our Rabbis. Their intent in this Aggadah is as follows: Moses had said before Him, blessed be He, ‘And they shall say unto me : What is His name?’ meaning that G-d should tell him the Name which fully teaches His existence and His providence. The Holy One , blessed be He, answered him: ‘Why should they ask for My Name ? They need no other proof, for I will be with them in all their affliction. They shall call, and I will answer .’ This is the greatest proof that there is a G-d in Israel near us whenever we call upon Him. And verily there is a G-d that judges in the earth. This is the correct interpretation of the Aggadah.”

What does the Ramban mean when he writes “G-d should tell him the Name which fully teaches His existence and His providence.” ? What does he mean by “existence” and “providence”?

Your Answer:


An Answer: By “existence” the Ramban means G-d’s essence. The philosophical understanding of the reality of G-d’s being.

By “providence” he means G-d’s guidance and influence in this world.

The Ramban (following the Aggadah) says that G-d’s answer is that they have no need of any other proof “for I will be with them in all their affliction.”

What does he mean by this? Any other proof of what?

Your answer:

An Answer: He is saying there is no need for other proof of G-d’s existence.

How does the quote “for I will be with them ...” explain why they have no need for any other proof ?

Your Answer:

An Answer: The Ramban is making a basic point in Jewish philosophy. The Jew understands the reality of G-d’s existence not through philosophical inquiry ( “His existence”) but by means of G-d’s providence, His influence in this world. G-d’s protection of the Jewish nation throughout its unique history of exhilirating highs and devastating depths is “proof enough.” This is what he means by quoting “for I will be with them in all their afflictions.”

We see how the Ramban elaborates on this Aggadah, how he gives it philosophical depth. This is an excellent example of a difference between the approaches of the Ramban and Rashi. Rashi will quote a Midrash without elaboration, leaving the student to accept it as given and interpret it as he will. The Ramban, on the other hand, takes a midrash and provides us with explanation of the profound teachings of the Rabbis. Seeing the midrash through the Ramban’s eyes gives us a glimpse of the wisdom imbedded in the simple looking Aggadah.


The idea that G-d’s providence and His influence in history are central to Jewish belief, the theme of the Ramban’s comment here, can also be seen in Rabbi Judah Hallevi’s classic work The Book of the Kuzari , which was written a century before the Ramban.

In the dialogue between the King of the Kuzars and the Rabbi, the Rabbi is asked to give the basis of the Jewish belief. We find the following exchange. (Part I ).

“Rabbi: I believe in the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, who led the Children of Israel out of Egypt with signs and miracles; who fed them in the desert and gave them the land, who sent Moses and His law and subsequently thousands of prophets ...Our belief is comprised of the Torah, a very large domain.

The King: Why did you not say that you believe in the Creator of the world, its governor and its guide...?

Rabbi: This is based on speculation, conclusions based on thought , but open to many doubts... in the same way did Moses speak to Pharaoh when he said ‘The G-d of the Hebrews sent me to you’ ...he did not say ‘The G-d of heaven and earth sent me to you’ ...”

Here again, the emphasis is on history, the acts of G-d which are visible and able to be attested to by men and not on the conclusions of philosophical inquiry, which are always open to refutation.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."

Dr. Bonchek will be in the States IY"H this coming February on a lecture tour. Congregations or organizations interested in having him lecture for them are invited to contact him at msbonch@mscc.huji.ac.il.

The Institute is in the process of preparing the Devorim volume of "What's Bothering Rashi?" This volume will feature Rashi and the Ba'alie Tosephos. Readers interested in sponsoring a sedra in this volume are encouraged to contact us for further details at msbonch@mscc.huji.ac.il

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