Of course, I am talking about the name of the Lord, the one and only, the creator of the universe, the Almighty, our shield and savior, our father in heaven…you know, that guy.
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I have talked about the name of God, and what the word “name” represents many times. Yet, to those who insist that we must pronounce the Tetragrammaton, the 4 letters that make up the name God told Moses at the burning bush, as often as possible, no matter what I say or how many Bible scholars agree with what I say, they will still call out and use the Holy Name.
And how do they pronounce it? Well, I have heard no less than three different pronunciations, but I won’t repeat them because being Jewish, we Jews don’t even try to pronounce those 4 letters.
Recently, I was able to have a nice discussion about the very passage where God gives Moses his “name”, which he said is “אהיה אשר אהיה” (ehyeh asheh ehyeh, which means I am that I am”, although some translate it to “I will be that which I will be”), adding that Moses should tell the Israelites that “I am” sent him to them.
Now, let’s forget everything we think we know about the name of God, and look at this passage: is “I am that I am” a name? No, not really; to me, it is more of a condition. God is not giving a name, like Tom, Dick, or Steven, but he is telling Moses that he is eternal: he is what he is. He never was anything else, and he never will be anything else, he just…is.
I think God did this because there isn’t any way for mortal minds to comprehend eternity, so instead of a name, as we know what a name is, this eternal, omniscient, omnipotent entity gave Moses a descriptive statement to help us know more of what he is than to tell us what to call him.
I just found an interesting note in the Tikkun when I was researching a reply to someone who commented on a video I had done called “What Constitutes Using God’s Name in Vain?”
What I found was that in Exodus 3:14-15, when God tells Moses that he will be known as “The God of your Fathers: the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”, and that this is how he wants to be remembered forever, the Hebrew word “forever” is spelled differently than other places it is used.
In Hebrew, forever is spelled לעולם, but in this passage it is spelled without the vav- לעלם, which is a different word that means “hide”. That is why Judaism doesn’t pronounce the name of God: the Rabbis say that based on this spelling in the Torah, God is saying that the Tetragrammaton is to remain hidden. That is why he said that the “forever” way to know him is as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.
When we read in the Bible the term “call on the name of the Lord”, or any reference to “the name of the Lord”, when taken in proper context and historical usage of that term, the word “name” doesn’t mean the Tetragrammaton, but refers to the reputation and renown of the Lord.
If you ask me, even the word “God” doesn’t really count as a name, but more of a description. God our savior, God our shield, God our provider….none of these are names, they are descriptions of who he is and his relationship to us.
The only reason anyone or anything needs to have a name is to be able to identify it from other things that are the same.
For instance, if I have a cat, I can call it “cat”, which is a description of its specie. But, if I have two cats, I can’t call each one “cat” because they wouldn’t know which one of them I was referring to when I call for one.
Of course, we’re talking about cats, so they don’t care what I call them- they won’t come, anyway.
The point is, each cat would need to have a different name to identify one from the other.
When it comes to God, there is no other- he is totally unique. Separate, exclusive, different from anything or anyone else that exists, so there really isn’t even a need for him to have a name- “God” works as a descriptive identifier of him for all intents and purposes.
God is not his name, neither is HaShem (Hebrew for “the name”), neither is Adonai (Hebrew for “lord”, used as a title of authority), or Jehovah (which is the Tetragrammaton letters with the vowel points for the word Adonai added to create a specific pronunciation). Yahweh is another pronunciation that is essentially the same as Jehovah, only using the more ancient pronunciation of the vav (ו) as a “w” sound instead of a “v” sound.
So, if you write God as G-d, or G.d, I appreciate the fact that you are showing respect for his name, but God isn’t his name. I used to write G-d all the time, then I realized that writing G-o-d wasn’t in danger of using his name in vain because, well, G-o-d isn’t a name: it is a title. I do capitalize the “G” to differentiate him from false gods, which get a small case “g”. Other than that, even using the text shortcut “OMG” to mean “Oh my God”, I don’t see a real problem with that in that we are not using his name in vain. If you think it is wrong, it isn’t really your issue- that would be between them and God.
Besides, OMG could easily mean “Oh My Gosh”, or “Oh My Goodness’, depending on what the writer was thinking at the time they used it. If you see it, and don’t feel comfortable with the “Oh My God” version, then don’t read it that way and you will be “safe”.
So, I use “G-o-d” without fear of insulting or disrespecting he who is the God of my fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And let me tell you this: I am happy to use the word God because it is much easier to write than the entire description he gave Moses.
However, when I hear people throw God’s Holy Name around like they were drinking buddies, I do find that disrespectful.
Would you call the President by his first name if you met him? I certainly hope not because that would be disrespectful
Would you call your favorite teacher by his or her first name if you met them? Unless they told you you could, that would also be disrespectful.
Even though people wouldn’t address an important human using their first name, out of respect for them, they find no problem using God’s Holy Name so easily. And, more than that, many say God commanded them to do this!
I can’t tell you what to do, but for me, I will keep the Tetragrammaton hidden, as the Rabbis have said we should, and feel comfortable using God, or haShem, Adonai, or Lord (with a capital “L”) without restraint.
Maybe you agree, maybe you disagree, so I will leave you with this, my friends: we will all meet God one day, and when you do, do you want to have to explain why you used his Holy Name so easily?
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That’s it for this week, so l’hitraot and an early Shabbat Shalom!
PS: Happy 246th Birthday to my Unites States Marine Corps! Uh-Rah!