What is your name?
By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
The parasha of this week begins with these two verses, “God spoke to Moses and said to him, ‘I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make Myself known to them by My name Adonai’” (Exodus 6:2-3).
We can see here how God is known by different names, and He actually uses them in the appropriate situations. He may identify himself as Adonai (we pronounce it Adonai, but it is actually the Tetragrammaton or the divine name of the four letters, usually translated as Lord). He sometimes identifies himself as Elohim (translated here as God) and other times He calls himself El Shadai.
There are hundreds of commentaries written that try to explain the different meanings of the holy names of God. Our sages have explained that each name is related to a different attribute of God. They learned this after carefully reading how He acts in different situations in the Torah when the same divine name is being used. For example, the name Elohim is related to the attribute of justice.
So, if you had God in front of you and asked him, “What is your name?”, you would probably receive a very long list of names as an answer. After all, … He has so many attributes!
I believe the same thing happens with us: We too use different names appropriate to the situation and the company we are with. Sometimes we use our full name, including the middle one. Other times we use only our family name, often preceded by our title. In other contexts, we use only our first name, and sometimes only an abbreviated form of it.
We can be Abraham Tabachnik (it’s only an example!) or Mr./Dr. Tabachnik or just Abraham or even Aby. But we could also be called (or like to be called) honey, daddy, grandpa… or maybe we prefer to be called professor!
Some of the “names” we use were given to us by our parents and other names by other relatives or friends. Some nicknames we may have “gained” after a special experience or during our years in school or at a university.
Perhaps we, men and women, have learned from God that we also have many attributes. Even though we are just one person, we have different ways we like (or not!) to be called, according to different situations and the people we are with. We also “reveal” some of our names to some people, and some people get to know many of our names as we know them better.
It is important to be conscious of our different names, of how we are called and known by people. And there is a bonus: If we are able to enjoy our different names, so much the better! So… try to enjoy your many names!