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    I am what I am – Sh’mot

    At the Burning Bush when Moses wanted to know God’s name and nature, all he got was Eh’yeh asher eh’yeh – “I am what I am” (Ex. 3:14).

    Is this a fobbing off of a fair question? Some might say so, but we have to remember who is speaking. God is not one of a category, capable of being defined by means of words that are used within that category.

    When we were children we imagined God was a cosmic grandfather, wise, loving and ancient. Personally, I recall thinking that my rabbi was more or less “God” (later I realised that there are unfortunately some rabbis who aren’t even human!).

    If we had the precise words to describe God it would make us bigger than Him. As someone has said, that would be a God we could put in our pocket and take out to look at when we fancied.

    The crucial fact about God is that He is unique. He is what He is.

    The philosophers of the medieval age tried to formulate intellectual proofs of His existence, but all they arrived at was hypotheses.

    It was not religion they arrived at. The word “religion” actually derives from a root that means “to bind” (think of the related word “ligament”). What we need to know is not how to define God, but how to relate (bind ourselves) to Him.

    When religion speaks of Him it is in terms of His relationship to His creation, not His essence. When the Ten Commandments speak of Him they identify Him as the Redeemer who related to us by taking our ancestors out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

    When we pray we do not address a philosophical abstraction but the God who relates to us by giving us mind, heart, courage and conscience. As Judah HaLevi said, it is not the God of the philosophers we are interested in, but the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

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