We encounter a phrase we’ve seen many times before but have yet to see in the Torah reading cycle before this week as we begin reading the Book of Exodus with Parshat Shemot. As Moshe approaches the curious site of a bush that burns but is not consumed, the voice of God calls out to him from the bush. After telling him to shed his footwear, God self-identifies to Moshe, using words that have become a name we use for God multiple times each day: “‘I am,’ He said, ‘the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'” (Exodus 3:6).
There are two fascinating components to this particular version of the formula. One is the repetitive nature of the phrase–not “the God of x, y, and z,” but “the God of x, the God of y, and the God of z.” This has always entertained the commentators and given them fodder to assert that each of the patriarchs encountered God in his own unique way. Additionally, we are used to the phrase Eloheinu ve-Elohei Avoteinu–Our God, and God of our fathers/ancestors. Notice that the verse says Elohei avikha–in the singular, the God of your father, not fathers.
On Shabbat morning, I’ll address two questions: First, why does God say “God of your father” in the singular, while we say it in the plural? Second, does one need to have been born Jewish in order to include him/herself in the “we” of “our ancestors?” Rambam, in the 12th century, was posed this question, and his answer can continue to inform us today. We’ll see what he said on Shabbat.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,