A Drash for V’aera (1993)
Review of Torah portion: The story we know well. Moses continues to be drafted, Aaron added to the team, the plagues, hardening of Pharoah’s heart.
But I want to focus on the first three verses, in which God announces the name YHWH to Moses.
My belief: 1) Critical/historical analysis is not what sustained us and unless we can modernize what did sustain us, we are doomed especially in liberal democratic societies. 2) This means we need a new theology, aggadah and new midrash — holocaust requires this but must not become the domineering point. What is the relation between God and people? Art Green’s new book such an attempt. Bialak “a new halakah will only proceed from a new aggadah”
Focus on the name of God YHWH. “The starting point of all Jewish theology”. (Art Green)
Rather than write it horizontally, envision it vertically (e.g when reciting the Shma). Like a ladder –maybe this is the ladder which Jacob dreamed?
Y: God and the Ways of Being
Things to think about:
•Impossible constrution of the verb “to be”, i.e. “was” (HaYah), is “HoWeh” and will be “YiHYeh”. Well known, but what does this mean? YHWH is a verb arrested in motion to function as a noun. What does that tell us about God? Blessed are You, Was-Is-Will be”…Because of this YHWH is the constancy and the oneness of the world. Immutable but always changing! (not even a noun.)
•Possessing a name means that one can be addressed. But the name is almost unprounouncable; breath like (similar to N’shema — word for soul). Is this the difference between the private religion of the patriachs and the public religion of Moses? “In this world, I am written YHWH but pronounced Adonay; in the next world it will be one: written YHWH and pronounced YHWH” (Peschim 50). What is the next world? Afterlife, messianic times on earth?
• Yod Heh. Half a name. “By YaH God formed the worlds” (Kabbalistic teaching) “Since the Temple was destroyed, it suffices to praise god with two letters” (Eruvin). Human presence means Vav Heh. How to link them?
•Why a focus on humans in Judaism. Flows from this. Hillel taught that to truly see a human being is to see a living image of YHWH. Why is life so fragmented, why are there so many faces? Goes back to the verb — the motion — the doing. Doing means spontaneous. Immutability means discipline. This is the tension: Heschel argued that both pure spontaneity and discpline are needed for the creation of true prayer and the stimulation and protection of it.
• Green’s first mitzvah: Be aware. “Being awake and aware as sun rises and sets can make a difference in our religious lives that cannot be overestimated”. This is the time of being, of change, and of constancy. Connection to God.