Monday, January 23, 2006

And Would You Call It To His Face?

(oh, one of these nights at about twelve o'clock
this whole earth's gonna reel and rock
things they'll tremble and cry for pain
for the lord's gonna come in his heavenly airplane)

If God had a name, what would it be?
And would you call it to His face
If you were faced with Him in all His glory?
What would you ask if you had just one question...

— from "One Of Us" by Joan Osborne



Shemot/Exodus 3:13-14:
And then Moshe said to God,
So, I come to the Israelite People,
and I say to them,
The God of your ancestors has sent me to you!
If they say to me, What's his name?
What do I say to them?
And then God said to Moshe,
אהיה אשר אהיה
and he said,
This is what you should say to the Israelite People —
אהיה
sent me to you.


On this name, which means I-Will-Be or I-Am, R' Shemu’eil ben Mei’ir v-Yokheved bat RaSh"Y (Rashbam) comments in A"T B"Š code(!):
He [=God] calls Himself אהיה (I-Am),
but we call him יהיה (He-Is) —
[with a]
vav instead of a yud,
as in
ki meh hoveh la’adam (Qohelet 2:22)


Rabbeinu Hhizqiya ben R' Manoahh (the Hhizquni) comments on this interpretation of Rashbam, adding:
...And since it would not be proper for this word for existence of Holiness [=God] to be just like all the other words for existence of the mundane, it is differentiated from all the words for existence of the mundane.


In other words:
  1. The Name YHVH is a form of the verb HYH ("to be").
    It's third-person masculine singular.
  2. The Name actually is the same as YiHYeH (He-Is or He-Will-Be), but we replace the Y with a V in order to differentiate God from the regular verb.
  3. God's Name is not actually YHVH.
    That's what we call God, in third person.
    God actually calls Godself ʔHVH, in first person.


When me and my brother discovered this Rashbam years ago, we were blown away. God's name isn't actually YHVH? No wonder Rashi's illustrious grandson wrote this comment in ATB"Š code! It's shocking! It's scandalous! It makes so much sense!

It is impossible to truly know God. God's personal name — the one so holy that we've purposely forgotten how it was properly pronounced — is not even God's true name. It's a verb. God is not Yhvh. God is That which can only be described as "Is". God Is. And when God refers to Godself, God says "I am". God is yihyeh, the verb. And God is ehyeh.


So to bring back Joan Osborne's question...
If God had a name, what would it be?
And would you call it to His face
If you were faced with Him in all His glory?
What would you ask if you had just one question...


If God has a name, God's name is Ehyeh (»ʔHVH).
And if I were faced with God, in all God's glory,
I wouldn't call God Yihyeh (»YHVH) either.
Because that's the name we use, to refer to God in third person.

If I were faced with God, in all God's glory,
I would call God to God's face...
Tihyeh.
THVH.
You Are.

17 Comments:

Blogger Lab Rab said...

I found your conclusion inspiring, and the presentation engaging as always ... but here's my kashe on Rashbam:

Moshe asks God for a name by which he can describe God to the Jewish people. So why does God answer with AHYH? He should have started straight with YHVH. Or He should have said, "I call myself AHYH, and go tell the people that YHVH sent me."

In fairness, every commentator has to deal with the transition between the verses you're working with and the following one, and why the name of God changes to YHVH. ["Thus say to the children of Israel, YHVH the God of your fathers ... sent me to you.] But I think for Rashbam the question is more acute.

Really really cool stuff with the Atbash! I never knew about it before ...

1/24/2006 12:42 AM  
Blogger Lipman said...

Hm, makes me muse... Maybe among the usenet and blogosphere people there'd be a market for an edition of my pfille that has the Hebrew parts in a"t ba"sh, and the English in ROT13?

1/24/2006 6:36 AM  
Blogger Lipman said...

(MG, should you read this - do you remember where I wrote about the use of 'it' to refer to God in English, but not in French, German, Hebrew etc.? I thought that was on your blog, but I don't find it.)

1/24/2006 6:50 AM  
Blogger Tam said...

As I noticed this Rashbam, I wondered why he bothered to put it in atbash at all. Not exactly a tough code to break. Maybe the equivalent of leaving spoiler space?

1/24/2006 9:12 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

LR:

Maybe the Ehyeh is the 'first introduction'; like how when you first meet someone, they might say "hi, my name is Gannon Mardiff Argentsohl IV ... but my friends call me Gonmar"

(semi-joke: God tells Moshe, "hi, my name is Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh... but you can call me Ehyeh for short")

So the first introduction is full and formal, it says "this is ME"; and then later on there's a transition to the 'common' or 'usual' name.

LM:

How about giving the directions in ATB"Sh/ROT13?

Or alternatively, having a L33T edition ;-) .

Tam:

Actually, he ends it off by saying (unencoded):
This is the ‘iqar of the depth of the text's straightforward meaning, and should not be revealed except to humble people.
So maybe "spoiler space" is the best analogy!

1/24/2006 9:45 AM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Lipman,

You wrote your comment here, in a thread on Steg's blog.

1/24/2006 11:15 AM  
Blogger Lipman said...

How about giving the directions in ATB"Sh/ROT13?

My insurance wouldn't cover the traffic accidents...

1/24/2006 1:49 PM  
Blogger torahumaddachic said...

i always wanted to know what those words were at the beginning of the song... thanx steg! and can u hook me up with uncholently cholent recipe?

1/24/2006 7:15 PM  
Blogger Shifra said...

Ah if only my post about this song had been so scholarly!

1/24/2006 9:28 PM  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

Years ago I was chastised for saying that G-d's name is the same as my own name. The rav was flabbergasted and irritated that I was serious.

1/25/2006 6:48 PM  
Blogger Alan said...

Could YHWH perhaps be an older form of Yihyeh (from a proto-root H-W-Weak), as opposed to one that was specifically differentiated from the existing Yihyeh?

1/25/2006 9:13 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Torah:

no problem! i just told my brother.

Shifra:

Ah, but i believe your post inspired me to make this connection!

Jack:

What did you mean by it?

Alan:

I don't see why not, although someone else might have a reason. It could make sense, using an antique form of the word.

1/26/2006 12:50 PM  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

I had always been taught that every human has a piece of Hashem within us, it is part of the divine spark that makes us holy. By that logic it seems to me that G-d and I share a name. It didn't mean that I think that I am G-d (just angelic) but apparently I did a poor job of expressing that.

1/27/2006 12:44 AM  
Blogger Drew_Kaplan said...

Clever way of presenting this idea.

1/27/2006 7:25 AM  
Blogger thanbo said...

Joke:

What is God's first name?
Murray.
Why?
Brich shmei d'Murray Almo.

2/08/2006 6:49 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Drew:

thanks!

Thanbo:

ROTFL!

2/08/2006 11:40 PM  
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