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I shall be

Exodus 3:14

I shall be with you in your present distress, and I shall be with you in future exiles and persecutions

Rashi on verse

When G‑d appeared to Moses in the burning bush and charged him with the mission to take the people of Israel out of Egypt, Moses said to the Almighty:

"Behold, I will come to the children of Israel and say to them, The G‑d of your fathers has sent me to you, and they will say, 'What is his name?' What shall I say to them?"

G‑d replied to Moses: "I shall be who I shall be... Tell the children of Israel, I Shall Be (Eh-he-yeh) has sent me to you."

An Anonymous G‑d?

To name something is to describe and define it. So G‑d, who is infinite and undefinable, cannot be named. Thus G‑d has no name, only names — descriptions of the various behavior patterns that can be ascribed to His influence on our lives.

In the words of the Midrash, "G‑d said to Moses: You want to know My name? I am called by My deeds. I might be called E-l Sha-dai, or Tzevakot, or Elokim, or Ha-Va-Ya-H. When I judge My creatures, I am called Elokim. When I wage war on the wicked, I am called Tzevakot. When I tolerate the sins of man, I am called E-l Sha-dai. When I have compassion on My world, I am called Ha-Va-Ya-H..."

Therein lies the deeper significance of the question that Moses anticipated from the children of Israel. What is His name? they were sure to ask. What type of behavior are we seeing on the part of G‑d in these times? You say that G‑d has seen the suffering of His people in Egypt, has heard their cries, and knows their pain, and has therefore sent you to redeem us. Where was He until now? Where was He for the eighty-six years that we are languishing under the slave-driver's whip, that babies are being torn from their mothers arms and cast into the Nile, that Pharaoh is bathing in the blood of Jewish children? What name is He now assuming, after eighty-six years in which He has apparently been nameless and aloof from our lives?

G‑dly, But Not Holy

As explained above, each of the divine names describes another of the attributes by which G‑d has chosen to relate to His creation: Elokim describes G‑d's assumption of the attribute of Justice, Ha-Va-Ya-H His assumption of Compassion, and so on. Eh-he-yeh ("I Shall Be"), the name by which G‑d here identifies Himself to Moses, connotes G‑d's assumption of Being and Existence.

This is why there is some question amongst the Halachic authorities as to whether the name Eh-he-yeh should be counted among the seven holy names of G‑d. Torah law forbids erasing or defacing G‑d's name, for the very ink and paper (or other medium) assume a holiness by virtue of its representation of something that relates to the divine. While there are many names and adjectives that describe G‑d's many-faceted involvement with His creation, there are seven primary divine names to which the strictest provisions of this law apply. Yet despite the fact that many Kabbalists consider Eh-he-yeh to be the loftiest of divine names, it is not included in certain versions of the seven-name list as it appears in the Talmud and the Halachic works; indeed, the final Halachic conclusion is that it is not one of the seven holy names.1

The reason for this paradox is best understood by understanding the meaning of the term "holiness". What makes something holy? Holy (kadosh in the Hebrew) means transcendent and apart. G‑d is holy, for He transcends our earthly reality; Shabbat is a holy day, for it is a day of withdrawal from the mundanity of the everyday; a Torah scroll or a pair of tefillin are holy because these are objects that have visibly transcended their material state to serve a G‑dly end.

The same applies to the seven holy divine names: each describes a divine activity that goes beyond the mundane norm, a divine intervention in reality — G‑d as ruler, G‑d as judge, G‑d as provider, G‑d as savior, etc. On the other hand, Eh-he-yeh ("I am") is G‑d as being — G‑d as the essence of reality.2 So Eh-he-yeh is beyond holiness. If holiness is a feature of G‑d's transcendence, the beingness of G‑d transcends holiness itself, describing a dimension of divine reality that pervades every existence even as it transcends it, and thus relates equally to them all, holy and mundane alike.

[Nevertheless, Eh-he-yeh is a name — that is, an assumed behavior pattern — of G‑d's. The very phenomenon of "existence" is part and parcel of G‑d's creation, and G‑d certainly cannot defined by something He created. Utimately, G‑d can be described as a "being" or "existence" only in the sense that we speak of Him as a provider or ruler: these are mere names, describing not His essence but a certain perception He allows us to have of Him by affecting our reality in a certain manner.]

