Va’eira – God’s names and miracles

 

                                                            VA’EIRA

                                             (Chapters 6:2–9:35)[1]                    

 

                                           God’s name and miracles

 

In Exodus 6:3, Moses is informed that God appeared to the Israelite ancestors “as El Shaddai, but I did not make myself known to them by my name y-h-v-h.” This “name” El Shaddai drew many interpretations.

 

Are the “names” of God merely a label that tells us how God is called, as I am called Israel Drazin, or is it a descriptive term for how God acts?

 

Most scholars understand that El Shaddai refers to how God acts. El means “God” and Shaddai could be “enough.” Thus the words tell us that God takes care of human needs by giving them sufficient supplies. This is the understanding of the Babylonian Talmud, Chagigah 12a, Ibn Ezra, and others. The Greek Bible translation Septuagint is similar; it uses a Greek word that means “almighty” or “sufficient.” In Acadian shadu means “mountain,” an image of power. El Shaddai appears five other times in the Pentateuch: Genesis 17:1, 28:3, 35:11, 43:14, and 48:3 when the Israelite ancestors speak about God.

 

But what does the Torah mean when it says that the patriarchs knew God as El Shaddai but not y-h-v-h? Nachmanides offers an interpretation that you may or may not like, but it is worth considering because it causes us to think. He is convinced that the “greatest secret” of the Torah, his words, is that God performs miracles daily. Some miracles are evident, like the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, and some are not evident, like falling of leaves, rain, and snow, because God is involved in making each leaf, rain drop, and snowflake fall. Everything is controlled and manipulated by God daily through miracles. Nachmanides understands God to be saying to Moses, “Yes, I supplied the needs of the patriarchs, but I did so with hidden miracles. Now I will redeem the Israelites from Egypt with clear miracles, acts that clearly change nature, so that everyone will realize that it is I, God, who is saving this people.”

 

Do you agree with Nachmanides’ theology that God is involved every second in every earthly event? If so, you might understand El Shaddai indicating that God gives humans their necessities every second. Or do you feel that there are no miracles, and that the Egyptian “miracles” can be explained rationally? For example, you can say that the splitting of the sea was caused by natural winds and tides, and Moses, who spent years as a shepherd in the area, knew about this phenomenon? If so, you might explain El Shaddai as God supplied human needs once, through the laws of nature. Or, do you take a middle approach and think that generally the world functions according to the laws of nature, but sometimes, perhaps during times of dire need, God interferes with the laws of nature and changes them to save people? If so, why didn’t God do so with Hurricane Katrina and during the Holocaust?



[1] The following essay is based on what Dr. Stanley Wagner and I wrote in our “What’s Beyond the Bible Text.”

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