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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Vaera

Exodus 6:3

"And I appeared to Abraham to Isaac and to Jacob as El Shaddai but with My name Hashem I was not known to them."

On this verse Rashi offers a very insightful and important comment.


"And with My name Hashem I was not known to them": Rashi: It is not written here "Lo Hodati" "My name Hashem 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 by My attribute of "keeping faith" by reason of which My name is called 'Hashem' that I am faithful to fulfill My promises. For, indeed, I promised them but have not [yet] fulfilled them.

Rashi is struggling with a problem here. This verse seems to say that G-d never appeared to Abraham etc, with His unique name "Hashem" But in fact he appeared to both Abraham and to Jacob with this unique name. See Genesis 15:7 "An He said [to Abraham] I am Hashem who brought you out of Ur of Chaldees..." And regarding Jacob it says in Genesis 28:13 " And behold Hashem was standing over him and He said 'I am Hashem, G-d of Abraham your father etc," So we see that in fact G-d did appear to them as Hashem (the unique name).

To answer this difficulty Rashi points out a subtle grammatical point here, which has monumental significance. He point out the difference between 'Lo nodati" which is what the Torah says here and "Lo hodati." Between "I was not known" and "I did not make known"?

What is the difference between these two terms?

"I did not make known" clearly implies that G-d didn't utter this name to them. But that is not true, as we pointed out He had made it known in Genesis. "I was not known" conveys that the recipient did not know (understand) it . But if G-d uttered His name to them why wouldn't they know it? The answer is that there is more to G-d's name than knowing how it sounds. Each of His names conveys a particular message. Knowledge of G-d's name means to understand its meaning, not just its sound. Rashi explains that that the meaning of Hashem (that He fulfills His promise) was not known to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - because G-d had only promised them but they did not lived to witness the fulfillment of this promise.

Rashi has thus neatly answer the apparent contradiction between our verse and the verses in Genesis where we saw that G-d had revealed Himself with the name Hashem. This comment of Rashi has far reaching significance, because Biblical critics have long claimed that the different names of G-d in the Torah show that there were different authors of different sections of the Torah - that it was not written at one time by one author. Rashi clearly shows that these different names are not just names but rather different attributes of G-d; the Torah changes the names to fit the message. Without Rashi's insight, we would be left with the blatant contradiction that we mentioned above.

A note to our readers: We are preparing to publish the Vayikra volume of "What's Bothering Rashi?" It will add another dimension to the study of Rashi - this time Rashi's creative use of the midrash. We are looking for sponsors of this volume to enable us to publish it. Contributions can be made in Memory of or in Honor of close ones. The previous volumes of "What's Bothering Rashi?" have been adopted for use in many schools and into many Jewish homes. Your sponsorship will make it possible to continue and enlarge this project. Those interested can write msbonch@mscc.huji.ac.il

Shabbat Shalom

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