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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Va’eira (5762)

Va’eira This 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' I was not known to them. Rashi: 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 "keeping faith" 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 our begin analysis by clarifying what he is 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?

Your Question:


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 Fathers? Can you recall in the book of Genesis the name Hashem in connection with any of the Fathers?

Your Answer:


An Answer: In fact, G-d did appear to the Fathers using this unique Name. See Genesis 15:7 where it says that G-d 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, G-d of Abraham your father and G-d of Isaac; the ground upon which you are lying , to you will I give it and to your descendants."

How then can G-d say here to Moses that He was not known to the Fathers 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?

Your Answer:


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 G-d had conveyed His name, but neither Abraham nor Jacob had fully comprehended its meaning. 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 with regard to the names of G-d. His names are not an arbitrary assortment of lables given to the Almighty; instead each name conveys a particular attribute of G-d. This Rashi stresses when he says:

"I was not recognised by them WITH My attribute of "keeping faith" 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.


Yet there remains another problem in our verse, which Rashi deals with in a very subtle way. Look at the dibbur hamaschil, (in Hebrew or English) see if it makes sense. What is wrong here?

Your Answer:

An Answer:

You can say "My name Hashem, was not made known ." But once we use the passive form " I was not known " we cannot say “My name Hashem, I was not known." It doesn’t sound right, neither in Hebrew nor in English. Something is missing in the syntax.

What should it have said?

Your Answer:

An Answer:

It should have said "with ( or by ) My Name ...I was not known to them."

How does Rashi deal with this?

Hint: Look closely at his every word.

Your Answer:

An Answer: Rashi, aware of this difficulty, alludes to it in his words " with My attribute of "keeping faith". See that Rashi adds the letter "Bet" "with" to the words "My attribute of keeping faith" these words are synonymous with the name Hashem, it is as if Rashi had written "with My name Hashem I was not known to them." In this way the difficulty is avoided.

But how does Rashi have the license to do this, to add the word "with" to the Torah's words?

Hint: Again, look closely at the whole verse.

Your Answer:


Read the whole verse. It says: " I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob with the name of El Shadai (G-d Almighty), but [with] My name Hashem I was not known to them." The word "with" appearing earlier in the verse, is carried over to the second part of the verse, thereby elegantly avoiding the syntactical problem.


This is truly a monumental Rashi, as we noted at the outset of our analysis.

Rashi's comment makes it unequivocally clear that G-d'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 G-d 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.

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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