The Answer

This was G‑d's answer to the people's outcry, "What is His name?!"

Tell the children of Israel, said G‑d to Moses, that My name is Eh-he-yeh. Where was I all these years? With you. I am being, I am existence, I am reality. I am in the groan of a beaten slave, in the wail of a bereaved mother, in the spilled blood of a murdered child. Certain things must be, no matter how painful and incomprehensible to your human selves, in order that great things, infinitely great and blissful things, should be. But I do not orchestrate these things from some distant heaven, holy and removed from your existential pain. I am there with you, suffering with you, praying for redemption together with you.

If you cannot see Me, it is not for My ethereality; it is because I am so real.

See Talmud, Shavuot 35, and Dikdukei Sofrim, ibid.; Mishneh Torah, Laws of the Fundamentals of Torah, 6:2; ibid., Venice 1524 and Venice 1540 editions; Kessef Mishneh commentary on Mishneh Torah, ibid.; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 276:9.
Guide to the Perplexed, part I, ch. 62; Ralbag and Abarbanel on Exodus 3; Ikarim 2:27; et al. See also Gevurot Hashem, end of chapter. 25.
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson; adapted by Yanki Tauber.
Originally published in Week in Review.
Republished with the permission of If you wish to republish this article in a periodical, book, or website, please email
Painting by Chassidic artist Zalman Kleinman.
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Rabbi Shmary Brownstein May 29, 2013

Re: I SHALL BE We humans are not averse to pain if we know why we have to suffer. As Jews we believe that there is a purpose to our suffering, even if we can't fathom it. Just as Egypt was called a "smelting furnace" in the Torah, removing the dross from us and leaving us pure, so there must have been some positive result of the Holocaust, though I dare not try to guess at what it is. But knowing that G-d was not indifferent, and with us throughout, is an expression of His compassion. Those who lost their faith because of the Holocaust did so because they felt abandoned, not because they suffered. Those who felt that G-d was with them drew strength from that belief. Reply

JHBMAN Johannesburg May 14, 2013

I SHALL BE "I shall be with you in your present distress, and I shall be with you in future exiles and persecutions."
This directly implies that G-d was with those who were murdered in the Nazi death camps.
Yet, we are told that "He is a merciful G-d."????? Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma January 22, 2012

the wisdom of our Fathers I had a contentious relationship with my father but I have never forgotten many of the things he repeated to me.

He said one day you will realize the importance of family in your life. I feel the Family of Man. And love my immediate family dearly!

He said we always make time for what is important to us

He always asked about the books people read, and seemed to feel a well balanced person, made knowledge, or education a priority.

I became a voracious reader and always asked questions about life's meaning, from a tender young age, it was always, Why am I here?

I found books that have never left me in terms of what I felt within them, that gave me great insights.

I learned we always make time for what's important and that excuses of how busy others are, does not cut it.

I found G_d in the little details, and a deep mirroring truth that was G_d speaking through my Father, with deep wisdom and such love.

I found my way throught the woods and woulds to this place, and deeply to JOY. Reply

Indu raanana January 20, 2012

thank you very nice article whoever wrote it, i just did not understand the last sentence, who is saying this, or from where it is taken... thank you. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma January 5, 2011

what is, Mind? to KATE Certainly I may have misunderstood you. We are talking using words that are actually never totally defined, and they often cannot be totally defined. A definition is an attempt, but not the whole. Try looking up G_d in a dictionary and tell me how any one definition could ever, suffice? There is something we call inchoate, a feeling we grasp at in speaking and we do sometimes assume too much about another's having the same inner meanings.

We can "re MIND" each other, that it's all relative and we are all of us, part of the same family, and what we are doing is a kind of midrash here on Chabad as seekers after an inchoate truth. Reply

Anonymous USA January 5, 2011

Argument - Ruth Houseman How perspicacious of you to recognize G-d has a sense of humor. I have been the recipient of it many a time. Even I had to laugh and for sure, I could almost hear the Great and Holy One doing the same.

