Friday, January 12, 2018

A Name Full of Promise

The best-known Hebrew name of God is spelled Yud - Hey - Vuv - Hey. It is a name considered so sacred that we never verbalize it, but instead read it as Ah-doh-nai (meaning “my Master”), and in speech and non-sacred texts it is replaced by the term Hashem (literally “the Name”).

This holy four-letter name of God, known as the Tetragrammaton, is found throughout the Torah and the Jewish liturgy. The familiarity of the use of this name makes God’s statement in Exodus 6:2-3 particularly interesting. After Moses despairs of success on his mission to liberate the Israelites, God says to him: “I am Hashem (Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey). Even when I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as E-l Sha-dai (another name for God that is commonly translated as “God Who Sets Limits” ), by my name Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey I did not make Myself known to them.”

If God’s Name, Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey, is such an important name and is used throughout the Book of Genesis, is it really accurate to say that the patriarchs and matriarchs were unfamiliar with it? The commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo ben Isaac, Provence, France 11th century) explains that God was telling Moses: “I was not recognized by them [the patriarchs] by my attribute of keeping trust, and the reason for which My Name is called Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey is that I may be trusted to keep My promises but have not [as yet] fulfilled them.”

The name Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey is a Name that demonstrates God’s eternal omnipresence because it conjugates the Hebrew verb “to be” as past-present-future melded into one. God is telling Moses that He will fulfill the promise from Genesis 15, in which He told Abraham that his descendants will be enslaved in a strange land but that eventually they will go free with great wealth. It was a promise that spanned generations, but whose time had now come to be fulfilled.

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