What’s in a name?

Hidden in plain sight from the reader of the English translations of the Bible are several linguistic nuances that range from how the shaping of the letters are to the number of letters in a parshat to the different names used for the Almighty. You don’t even have to go very far – in the book of Genesis the following names are used – Elohim, YHVH, YHVH Elohim, El Shaddai, and Yah. Some attribute this to multiple authors whose works were compiled and redacted numerous times before the canon was sealed and others believe that the various names are in relation to the different attributes of God. The 2 most commonly used names in Jewish Scripture (aka Old Testament) are Elohim and YHVH. These names have different meanings and I will focus on these 2 names for now.

Elohim
Elohim is typically rendered in English as “God”. So Genesis 1:1 when properly rendered would read: In the beginning Elohim created the heaven and the earth.
Elohim is the name that is used to describe the unknowable and almighty Creator. Elohim is not an anthropomorphic (or human like) being. Elohim a spirit which utters and wills things into existence and the interaction with man is always through a mediator – typically an angel. When used as elohim (not capitalized) it refers to gods in the plural. Keep in mind up until the second temple Jews believed that other nations had other gods and that they were to be obedient and follow their own deity. It wasn’t until the second temple when Ezra and the returning Jews changed their belief to a monotheistic one and that there was only one Almighty God and that all others were false deities and didn’t exist.

YHVH
This is the Ineffable Name and is known as the Tetragrammaton. It has typically been rendered as Yahweh and Jehovah, both of which are incorrect. The name is unspeakable and as such the English rendering you are used to seeing is “The Lord”. At times both Elohim and YHVH are used together and that combination is rendered as “The Lord God”. The first instance of this combination occurs during what many believe to be the second creation account which is found in Genesis 2:4: This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When YHVH Elohim (or the Lord God) made the earth and the heavens When the name YHVH (or the combination) is used we see a more intimate God. One who walks with man and can even be questioned, rebuked, and even wrestled with by man. While the Christian rendering for YHVH is “The Lord”, this is not a common practice within Jewish Scholarship. When reading from the Torah or when praying, YHVH is spoken as “Adonai”.  In discussions and study the name “HaShem” is also used, which another way of saying “the Name”.

Now lets tackle another position. What if Elohim, Adonai, and YHVH aren’t really supposed to be nouns. What if they are really verbs. Consider the fact that YHVH is a variation of the speakable “h-v-h” which is a verb meaning “to be”. Now consider that in Exodus 3:14 that we read: Elohim said to Moses “Eyeh Asher Eyeh..” What does Eyeh Asher Eyeh mean? Here we have seen 2 common mistranslations: one is “I am that I am” and the other is “I am who I am”.  Neither are technically right because it is more properly rendered: “I shall be what I shall be” or “I will be what I will be” and another rendering “I will become what I will become” may be as close to a proper English translation as we can get. This may seem subtle on the surface, but when you really think about it, it completely changes the concept of what the Almighty is. If our Creator is not a noun, then we shift from a Creator to a Creative process. A process that continues and does not remain stagnant. One that evolves so that it does not become obsolete.

In the Jewish (and some Christian) mystical schools of thought a person is thought to be a vessel. Each with the ability to receive as much or as little of the Divine Presence as they are willing to accept. This is the “breath of life” that was breathed into us from the very beginning. Now think about that too. The receiving of the breath started the process of breathing which started the process of life. So when one goes through life, each breath they take is the opportunity to receive more life and with it more of that which made life possible. Just as breathing is an action and receiving is an action, perhaps the old man in the skies is really the winds and the rain, the compassion and the love or to those who prefer to do without, just another breath.