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Rambam: Shemot: What Is His Name? Part One

Moreh Nevuchim – Guide To The Perplexed, Section I, Chapter 63: Before approaching the subject of this chapter, we will first consider the words of Moses, and they shall say unto me, “What is His name?” What shall I say unto them?” (Exodus. iii. 13)

How far was this question, anticipated by Moses, appropriate, and how far
was he justified in seeking to be prepared with the answer? Moses was correct in declaring,” But, behold, they will not believe me, for they will say, The Lord has not appeared unto you” (ibid. iv. 1): for any man claiming the authority of a prophet must expect to meet with such an objection so long as he has not given a proof of
his mission.

Again, if the question, as appears at first sight, referred only to the name, as a mere utterance of the lips, the following dilemma would present itself: either the Israelites knew the name, or they had never heard it: if the name was known to them, they would perceive in it no argument in favor of the mission of Moses, his knowledge and their knowledge of the divine name being the same. If, on the other hand, they had never heard it mentioned, and if the knowledge of it was to prove the mission of Moses, what evidence would they have that this was really the name of God?

Moreover, after God had made known that name to Moses, and had told him,” Go and gather the elders of Israel . . .. And they shall hearken to your voice” (ibid. xvi. 18), he replied,” Behold, they will not believe me nor hearken unto my voice,” although God had told him,” And they will hearken to thy voice”: whereupon God answered,” What is that in your hand?” and he said,” A rod” (ibid. iv. 2).

In order to obviate this dilemma, you must understand what I am about to tell you. You know how widespread were in those days the opinions of the Sabeans: all men, except a few individuals, were idolaters, that is to say, they believed in spirits, in man’s power to direct the influences of the heavenly bodies, and in the effect of talismans. Any one who in those days laid claim to authority, based it either, like Abraham, on the fact that, by reasoning and by proof he had been convinced of the existence of a Being who rules the whole Universe, or that some spiritual power was conferred upon him by a star, by an angel, or by a similar agency; but no one could establish his claim on prophecy, that is to say, on the fact that God had spoken to him, or had entrusted a mission to him: before the days of Moses n such assertion had ever been made.

You must not be misled by the statements that God spoke to the Patriarchs, or that He had appeared to them. For you do not find any mention of a prophecy which appealed to others, or which directed them. Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob, or any other person before them did not tell the people,” God said unto me, you shall do this thing, or you shall not do that thing.” or” God has sent me to you.” Far from it! For God spoke to them on nothing but of what especially concerned them, i.e., He communicated to them things relating to their perfection, directed them in what they should do, and foretold them what the condition of their descendants would be: nothing beyond this. They guided
their fellow-men by means of argument and instruction, as is implied, according to the interpretation generally received amongst us, in the words” and the souls that they had gotten in Haran” (Gen. xii. 5).

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