|I appeared to Abraham… (Exodus 6:3)
וארא אל אברהם… (שמות ו:ג)
After Moses complained bitterly that he had failed in his mission to free the Israelites from captivity, God responded in an unusual manner. “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name YHWH I did not make [myself] known to them.” (6:2) What difference does the name that we use to refer to God make? What do the different names imply? Commentators explain that the different names of God refer to divine attributes. The divine name elohim refers to the divine attribute of justice, while the four-letter tetragrammaton (Yud-Hay-Vav-Hay) refers to the divine attribute of mercy. Rashi, following this line of thinking, offers a different explanation for the divine names. Commenting on the fact that God says that the name was not “made known” to the people, Rashi explains that this means that, “I was not recognized by them with my attribute of keeping my word, by dint of which my name is called YHWH, [which means that I am] faithful to verify my words, for I made promises to them, but I did not fulfill [them while they were alive].” In other words, while the forefathers had been promised that their descendants would be delivered from bondage, they themselves did not see the fulfillment of those promises. Now, Moses is told, the original commitments would be fulfilled and the Children of Israel would finally be free. Moses was at a point that words could no longer suffice, but that it was time for action.