This week’s Torah reading opens with the verse: “And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as the A-lmighty Shadai, but My name Y-H-V-H (י-ה-ו-ה) I did not make known to them.”

Why are there different names for G‑d? And what is the significance in using one name over the other?

The Midrash asks these questions and, in resolution, quotes G‑d as saying: “I am called according to My deeds,” i.e., each of the different names of G‑d is associated with a particular quality or attribute. The Zohar and the texts of the Kabbalah expand further on this concept, deriving different insights from the letters of the names and their vocalizations. The name Shadai contains the Hebrew world dai which means “enough.” Indeed, in explanation of the significance of that name, our Sages quote G‑d as saying: “It was I who told the world ‘enough.’” In other words, Shadai refers to the aspect of G‑dliness that establishes the limitations of the world’s existence, concentrating G‑d’s infinite light in a measured manner that will enable the creation of a world in which G‑dliness is hidden.

G‑d’s name Y-H-V-H, by contrast, represents the revelation of G‑dliness in all its infinity. For that reason, the name Y-H-V-H is not pronounced. Its light is too powerful and all-encompassing to be expressed in speech.

On this basis, we can understand the interchange between Moses and G‑d. At the conclusion of the previous Torah reading, Moses had complained that after he had communicated G‑d’s demand that Pharaoh release the Jews, the Egyptians’ oppression had become more intense.

G‑d answered by saying that the world was about to experience a fundamental change in the nature of Divine revelation. Until this time, even spiritual giants like the Patriarchs received only a limited revelation of G‑dliness, for G‑dliness was meted out within the context of the name Shadai, i.e., according to the limitations that prevailed in the world.

In the future, Jewish people and the world at large would receive a revelation of the name Y-H-V-H, revealing G‑d’s infinity. In order to receive that revelation, they and the world had to be purified and the means of purification G‑d chose was the severe hardship and oppression experienced in Egypt.

From that time onward, things changed radically. First of all, there were overt and apparent miracles. The plagues showed how the natural order could be bent and broken at will.

Beyond that, the Jews left Egypt. The Hebrew term for Egypt, Mitzrayim, relates to the word meitzarim, meaning “boundaries” or “limitations.” The exodus represented a departure from the boundaries and limitations or ordinary material existence.

But the ultimate revelation of G‑d’s name Y-H-V-H came at the time of the Giving of the Torah. From that point onward, every time a Jew performs a mitzvah, he establishes an essential bond with G‑d, relating to a higher rung of G‑dliness than the Patriarchs could access.

Looking to the Horizon

It is written: “As in the days of your Exodus from Egypt, I will show you wonders.” For the cycle of exile and redemption in Egypt is a paradigm for many parallel cycles that the Jews have experienced in their history including the penultimate cycle which will reach its culmination with the redemption from our present exile.

Like the redemption from Egypt — indeed, to a far greater degree — the redemption from our present exile will involve a change not only in the material fortunes of the Jewish people, but in the spiritual gestalt that prevails in the world at large. For at that time, “the world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed.” The code will be unraveled and the pattern of apparent limitation associated with G‑d’s name Shadai will be seen as a means of enabling His infinite goodness to be internalized within the world.

The process is ongoing. Every day, as we proceed further in deepening our connection with G‑d and fulfilling our mission in refining the world, we bring closer the conclusion of “the days — in the plural — of our exodus from Egypt,” and create the backdrop for G‑d to “show us wonders” with the coming of Mashiach.