Close to the beginning of this week’s Parashah, we read these words: “Yithro, Mosheh’s father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Mosheh in the wilderness, where he was encamped at the mountain of Elohim” (Ex 18:5). “Mountain of Elohim” is the designation used 4 times in the Book of Exodus with reference to the mountain that we know as Mount Sinai, the place where Mosheh received the Torah and where the people of Yisrael visibly and audibly experienced the overwhelming presence of Yahweh. This “Mountain of Elohim” was the exact location where the people of Yisrael came to know the Creator in a way they had never known Him before. Mount Sinai became to them a monument and a memorial of revelation. This is where they learned that the One who had delivered them from the hand of Pharaoh was nothing like the mighty ones they had known in Egypt. He was different altogether. His works were absolutely superior. His words were words of wisdom and strength. There was no need to try to attract his attention like one had to do with the so-called gods of Egypt. No, the revelation they received on the Mountain of Elohim brought them to this powerful and mind-boggling realization: We are dealing with an all-powerful Being who is actually reaching out to us with love and compassion and who desires our loyalty and dedication! There are four inescapable revelations about this all-powerful Being that stand out most clearly in the Torah portion of this week, that are worth looking into.
The miraculous deliverance of Yahweh. This is a theme that surfaces throughout the three chapters of Ex 18 tot Ex 20. Ex 18:1 Yithro … heard of all that Elohim had done for Mosheh and for Yisrael His people. Ex 18:4 (The name of Mosheh’s other son was) Eli‛ezer, for he said, “The Elohim of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.” Ex 18:8 Mosheh told his father-in-law all that Yahweh had done to Pharaoh and to the Mitsrites for Yisrael’s sake, all the hardship that had come upon them on the way, and how Yahweh had delivered them. Ex 18:9 And Yithro rejoiced for all the good which Yahweh had done for Yisrael, whom He had delivered out of the hand of the Mitsrites. Ex 18:10 And Yithro said, “Blessed be Yahweh, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Mitsrites and out of the hand of Pharaoh, and who has delivered the people from under the hand of the Mitsrites. Ex 18:11 Now I know that Yahweh is greater than all the mighty ones. Ex 19:4 You have seen what I did to the Mitsrites, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Ex 20:2 “I am Yahweh your Elohim, who brought you out of the land of Mitsrayim, out of the house of slavery. In the light of these verses and in the light of the miraculous deliverance of Yahweh that we, ourselves, have seen and experienced, we can only say: Yahweh lives! And blessed is my Rock! And exalted is the Elohim of my deliverance (Ps 18:46).
The treasured possession of Yahweh. This particular revelation must have meant a great deal to the people who were gathered around the mountain. They were no longer treated as mere objects or slaves, as was the case in Egypt. No, they were valued as people. They were drawn into a kind of relationship with this Mighty One that was completely unheard of! They were absolutely surprised by his kindness and by the promises He put before them. Ex 19:4 I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Ex 19:5 If you diligently obey My voice, and shall guard My covenant, then you shall be My treasured possession above all the peoples – for all the earth is Mine! Ex 19:6 You shall be to Me a reign of priests and a set-apart nation. Exo 20:6 (I am the One who shows) loving-commitment to thousands, to those who love Me and guard My commands. Against this background, combined with the fact that we know that we are somehow connected with Yisrael, the words of Ps 135:3-5 comes to mind: “Praise Yahweh, for He is good; Sing praises to His Name, for it is pleasant. For Yah has chosen Yaakov for Himself, Yisrael for His treasured possession. For I know that Yahweh is great, and our Master is above all mighty ones”
The powerful words of Yahweh. Before they came to know Yahweh, the Elohim of Avraham and Yitschak and Yaakov, the people of Yisrael knew very little about words of instruction and comfort and life. The words they heard in Egypt, were mostly words of hopelessness and condemnation. The words that they had heard, were used to scold them and degrade them and threaten them. But these words they heard at the Mountain of Elohim were so much different! They were revelational – truly words of life! They were designed to promote and to maintain the relationship between Yahweh and themselves. And as such they were words of knowledge and truth and enlightenment. Sometimes these words were so powerful that the people of Israel wanted Mosheh to intervene, so that they would hear the words from him and not directly from Yahweh. Ex 19:6 Those are the words which you are to speak to the children of Yisrael. Ex 19:7 And Mosheh set before them all these words which Yahweh commanded him. Ex 19:8 And all the people answered together and said, “All that Yahweh has spoken we shall do. Ex 19:9 See, I am coming to you in the thick cloud, so that the people hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever. Ex 20:1 And Elohim spoke all these Words, saying, I am Yahweh your Elohim. Ex 20:22 You yourselves have seen that I have spoken to you from the heavens.
