The Name that Doesn't Change
Parashat Va’era, Exodus 6:2 – 9:35
by David Wein, Tikvat Israel, Richmond, VA
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 שם, 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 carried you for nine months!” But more profound, of course.
Following the opening of the parasha, we find the verses from which we get the four cups during Passover:
Therefore, say to the people of Isra’el: “I am Adonai. I will free you from the forced labor of the Egyptians, rescue you from their oppression, and redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am Adonai your God, who freed you from the forced labor of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Avraham, Yitz’chak and Ya‘akov—I will give it to you as your inheritance. I am Adonai.” (Exod 6:6–8, CJB, emphasis added)
The third statement, corresponding to the third cup, uses the root word גאל, ga’al, redemption, recorded here for the first time from Hashem’s mouth. The only earlier example comes from the mouth of Jacob while blessing Ephraim and Menashe:
“The God in whose presence my fathers Avraham and Yitz’chak lived, the God who has been my own shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has rescued me from all harm, bless these boys” (Gen 48:15–16, CJB, emphasis added).
The redemption/rescuing (ga’al) in the life of Jacob implies that Hashem plays the long game with redemptive narratives. This is the Redeemer God with whom Jacob wrestled (hence the angel reference), who brought reconciliation and saved him from the wrath of his brother, Esau, and who brought Joseph back to him from death (as it were) and even enabled him to bless Joseph’s sons. The Redeemer God rescues not from suffering but through suffering.
Thus, the name and identity of the God revealed in Scripture are integral to the redemption narrative of Exodus.
Yeshua, whose name/identity means “salvation,” fits into this redemption narrative perfectly. When the sh’lichim begin to share the narrative of Yeshua in Acts 4, Kefa puts it like this: “There is salvation in no one else! For there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by whom we must be saved!” (Acts 4:12, CJB).
The Greek word here for salvation is “soteria,” the word often translated from yeshuah (with a final “heh”) in the Greek Septuagint. Besides the obvious link to the name of the Messiah, there is a definitional link between salvation and redemption, both of which are used to describe the Exodus.
So, in a sense, Yeshua’s name must therefore carry the name/identity of the Name, along with the connotations of deliverance and redemption through suffering. Yeshua is the fullness of the Name of God made manifest, and therefore his name and identity can be above every other name and identity.
So yes, Juliet, names do matter.