When things go sour in your life, when you’re dealt a significant blow that really sets you back, what’s your self-therapy? What do you tell yourself to help you cope with the challenge?

That’s the question I asked a class I was teaching the other day. A little intense for a pre-coffee session, but hey, it’s an important question.

The answers varied. Some were good, others were … not as good.

Today, I would like to offer you something to tell yourself, a deep and cosmic idea that could radically reframe the way you think about hardships.

With that bold claim, let’s see where this goes.

A Strange Answer to a Strong Question

There’s a peculiar exchange found right at the beginning of this week’s parshah, where G‑d tells Moses, “I am G‑d. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob with [the name] Sha-dai, but [with] My name Havayah,1 I did not become known to them.”

What’s the context? These words answer Moses’ question at the conclusion of last week’s parshah, “O G‑d! Why have You harmed this people? Why have You sent me?” Moses railed against G‑d for sending him to Pharaoh when he saw that instead of improving the Jews’ situation, Pharaoh retaliated by ordering them to work even harder “Why have you been so cruel?!” Moses cries out.

And what does G‑d answer?

Something about which names He used for the patriarchs vs. the name He plans on using now.


Moses asked a painfully real question. His heart bled for his brothers’ and sisters’ suffering, and he cried out from deep anguish, demanding to understand why G‑d sent him to only make matters worse. How does this lesson about name changes address anything Moses said?

Of course, this is not only a technical question about a conversation between G‑d and Moses. This is a question about life itself. When you and I ask G‑d, “Why have you harmed me?” it would be helpful to know G‑d’s answer. Apparently, the secret lies in these enigmatic words about names.

What, then, is that secret?

A Multi-Faceted Relationship

The first thing to understand is that we ought to think about G‑d, Creation, and ourselves, in terms of a relationship: G‑d is in a relationship with this world, and in turn, with us. The various names He uses reflect the different types of relationships He has with us.

Kabbalah2 explores this idea at great length. Generally speaking, there are two ways that G‑d relates to the world (and to us).

The first is what we can call “classic mode.” The type of relationship where G‑d is invested in the world, radiating energy to create the incredible abundance and diversity that comprises the universe.3 The energy invested in the apple tree is not the same as the energy invested in your brain, nor is it similar to what it takes to create the spiritual world called Atzilut. This is a G‑d Who cares about the world, finds the appropriate energy for each element therein, and can be considered highly present and invested in His handiwork.

Then there’s the dimension of G‑d that is completely detached and removed from all Creation. After all, to think of G‑d as simply the sum total of the parts of Creation would be limiting Him. It stands to reason that there is a dimension of G‑d that is completely uninterested and aloof from any and all matters of Creation.

This dimension of G‑d does not actually relate to the world at all, it is reserved for G‑d alone.

The former is represented by the name Elokim, which in Hebrew is stated in plural form, connoting the diversity and multiplicity that is inherent in Creation. Another name for it, Sha-dai, an acronym for the Hebrew words Mi she’amar le’olamo dai - “the One Who told the world, ‘enough!’” refers to G‑d “curbing” Himself to be relatable to a world.

The latter mode is represented by the name Havaye, which is an acronym for the Hebrew Haya, Hoveh, Ve’Yiheye - “past, present, and future all at once,” the dimension of G‑d that transcends time itself, aloof and detached from Creation.

Taking G‑d on a Date

That’s all from G‑d’s perspective. Now, say you want to take G‑d on a date, so to speak. Or, in other words, you want to develop an emotional connection with G‑d. Which G‑d are you asking out?

Of course, the former. You can’t date something you don’t see or comprehend, so what’s available to us is our human notion of G‑d. The G‑d we can be impressed with when we see the vastness of Creation and diversity around us. The G‑d we see when a sick child is healed or when nations unite to conquer a global pandemic. When we see that, we say, “How great is G‑d Who engineered this all!” And the more we think about just how great G‑d is, the more we grow to love Him.

This, essentially, is what the patriarchs did. They endlessly courted G‑d with passionate love, reaching the deepest relationship humanly possible.

They connected with Elokim.

But G‑d wanted more. He wanted to bring His deepest self to the date. To connect with the world and His children with the dimension He reserves for Himself.

In the words of G‑d’s reply to Moses, “I appeared to the patriarchs with Sha’dai [or, Elokim]; now I want to appear to you with Havaye.

He wanted to gift us a relationship with Havaye, not just Elokim.

What is that gift? It’s a mitzvah. A mitzvah is G‑d reaching out to us and saying, “Here I am. Take Me. Embrace Me.” Fulfilling G‑d’s command is no longer about me or you conjuring up images of G‑d and creating feelings towards Him. It’s about G‑d extending a hand and telling you, “Here. This is me on my terms.” It no longer matters what we feel about it, or if we feel for it at all—because it’s G‑d presenting His very self to the date.

The patriarchs connected with G‑d in tremendous ways. But they had no mitzvahs. That tool was gifted to the Jewish people only after the Exodus from Egypt when they arrived at Sinai.

Whisked Up and Away

This, then, is what G‑d came to explain to Moses in that emotional conversation.4

“I want to bring you into a deeper relationship. I want you to be able to relate to the absolute truth of Who I am.”

To do that, G‑d lifted the veil, removing the subjective dimension, whisking them up and away into a space of Havaye that is far deeper and truer than anything humanity can relate to alone.

Now, in that space, something interesting happens. Precisely because it’s so lofty, so removed from any and all investment in Creation, it’s a sort of “one size fits all” package. There, energy and vitality are dispensed indiscriminately, which means that the bad guys can also get in on the party.

Precisely because we’re now clawing into a space that is no longer concerned with Creation, everybody is given a seat at the table. One actual consequence of this reality was the Egyptian reign of tyranny over the Jews: Lifting the Jews up to a place where the minutiae of the world no longer matters meant the Jews were brought to a space where even bad actors like the Egyptians could win.

The good news was—and is—that it was never designed to last forever. The whole point of bringing the Jews into that lofty space where an Egyptian exile is possible was to eventually merge the two types of relationships: The absolute truth of G‑d in an invested way. I.e., To bring the G‑dly perspective that is normally aloof from this world into our tactile world.

That was indeed accomplished when the Torah was given and mitzvot became a reality. When G‑d descended onto the mountain, He brought His absolute truth to the date, and we’ve been granted the opportunity for a deeper relationship ever since.

Back to You

It’s much the same with every challenge in life—the hardships exist to bring us to a better and deeper place.

So, if matters look bleak, perhaps the reason is because there’s really something deeper, better, more meaningful in store for you. The perfect world you had until now was too superficial, insufficient for someone with your depth. G‑d decided that you’re destined for more.

In the meantime, it’s dark, confusing, and difficult. That’s only because the process of getting to a deeper place can give space for negative consequences. But just around the bend is a time, a space that is even deeper and greater, that will make this period worthwhile.

You’ll look back and say, “That first date was indeed amazing. But my relationship now is infinitely better.”

Get ready. It’s coming.