The unique Name of Yahweh. As is the case in so many other parts of the Torah, the Name of Yahweh happens to be a central theme of this week’s Parashah. The tone is already set in the first few verses of the Parashah where the names of the two son’s of Mosheh are highlighted and put forth in a way that clearly tells us: In the Hebrew culture names have meaning and are important and should not be underplayed in any way. The names Mosheh had chosen for his two sons clearly portrayed and summarized the combined experience of Yisrael in the land of Egypt: Gereshom, meaning “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land” and Eli’ezer, meaning “The Elohim of my father was my help”. Those who believe that the Name of our heavenly Father is only a matter of academic importance, fail to appreciate the immense importance of a name within the context of Scriptures. Mosheh’s father-in-law, Yithro, was not prepared to call Yahweh by a name that was simply the same as the names of the other “gods” of that time. Therefore he said clearly: “Now I know that Yahweh is greater than all the mighty ones” (Ex 18:11). In chapter 19 the people came face to face with the splendour and the set-apartness and the almost unbearable presence of Yahweh – and in this chapter the name of Yahweh is repeated no less than 18 times. Quite clearly, his Name is a reflection of his greatness. Some people in our day, however, who say that they respect Him and want to maintain and honour his greatness, refrain from using the Name above all names!
In chapter 20, when the Ten Words or the Ten Commandments are put before the people, the Author of these Ten Words introduces Himself by saying: “I am Yahweh, your Elohim, who brought you out of the land of Mitsrayim”. Why should we insist on using other names when He, in no uncertain terms, introduced Himself by this Name? The Fourth of the Ten Words is exclusively about the unique Name of Yahweh: “You shall not bring the Name of Yahweh your Elohim to naught, for Yahweh does not leave the one unpunished who brings His Name to naught.” Some translations render this verse: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain…” The main verb of this commandment is “shav”, the same word that is used in the Deuteronomy 5 version of the ninth commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”. So clearly, taking the Name in vain, or bringing the Name to naught, has got something to do with falsifying the Name. What is so ironic, in fact, is that the majority of translations is falsifying the Name in the very verse where this kind of falsification is strictly forbidden, by replacing the Father’s Name (appearing unmistakenly in all the original manuscripts of this verse) by a false name, actually a “non name” altogether, like Lord.
Today, the Name of Yahweh is brought to naught, or falsified in many different areas and levels of life. This happens when those who do not wish to honour of fear Yahweh, and perhaps do not even believe that He exists, trample on his Name and on what He stands for. But it also happens on another level – when those who claim that they do wish to honour and fear Him, also refuse to literally call upon his Name. The reasons for this refusal are varied and usually not based upon Scriptural factors but upon logical, human reasoning. How can it be Scriptural to avoid the Name of the Father when it was an established pattern, throughout Scriptures, to literally call upon and speak out the Name of the Almighty? The one excuse that is often heard, is that we do not know the exact pronunciation of the Name today. This may indeed be true. And because this may be true, because the way language develops and changes is so complicated, nobody should claim that he or she knows the “proper” pronunciation (based upon facts that they have access to) and that all others should pronounce the Name the way they do! I have studied this subject for a long time now and can only say that it seems to me that a pronunciation similar to “Yahweh” goes back to roughly the time of the Messiah. But I will not condemn others who have come to a different conclusion. And, what is more, I will not stop calling on the Name of Yahweh and in the process starve myself of the huge significance of this Name, just because there is a possibility that I may not be pronouncing the Name correctly. “The Name of Yahweh is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and they are safe” (Pro 18:10). “Let the name of Yahweh be blessed from this time forth and for evermore” (Ps 113:2). “For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, but we will walk in the name of Yahweh our Elohim for ever and ever” (Mic 4:5).