What Is His Name?
Two men, marked by 80 or more winters, walk in the shadow of Mount Horeb.
Aaron: So all I am is some sort of glorified ventriloquist’s dummy?
Moses: Well, that’s a harsh way to put it. But in a nutshell…
Aaron: I’m the older brother, for crying out loud. Why do I have to be your mouthpiece?
Moses: Think of it this way: I’m just the writer; you’re the producer, director and star all in one. Heck, I’m not even the writer. I’m more like the Writer’s amanuensis.
Aaron: Okay, okay. So what do I say?
Moses: Simple. Tell the Israelites they’re going to be free.
Aaron: Say what?
Moses: Free. As in freedom. No more suffering under the yoke of oppression.
Aaron: Moishe, you were out in the desert too long.
Moses: But that’s what He said.
Aaron: Did He say how?
Moses: That He didn’t say.
Aaron: Who’s gonna believe such a bubbe meise?
Moses: I’ve got a sign.
Aaron: A sign?
Moses throws down his staff that suddenly turns into a serpent. When he grabs the serpent by the tail, it becomes a rod again.
Aaron: Give me a break. We aren’t even supposed to do magic. As it is written [Numbers 23:23]: “For there is no enchantment with Jacob, neither is there any divination with Israel.” Besides, Pharaoh’s magicians do that one. Speaking of whom, does Pharaoh know about this?
Moses: I don’t think so. You’ll have to tell him, too.
Aaron: Sure. No problem. ’scuse us, Mr. Pharaoh, sir. We’ll just be taking your entire public works construction crew and be moving along. Nice doing business with you and good luck on that pyramid.”
Moses: He said He’d help.
Aaron: Who exactly is this He we keep talking about?
Moses: I knew you’d ask that.
Moses: “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”
Aaron: That is so generic. You’re asking people to go up against the most powerful guy in Egypt. You think you could maybe get a name?
Moses: I asked that, too.
Aaron: Don’t tell me; let me guess. He couldn’t say. Moishe, God’s never let anybody know their real names. He tells you His name, you’ve got His power.
Moses: He didn’t seem worried.
Aaron: You mean He told you?
Moses: Yeah. It’s…
Aaron: Maybe you should just whisper.
Moses: No. He was right up front with it. Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh.
Aaron: Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh? That’s the most grammatically ambiguous bunch of syllables I‘ve ever heard. You can’t even tell the tense. Present? Future? And if it’s the future tense, you can’t tell the gender. Oh yeah, this is going to go over great. “Moses brings a message from The Lord who happens to be a woman who also speaks about as clearly as the Oracle at Delphi.”
Moses: I thought “I am that I am” was a good a translation.
Aaron: How about Luther’s translation? “Ich werde sein der ich sein werde.” Or “I shall be what I shall be.”
Moses: That’s good, too.
Aaron: Or “I am what I shall be.”
Moses: That one’s got a nice feel of “becoming.” I like it.
Aaron: Or “I shall be whatever I want.” Or “whatever you need…” Or “whatever is necessary…”
Moses: All good.
Aaron: Then how about, “I might be what I was if I wasn’t who I’m going to be and you are what you eat.”
Moses: Come on. It’s not that bad.
Aaron: It’s worse. If He tells you a name we already know, it doesn’t prove anything. And if He tells you a name nobody’s heard of, how will they know if it proves anything?
Moses: I think Nachmanides will have already pointed that out in a few thousand years.
Aaron: See? Now He’s got you doing it. Look, the children of Israel are a skeptical lot. I’m not sure His answer tells us what we need to know.
Moses: Oh, I think it does.
Moses: It tells me three things. One, you’re right. The answer wouldn’t be of much use with the Israelites. That suggests He knew the person who needed Him to reveal Himself was me.
Aaron: The burning bush wasn’t enough?
Moses: As you said: We don’t much hold with magic. Two, it tells me our relationship is essentially reciprocal. What He means depends on how we understand what He means. And that can change. And three, we could reconsider this one sentence once a year for thousands of years and never begin to exhaust the possibilities of His meaning.
Aaron: Mysterious guy.
Jeffrey Fiskin is a writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and children.