Considering “I am Who I am” (Ex. 3:14)

It seems that the translation “I am that I am” (ehyeh asher ehyeh; Exodus 3:14) does not do justice to the Hebrew original. The imperfect “ehyeh,” used here, means continuous being. … The Hebrew phrase says: “I am continually what I am continually.” It expresses the “jutting out” of the divine being into time or – to use some German terminology – the phrase does not speak of sein (Being) but of dasein (Presence). The correct meaning of the text, therefore, is: I am forever present (for man). The rabbis in the Talmud give it the right interpretation when they remark: “What is the meaning of ehyeh asher ehyeh? The Holy One said to Moses: Go and tell Israel that as I have been with them in this subjugation, so shall I be with them in their future subjugations by other kingdoms…” Brachot 9b. “I am that I am” is metaphysics, and so it was understood, for instance, by Thomas Aquinas…. The “I am continually present” or “I am forever with them” of the rabbis is religion.

Eliezer Berkovits, God, Man and History, 4th ed., ed. David Hazony (Jerusalem: Shalem Press, 2004), 171, n. 2.


The polar views of God as a demanding judge and an all-compassionate parent live in tension

The polar views of God as a demanding judge (on the one hand) and an all-compassionate parent (on the other) live in tension. We ought to act as if God does indeed demand that we rise to the occasion of deserving deliverance. At the same time, God knows, as we do, that perfection is beyond us, and when we are about to give up hope, we should remember that God really does offer unconditional love in the end.

All of this matters — not because of God but because theological models are templates for the way we humans, made in God’s image, are supposed to behave…. The expectations that govern God’s relationship with us should exemplify the ground rules of our relationships with others.

In practice, we are held to the highest standards when it comes to people who depend upon us or who otherwise come into our orbit: we must apologize especially to those we love, and strive to do whatever we can to correct the behavior that hurts them. But if we are on the receiving end of these relationships — if friends and family ask pardon of us, that is — we ought not to be unreasonably demanding of them. Rather, like God, we can welcome them back with the good grace of love that asks nothing beyond their sincere overture across the divide that separates us.

Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, “A Song of God’s Grace”, The Jewish Week (6 September 2013), 56.