In this week’s Torah portion, we read: “God spoke to Moses and said to him: “I am the Eternal [YHVH]. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make Myself known to them by My name YHVH” (Exodus 6:2-3).
This four-letter, holy name for God is one that we do not know how to pronounce. It was forbidden for anyone to say it aloud except for the High Priest in the Temple. Once the Temple fell, the pronunciation was forgotten. It is considered a sin to try to pronounce it, so we substitute the word, Adonai for it in prayer. In casual conversation, Orthodox Jews won’t even say that substitution, but instead say, “Ha-Shem” (which literally means, the Name). There are a lot of names that we have for God, but this four-letter formulation is by far my favorite.
YHVH is a word made up entirely of consonants that are also vowels. Thus you could say that the name is breath itself. The center of the word is the verb, “to be.” It has a prefix that indicates masculine gender and future tense, but the suffix is feminine gender and past tense. Thus this name for God is the verb to be in the past, present, and future tenses, masculine and feminine genders. It encompasses all of Being, and is somehow both a noun and a verb.
So, as we begin this new year and the stresses and tensions of returning to work begin to rise once again, I invite you to take a moment to meditate on the power of just Being.
Cantor Sally Neff