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    Names mentioning God – Ask the Rabbi

    God's four letter name appears at the top of this kabbalistic montage

    God’s four letter name appears at the top of this kabbalistic montage

    Q. Why do some Hebrew names contain part of God’s name, e.g. Yisra’el, Yeshayahu, etc.?

    A. Some Biblical names were given by the person’s parents and reflect the parents’ piety and faith, e.g. Yeshayahu (Isaiah), “The Lord is salvation”, or Yehoiada, “The Lord knows”. Living at a time of imminent destruction, Isaiah called his sons Maher-Shalal-Chash-Baz, “The spoil speeds, the prey hastens” and Sh’ar-Yashuv, “A remnant shall return”.

    Other names were given or altered by God to mark a person’s experiences or destiny, e.g. Avram (Abraham) became Avraham (Abraham), “Father of a multitude”, and Sarai became Sarah (“Princess”); the sages pointed out that Avraham and Sarai were given the letter hey from the Divine name. Ya’akov (Jacob, literally “The Supplanter”) became Yisra’el (“The Champion of God”). It should be pointed out that other languages also sometimes incorporate references to God in human names, e.g. Gottfried in German and Godfrey in English.

    God Himself has several names. The four-letter Hebrew name which we do not pronounce (it possibly denotes “He who was, is and will be”) has substitutes such as Ado-nai (“My Lord”) and HaShem (“The name”).

    In “Standing Again at Sinai”, 1991, Judith Plaskow speaks of Divine names as “attempts to speak of the experience of God who stands at the centre of Jewish life. They emerge out of the Godwrestling of our ancestors and represent their efforts to name and comprehend the God they knew was with them on a long and varied journey”. God as He is in Himself will always remain ineffable and above human speech; He tells Moses, “I am what I am” (Ex. 3:14).

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