Thursday, January 8, 2009

KID - What's In a Name?

We know from reading the Chumash that HaShem is called by many different names, yet according to Kabbalah each of these names has a specific function. A good example of the different names of HaShem can be found in the the first two perakim of Bereshit. The first perek refers to HaShem as Elokim, whereas the second perek refers to HaShem as YHVH Elokim. (Tangent - there is always a problem when discussing the names of HaShem because you are only allowed to pronounce them properly during davening or when you are reading a pasuk. Elokim is really Elo-him and YHVH is really Yud - Heh - Vav - Heh, which we do not know how to pronounce properly.) These are the two common names of HaShem - Elokim and YHVH. Other names include: E-l, Shadd-ai, and Ehi-yeh.

There are many different meanings and functions that are assigned to these two names, the most well known is that Elokim refers to HaShem acting in a strict manner (מדת הדין - Middat HaDin). YHVH refers to HaShem acting in a merciful manner (מדת הרחמים - Middat HaRachamim). This is one of the themes of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, we ask HaShem to judge us in a merciful way (מדת הרחמים - Middat HaRachamim) and not in a strict way (מדת הדין - Middat HaDin).

In Kabbalah these names describe two different ways that HaShem relates to the world. Elokim describes how HaShem controls the laws of nature (השגחת כללית - Hashgachat Klalit). Ultimately HaShem controls how babies are born, how plants grow, Newtonian physics, etc... Additionally, the laws of nature are fairly consistent and predictable. Conversely, YHVH describes special providence from HaShem (השגחת פרטיט - Hashgachat Pratit) which can override the laws of nature. When a miracle happens which contradicts the laws of nature, the Torah will use the name YHVH to describe the miracle. For example, Shemot 14:21 describes HaShem bringing the western wind to split the Yam Suf and uses the name YHVH.

We discussed two of the names that HaShem is called in the Tanakh: Elokim and YHVH. We said that these names can be used to describe HaShem as being strict or merciful. They can also be used to describe different relationships that HaShem has with the world: a constant predictable relationship similar to the laws of nature, and a special miraculous relationship which can contradict the laws of nature.

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