Moses said to G‑d, Now, I will come to the children of Israel and say to them: "The G‑d of your fathers has sent me to you. And they will say to me 'What is His name?' What then should I say to them?" (Ex. 3:13)
Why did Moses anticipate that Israel will ask him the name of G‑d? It is quite clear that Israel knew the name of G‑d. Indeed, even Abraham, the first Hebrew, already knew this name and explicitly referred to G‑d by His name: "Abraham said to the king of Sodom, 'I swear by Havayah, the uppermost G‑d…'" (Gen. 14:22) So too Jacob said: "The G‑d of my father Abraham, the G‑d of my father Isaac, Havayah, Who said to me…" (ibid 32:9)
If this name was so very familiar to their ancestors, it must have also been transmitted to them, and they too must have been familiar with it. If so, why did Moses anticipate that Israel will ask him the name of G‑d?
They did not understand the meaning of the name…
This question can be answered as follows: Moses did not mean that Israel did not know the name of G‑d, for they obviously knew this name. However, though they all knew the name, this could not be considered real knowledge at all, for they did not understand the meaning of the name. Moses thus anticipated that Israel would ask him the meaning of G‑d's name, and this is no simple thing, as can be inferred from a dictum in Tractate Kidushin: (71a) "The Sages would transmit the name of G‑d to their students once every seven years."
Now, if the dictum "the name of G‑d" merely means the superficial name, what point was there in transmitting this once a week? Everybody knows the name of G‑d superficially. The dictum must be referring to the deeper meanings of G‑d's name. Moses thus anticipated as follows: If I am a Prophet of G‑d, it is only right for me to know the deeper meanings of G‑d's name. Hence, as a test of my authenticity, Israel will surely ask me to expound this to them….
It is in this sense that Moses' statement - "They will say to me, 'What is His name?'" -should be understood.
However, even if we take this verse literally, and assume that Israel will ask for the name of G‑d, not the meaning of the name, this question can still be answered. We can assume that Moses anticipated that Israel will ask the "Exodus name of G‑d". Moses anticipated as follows: Israel will say to me, "Aha, so you claim to be the Savior of Israel, who has come to redeem us. If you want us to believe you, first tell us the name of G‑d by which He will bring about the Exodus. Surely, if you are the true Savior, you must know this name."
Eh-yeh means ultimate and total existence…
By "name of G‑d" Israel meant the "essential order of Exodus". There is a name of G‑d related to the order of all G‑d's actions, including the order of Exodus. It would surely be appropriate for Moses to know this name of Exodus, if he is the true Savior of Israel.
This interpretation is borne out by the answer that G‑d gave to Moses, as it is explained in the first chapter of Tractate Berachot. (9b) "Eh-yeh Asher Eh-yeh", [which literally means "I will be what I will be" and is often translated "What will be, will be"]. The Holy One said to Moses, "Say to Israel, I will be with you [to redeem you] in this subjugation (corresponding to the first), and I will be with you in the subjugation of the future (corresponding to the name 'Asher Eh-yeh').
Said Moses: "Master of the world, it is enough to mention one trouble at a time. Said the Holy One: "You are right. Say to Israel, 'Eh-yeh has sent me to you'."
We thus see that we are not here concerned with finding out the regular name of G‑d - everybody knew that name. Rather we are concerned with the special name of Exodus - which he used to redeem Israel out of their subjugation. This special name was not known to them.
Except for G‑d, no existent being can say with certainty, I will be...
Eh-yeh is the name of Exodus for the following reason: Eh-yeh means ultimate and total existence. Any existent being can say with certainty "I am", and "I was". However, except for G‑d, no existent being can say with certainty, "I will be".
"Eh-yeh", meaning "I will be", thus means total existence, which transcends the partial existence of all other beings. Furthermore, since the name Eh-yeh is in the first person ("I will be" rather than "He will be") it means "I will be known to you as the One who exists totally, for I will convey existence to you also." Hence, the name Eh-yeh contains the order of Exodus, that is, "removing you from a nonexistent state, and granting you true and independent existence."
However, in addition to the name Eh-yeh, the name Havayah is also a name of Exodus, as the verse states: "I will be [in Hebrew, "Eh-yeh") what I will be (Asher Eheyeh), so say to the children of Israel, Eh-yeh has sent me to you."
G‑d said further to Moses, So say to the children of Israel, Havayah the
G‑d of your fathers, the G‑d of Abraham, the G‑d of Isaac and the G‑d of Jacob, has sent me to you, this is My name forever, and this is My memorial from generation to generation. (Ex. 3:15)
In the base-ten system usually employed by the Torah, ten represents the end just like one represents the beginning…
This is the difference between the name Eh-yeh and the name Havayah. The name Havayah implies present and future being, however, it is in the third person "He will be and is." Furthermore, the name Eh-yeh begins with the letter alef, the first letter of the alef-bet (which has the numerical value of 1), while Havayah begins with the letter yud, the tenth letter (which has the numerical value of 10). Now, in the base-ten system usually employed by the Torah, ten represents the end just like one represents the beginning. Hence, Eh-yeh represents the revealed beginning of Exodus and redemption, while Havayah represents the ultimate and final purpose of the Exodus, which always remains in a hidden state, since it is always in the future.
The name of Havayah is thus called the basic name for it is the order of continued and ultimate existence, while Eh-yeh is the order of initial existence. Since Havayah is a basic name, it is related to Exodus. This name indicates that Havayah is the ultimately basic being, separate and independent of all other reality. This is because in order to exist separately from all reality, G‑d must be independent of it. Hence, this name contains the order of independence, which is the order of Exodus. In effect G‑d said as follows to Israel: My basic, eternal, and independent name is Havayah, and this name is associated with you through your fathers, the Patriarchs. Hence, it is fitting for you too to be independent and separate, and it is appropriate for Me to redeem you from under the domination of Egypt, as the verse states: "Be holy to Me, for I Havayah am holy. I will thus make you separated for Me, to be mine from amongst the nations." (Lev. 20:26)
This name makes G‑d uniquely separate [i.e. unique], and with this name G‑d makes Israel uniquely separate, separate from the other nations and not subjugated by them. Hence, the name Eh-yeh contains the initial order of Exodus, while the name Havayah contains the ultimate order of Exodus.
[Adapted from The Book of Divine Power" by Rabbi Yehuda Leow (Horev Publishers)]