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Breathing the Name of God

In this week’s parasha, we encounter Moses at the burning bush, speaking to God. In response to the instruction to go down to Egypt to free the Israelites from Pharaoh’s oppression, he asks a simple question: When people ask who You are, what shall I tell them? The answer: Ehiyeh asher Ehiyeh. I am who I am. I was who I was. I am who I will be… God uses God’s name: Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey. Usually pronounced euphemistically as “Adonai,” God’s name is something more.

At services tonight at Congregation Or Ami, we will talk about what God’s name is and what the name teaches us about our lives. Here’s a foretaste…

My teacher, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, the Reform Movement’s Rabbi-Mystic-Scholar, explains this name in Breathing the Name of God [From Rabbi Lawrence Kushner: Eyes Remade for Wonder]. Read and consider:

The letters of the Name of God in Hebrew are YOD, HAY, VAV, and HAY. They are frequently mispronounced as “Yahveh.” But in truth they are unutterable. Not because of the holiness they evoke, but because they are all vowels and you cannot pronounce all the vowels at once without risking respiratory injury.

This word is the sound of breathing. The holiest Name in the world, the Name of the Creator, is the sound of your own breathing.

That these letters are unpronounceable is no accident. Just as it is no accident that they are also the root letters of the Hebrew verb “to be.” Scholars have suggested that a reasonable translation of the four-letter Name of God might be The One Who Brings Into Being All That Is. So God’s Name is the Name of Existence itself. And, since God is holy, then so is all creation. At the burning bush, Moses asks for God’s Name, but God only replies with Ehyeh-hasher-ehyeh, which is often incorrectly rendered by the static English, “I am who I am.” But in truth the Hebrew may denote the future tense: “I will be who I will be.” Here is a Name (and a God) who is neither completed nor finished. This God is literally not yet.

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