God [Elohim] spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am HASHEM [YHVH]. I appeared [va-eira] to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shaddai, but with My Name [u-shemi] HASHEM I did not make myself known [nodha’ti] to them.
—Shemot/Exodus 6:2-3 (Stone translation*)
There is a raft of commentary on just these two verses. Nechama Leibowitz, for example, directs two of her six essays on this portion — in New Studies in Shemot/Exodus* –to these first two verses, discussing many classical, and a few contemporary, commentaries along the way.
Some commentary focuses on the variety of names for God — Elohim, El Shaddai and YHVH — used in this brief span. Some, the verb nodhati, “made myself known.” Cassuto combines several of these themes in his commentary*:
…This enables us to understand the text before us clearly: I revealed Myself (God declares) to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in My aspect that finds expression in the name Shaddi, and I made them fruitful and multiplied them and gave them children and children’s children, but by the name YHWH (the word shemi [‘My name’] is to be construed here as an accusative of nearer definition, and signifies ‘by My name’), in My character as expressed by this designation, I was not known to them, that is, it was not given to them to recognize Me as One that fulfills His promises, because the assurance with regard to possession of the Land, which I had given them, I had not yet fulfilled….
Some teachers take a more inward approach to the meaning and experience of ‘knowing’ the Name. See More Great Sources: The Holy Name of Being.
*For complete commentary citations, please see Source Materials.
The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.