At the burning bush, Moshe had asked, “When they say to me, ‘what is His name,’ what should I say to them?” (Shmos 3:13) Hashem answered, “I will be as I will be. Tell them: ‘I will be’ sent me to you.” (‘I will be’ in Hebrew contains letters from Hashem’s names.) Ramban discusses several explanations for these mysterious verses.
The Ibn Ezra explained that Moshe’s question pertained to the method by which the redemption would occur. Would it occur in a seemingly natural manner (indicated by the name ‘Keil Shakai’), or by wondrous phenomena, defying the laws of nature (associated with the name ‘Hashem’)?
Initially, Ramban rejects this idea. At this point, there was no hint that the salvation from Mitzraim would be any different than previous redemptions, such as Avraham’s battles with kings, or Sarah being saved from captivity. There wasn’t any reason to think that the exodus from Egypt would be more miraculous than the prior redemptions. Why would anyone ask regarding the means by which the redemption would occur?
Eventually, though, the Ramban does change his attitude. Hashem mentioned that Yisrael would return to the mountain to serve Hashem (3:12), referring to the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Moshe knew that the Giving of the Torah would not be accomplished with the name ‘Keil Shakai’ which stood for the Avos, but with the great name of ‘Hashem’. With this name the world came into existence; this name teaches of His providence and great mercies. He asked, “How should I teach this to the people?” (1)
Hashem answered, “I will be as I will be, tell Bnei Yisrael ‘I will be’ sent me to you.” Ramban explains: Hashem said “I will be” twice, meaning, “I will be with the midas hadin (justice) within the midas harachamim (mercy).” The miracles will redeem the Jews (mercy) and, at the same time, punish the mitzrim (justice).
Hashem Speaks Harshly
In Parshas Va’eira, Hashem sternly reproves Moshe. Pharoh had increased the workload, and Jewish officers reproached Moshe and Aharon. Empathizing with the Jewish suffering, Moshe was discouraged, and complained bitterly (2). Hashem responded, “I revealed Myself to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov as ‘Keil Shakai’, but by My name of ‘Hashem’ I did not make myself known to them. They did not see the promises fulfilled. To you, however, I am revealing My true name — you will perform miracles the likes of which have never been seen — and yet, you question My ways?”
Rashi and the Ramban quote the Medrash and Gemara, that Moshe was criticized for complaining and for asking “what is His name?”
The Tur (Peirush Ha’aruch p. 123) and Nachlas Yaakov (quoted in Sifse Chachomim) question why Moshe should be blamed when he said, “When they say to me, ‘what is His name,’ what should I say to them?” (Shmos 3:13) After all, Moshe needed to know what to answer them!
Most of the commentaries explain that asking the question ‘what is His name,’ was not, in itself, blameworthy. It’s only in the context: Hashem was contrasting the Avos with Moshe. The Avos were given promises which they would never see fulfilled; yet, they never complained. They didn’t ask any questions. Moshe will live to see all the great miracles, yet he complains and asks questions!
It fits in well with the Ramban’s understanding of the answer to Moshe’s question. There will be dinim within the rachamim — this is all part of Hashem’s name. Yes — the servitude may get worse before it gets better; Klal Yisrael may suffer during the makos as well as the mitzrim (3). Somehow. it’s all for the best — Hashem’s name shows the unification of rachamim and din (mercy and justice).
1. Ramban cites the Medrash Rabba (3:5) which is consistent with this explanation: “At that point, Moshe understood that he would be the agent between Hashem and His People, and understood his mission. Then he asked, “When they say to me, ‘what is His name,’ what should I say to them?” ”
2. When it comes to one’s own suffering, we should accept hardships lovingly. However, when it comes to other people’s suffering, we should be bitter and empathize with them. The Ohr Hachaim explains that Moshe Rabbenu was reproved because his words didn’t seem properly respectful to Hashem. The Medrash states that the melachim wanted to punish Moshe, but Hashem defended him, because he was pained for the suffering of Klal Yisrael.
3. A large percentage of Klal Yisrael actually died during Makas Choshech.