It is, without a doubt, an enigmatic exchange. Moses at the burning bush. God has heard the cry of the Israelites and calls on Moses to go before Pharaoh to demand their freedom. Moses inquires of God: “When I come before the Israelites, who shall I tell them sent me?” Moses is desperate for God’s name, a concrete title by which God may be known. Famously, God responds, ” ‘Ehyeh asher ehyeh’, ‘I will be what I will be.’ Thus shall you say to the Israelites: ‘Ehyeh, I will be, sent me to you.’”
The scene serves as both a window into the nature of God and a charge to all future humanity. Moses understandably wanted a name, a noun, a label by which God’s nature could be concretized. God’s decision to self-identify as a dynamic verb or process provides insight into the nature of God and a humanity created in the divine image. Unlike Pharaoh, whose hardened heart and static disposition proved to be his undoing, the liberation of the Israelites will depend on their ability to see beyond the horizon — beyond their present station — and transcend the physical and spiritual limitations of their enslavement. “Ehyeh asher ehyeh.”This is a tale of becoming: the God-like capability of continued personal transformation and the recognition that one’s today need not be one’s tomorrow.
More often than not, the revelation of God’s will, be it at the burning bush or Mount Sinai, is understood in static or transactional terms: An object (the Torah) passed from one entity (God) to another (Israel). What if, I wonder, we imagined the revelation of Torah as the dynamic, ongoing, and covenantal process of realizing a divine truth embedded within? Is it not this image, a Torah “nata betocheinu”(“planted within us”), for which we thank God at the conclusion of every Torah reading? By this telling, the power of Torah is not so much in its reception but in its actualization. In feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, and performing other worthy deeds, we are, in the words of Rabbi Harold Schulweis, z’l, able to shift the focus of God “from noun to verb, from subject to predicate, from God as person to Godliness….” By making God’s presence manifest in our own actions we are, at one and the same time, fulfilling God’s will, and we are realizing the world of possibility embedded in our own humanity.
The story is told of the angels who, upon hearing of God’s intent to create man, became jealous and plotted to hide the divine image. One angel suggested hiding the image in the deepest ocean, another suggested hiding the image on top of the highest mountain. But the other angels objected; they noted that humanity would find it nonetheless. Finally, the wisest angel suggested: “Plant the divine image within humanity, for that is the one place where they will never look.”
Planted deep within our souls sits the potential to bring God’s dynamic presence into this world. Created in the image of God, each of us holds the possibilities of Torah within us — ready to be brought into full relief if we choose to do so. And, like the Israelites who proclaimed “Na’aseh v’nishma,” “We will do and we will listen,” each one of us has the opportunity to respond to the inner call of Sinai and in so doing partner with God to make God’s will recognizable and known on earth.