Many people fail to listen Ruth when you say something they either do not understand, or do not want to hear.

Even I have those moments. But, to my betterment, I simply put my arms around the person, and tell them, I need time and space to think over what they said, and that I love them dearly.

Problem solved, but I continue to search for the reasoning, the idea of what they said, and finally, incorporate that into my reality. It all takes time and careful consideration.

Sooner than later, I can open the discussion, with the concept they hit me with a while back, and with deep resonating clarity, I understand! Reply

Anonymous USA January 5, 2011

Kate - Clarity I missed your request for clarity. Could you direct me to the post where you specifically asked for it? I am not sure of your logic. Since you have in one post put so many negative aspects in your interpretation of what I said. Perhaps you will find the clarity in my post to Ruth Houseman. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma January 5, 2011

argument My father used to quote from Omar Kkayam and he said, see, you walk in the same door you walked out, and philosophy merely takes us in circles.

I wanted to tell him, and I tried, that he did not understand these and other words, but this was his understanding, and, for any work of art, once it leaves the hands of the creator, it's up to the individual to interpret what it means, to them.

So wrong too, is a relative thing, and does deeply depend on the observer. I feel as Heraclitus, deeply, that we never walk in the same river twice and that time and the river, from moment to moment is always changing and revelatory.

I argued with someone near and dear to me, and I didn't want to argue, because there is no point, I cannot change this person's mind. I went to my car to pick up some dessert for my last class and wound up parking behind a car that had as its plate: Arrgh. How droll, the first part of the world Argument. ARRGHument!

Surely G_d has a sense of humor. To make light! Reply

Kate Gladstone Albany, NY/USA January 5, 2011

to Re:

"If you asked for clarity, you would get it."

I asked for clarity. Therefore, by your logic, I must have it.

to Ruth Housman


"I think feeling is an OK thing to express" --

I think that, too. What made you suppose that I did not? Reply

Anonymous January 4, 2011

The beauty of Ruth's mind and heart!!! Well, as a Profiler, I do not believe in coincidence! All things are not always random. There is a certain lense we are all born with, and it is OK to express one's thoughts. The difference being that respect is in order for conflicting opinions. It is difficult for most to understand the other's perspective. I call it a journey where others, though not like us, bring us to a new understanding, and beauty and relativity to our lives BECAUSE their view is different. Its called mazzel! That nightengale piece was pure genius and beautiful. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma January 3, 2011

Kiss me Kate (Shakespeare) Hi Kate,

I am experiencing MAJOR synchronicity, meaning the astonishment of connects that do precipitate out of story. They cannot be random. In order to comprehend this you would have to read my Diary, or begin with my blog on line, these are whirrling words, after Shakespeare. Or continue here, to read my words and other commentaries

It's not my state of mind, Kate. Nobody is telling me how to think or feel. I am an adult, and have taken my own journey as we all do. I do not discount anyone's experiences, but I also do not discount, mine. They are totally verifiable and totally true. Maybe look and see what I wrote about Nightingale.

This is not to promote me or my blog. It's to say, coincidences of a massive kind do lead me in a direction that is feeling directed, and besides this, I wouldn't need this to feel the wonder that is ever present in all of our lives.

So I don't feel as you do, and I think feeling is an OK thing to express. Without it, how would we care for each other Reply

Kate Gladstone Albany, NY/USA January 3, 2011

logic Logic explains more than you appear capable of imagining! There are abundant (and, in my judgment, correct and therefore satisfying) explanations of love and music and other good things (that it is quite logical for us to create and enjoy).

Ruth Housman's "I do sense ... I believe ... I feel it" doesn't demonstrate a thing: except that she can mistake emotions (her own or other people's) for facts.

Ruth, would you be willing to consider the possibility that what you are identifying as "God" is simply your own state of mind (including your mental state of accepting what other people have told you to think, feel, and do in order to make God happy?) Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma January 2, 2011

for anonymous above Thank you for saying what you did. Your words resonate for me.

I do sense there is more to me, and to all souls, that is eternal, in answer to Kate Gladstone, above.

