Moses said to God, "When I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is His name?' what shall I say to them?" And God said to Moses, "Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh." Continuing, "Thus shall you say to the Israelites, 'Ehyeh sent me to you.'"
In Parashat Sh'mot, God called to Moses out of a burning bush. In this divine vision, God tells Moses that he is "the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." God continues to speak to Moses, explaining that God wants to free the Israelites, and that God is enlisting Moses' help. Moses doubts that he is the one to take on the mission of speaking to Pharaoh on behalf of the Israelites. Furthermore, when the Israelites ask for God's name, he doesn't know what he will call God. God tells Moses that His name is Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh and that it will be His name forever.
What exactly does Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh mean? The tense of these Hebrew words renders the actual meaning of God's name unclear and ambiguous. According to Hebrew scholars, it could mean "I am what I am," or it could mean, "I will be what I will be." Or, to complicate matters further, the first Ehyeh could be the present tense, as in "I am" and the second Ehyeh could be the future tense, as in "I will be." Thus, it would translate to, "I am that which I will be."
Are you confused? It isn't surprising, and in fact, one might consider that God's answer was ambiguous intentionally. Given the fact that our tradition refers to God in many different ways (for example YHWH, Elohim, El Shaddai), perhaps this passage can be viewed as an opportunity for the reader to create his or her own interpretation, to define God in his or her own way, to allow God to be, in our lives, that which we want God to be. Allowing ourselves this possibility provides you with a good place to begin a dialogue with your children, helping and encouraging them to develop their own understanding or definition of God.
Your children's spiritual education begins at home. How and where can you begin? Although Judaism is replete with prayers about God, God's love for us and our love for God, a good place to begin this God journey with your children would be with chanting the Sh'ma every morning and every night. This prayer represents the central tenet of Judaism. It has sustained generation after generation of Jews, and it spells out clearly and concretely our belief in one God.
Sh'ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad.
Hear our Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.
For many parents, thinking and talking about God is new and challenging, maybe even intimidating. Perhaps it has been a long time since you attended religious school or participated in congregational worship. Perhaps you don't have any clear memory of talking about God with your own parents. But, regardless of where you are on your own spiritual path, joining your children in a journey to explore God can be illuminating and meaningful.
Some other ways to bring God into your children's lives are by telling Bible stories or midrashim (stories that can be defined as teaching legends). You then can talk about your own experiences or struggles with God. This is a perfect opportunity for you, the parent, to learn other Jewish prayers that can bring God into your children's vocabulary and lives. If your child asks questions about God that are challenging and that you find difficult to answer, then don't feel compelled to respond immediately. Think about the question being asked, or speak to someone who might be able to shed some light on the issue so that you can give a thoughtful response to your child.
There is no one correct idea of God in Judaism. Your concept of God can be completely different from another person's concept of God. The goal isn't to generate definitive answers about God but to ask questions to wrestle, to ponder and to think about, and to have conversations that will allow and invite a lifetime of spiritual growth and exploration. By not insisting that your children adhere to a particular description of God but instead encouraging them to ask questions and find words or pictures that describe their beliefs, you will be helping your child to build a firm spiritual foundation. By engaging in conversations about God with your child, you will be helping to nurture your child's spiritual needs, and you will be nourishing your own soul's needs as well.
Questions and Ideas for Parents:
- Do you remember talking about God when you were a child? With your parents? In religious school?
- Fill in the blank: God is ______________________________. Repeat this exercise several more times, allowing your own beliefs about God to guide your choice of words.
- Do you think that your beliefs about God have changed and evolved?
Questions for Children:
- Do you think God is a boy or a girl? A man or a woman?
- How do you know if God is listening to you?
- When do you think people should talk to God?