The questions we ask are important. They introduce us to essential insights. The well-known writer, Harold Kushner, who served as a congregational rabbi for fifty years, raises this question in his book, Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life. He asks, “What questions do we ask in the face of a crisis?”
He begins with the story of Moses, who faced a crisis after fleeing Egypt. Moses had killed an Egyptian taskmaster, who was beating a Hebrew slave. He had fled for his life. God then speaks to Moses, “I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
Moses raised his hand and asked God a question, “What is your name?” We might assume this was the formality of introductions, but there was more to it. In the ancient Near East, a name meant something. It described a person’s character. Moses was asking God, “What do you stand for?”
During a pandemic, I wonder if people are asking, “What does God stand for?” People might always ask this question, but we might hear it louder during a crisis. God’s answer to Moses is difficult to translate from the Hebrew. Many times, it is translated, “I Am Who I Am.”
In translating God’s name, Kushner refers to an eleventh-century French Jewish commentator named, Rashi, who finds a connection between God’s answer, “I Am Who I Am,” and God’s answer to another question a few verses earlier.
Earlier, Moses protests, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” God says, “I will be with you.” The same Hebrew word (Ehyah) is used in both answers. Rashi says, God’s name, or character, is “the One who will be with you.”
God says to Moses, “I will be with you.” This does not answer all the questions people ask during a crisis, but it does answer one of them. God stands in faithfulness to us!
During the days when we are tired of social distancing, longing for connection, let us remember, “God is with us!” We can begin each morning and end each day with those words. We can say them to ourselves, and to each other, whenever we face a crisis.