I believe there is something more.... I believe there is something about our lives, about the deep and ongoing metaphoric connects, the coincidences, the amazement of living, that does tell me, God does not desert us ever, even when we are in great pain, for whatever reason.

I feel it. Reply

Anonymous Dallas, TX January 2, 2011

to KATE You seem very dependent upon rational thought as if that were all there is, but in order to make any headway in certain fields I'm afraid you will have to put your logic aside. Can your logic explain love? Can it explain music? Can it explain time? Will you say that those things therefore don't exist?
I am merely saying that BY DEFINITION, things that are not eternal, are not real. I am saying that there is a Kate that was born, lives and will die, but that is NOT the essential Kate. You are mistaking the shadow for the reality. Reply

Kate Gladstone Albany, NY/USA December 29, 2010

to Anonymous Why do you imagine that things with limits aren't real? Every item that exists has an edge, a limit, that marks it off from something else. (Limitless items simply don't exist.)

"Things come and go" -- so, what are you concluding from that? (And how are you concluding it?)

Re: " The essence of things are their reality" — what did you mean by that? (To me, that statement conveyed nothing.)

Re" "because essence lies outside the realm of time and is therefore eternal" -- the words following "because" in that sentence don't follow from the words that preceded "because." Also, you have not given evidence that anything (either some "essence" or anything else whatsoever) actually lies "outside the realm of time" (whatever that may mean) -- you have merely said that it does, without evidence.

"Can't you sense that there is more to you than just you? Something eternal?" No. What is me, is me -- and isn't eternal. Reply

Anonymous USA December 29, 2010

God is not a dispassioate observer I believe Ruth you understood the depth of what i said. Anyone can be there when things are going well but a true friend is one who is there when things are not so good or if someone is suffering.

God simply wants us to be involved in all aspects of life, like hospitality, (Abraham) suffering, (Moshe). Yes in joy and in sorrow He is present. In sorrow I feel His presence more.

What does one do if they do not know someone, yet, happen upon them, or a situation, can anyone HUMAN walk away?

I have done many things for strangers and it would have been a terrible thing, from my perspective of both reality and my empathic nature, to simply disassociate when they needed me most.

Who says the Great One wasn't watching my response to the situation to test my faithfulness? I feel His presence there the most Perhaps too I see a spark of divinity in others so therefore I cannot ignore a human being.being in distress. Reply

Anonymous Dallas, TX December 28, 2010

RE: REALITY Nothing that is of this world is real in the sense that all things must have a beginning, a middle and an end. Things come and go. The essence of things are their reality because essence lies outside the realm of time and is therefore eternal. Can't you sense that there is more to you than just you? Something eternal? Reply

Kate Gladstone Albany, NY/USA December 28, 2010

Yehuda Shurpin Yehuda Shurpin, the second and third paragraphs of your answer convey nothing to me. What points were you trying to make? Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma December 28, 2010

Present "tense" There is an ongoing problem with suffering that has caused people around the world to discount the presence of a Divine Being, that either stands by to watch as people suffer, as in free will, as in, these things just happen, and then the notion of a Divinity that is very much present in our lives, for good and for bad, and even a Divinity that is leading us through a story, meaning even the suffering is part of our unique story. In other words G_d does move through our stories.

I see this problem in terms of the issues raised on the commentary above.

It's quite clear, in Chabad articles. that what happens to people is said to have some point, and none of it is meaningless. Often we must personally find that phoenix, internally or externally, but the G_d I am witnessing in these pages, is very much involved in the lives of people, of all Creation, and not a dispassionate observer. Reply

Anonymous USA December 28, 2010

God and Suffering Kate, it is amazing that you read so much negativity into what I said.

If you asked for clarity, you would get it but since you already have the answer, erroneous as it is, that is on you.

I merely said that G-d is present where there is suffering. I also said it was important for us to be there to comfort those who suffer. I stand by my comment, but not your negative reaction to it.

I did not say, "God is particularly present in suffering" so please do not use quotes as they are YOUR words. For the record, I do not recall "making an argument" for anything. Your focus is a tad "off".

I never gave my interpretation of God nor did I give a reason for helping. For the record, Moses was motivated to assist because of the suffering of others which so happened to be Jews. The rest is bibical History.:) Reply