Revelation of the Essence of G-d’s Name
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Revelation of the Essence of G-d’s Name
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They shall bestow My Name upon the children of Israel, so that I will bless them. [Parashat Naso, Bemidbar 6:27]
In the Temple, the (four letter) Name (of God) was pronounced as written, but outside the Temple (“in the province”) in its substituted name. [Gemara Sota 37b]
“My Name” – the Shem haMeforash, in the Chosen House (i.e. the Temple) [ibid. 38a]
Chazal (Our Sages) taught that the Shem haMeforash was pronounced differently in the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) and outside it. Only within the Beit HaMikdash was it permissible to pronounce the Name as written, while outside the Beit HaMikdash it is pronounced as the name of mastery (a-donai).
The different pronunciations required different responses from the congregation which listened: in the Beit HaMikdash, those who heard the Name immediately responded “Blessed is His honored Name forever;” while outside the Beit HaMikdash, the congregation’s response was limited to “Amen” following the blessing.
What factor causes the distinction between the Beit HaMikdash and “the province?”
Filling All Worlds and Surrounding All Worlds
In order to answer our question, we must understand the essence of the two appellations of God; “being” (havaya, Shem haMeforash) and mastery (adnut).
Zohar has two expressions concerning God’s connection to His creation: “Filling all worlds” and “Surrounding all worlds.” The first expresses God’s presence in every place and every aspect of His creation, without exception, as Zohar states “There is no place devoid of Him.” The second term seems to imply that God is not present within the worlds themselves; rather He surrounds them from without. Due to God’s great and infinite spiritual nature, as it were, He cannot restrict Himself to the limits of physical worlds.
Is it possible to reconcile these two expressions? Is God found within the worlds or not?
Essence and Emanation
Nefesh haḤayyim (Rabbi Ḥayyim of Volozhyn, 1749–1821) explains that there are two strata of relationship between His creatures and God, one relates to God’s essence, the other to His emanation within the world. Divine essence refers to God’s existence as it is, without restrictions or limitations. In truth, the perfection of God’s existence is immutable. And even after He created the universe with its incredible diversity, He remained unchanged.
Based on this, human intellect cannot achieve understanding of God’s existence, since God’s true nature seemingly does not allow for any entity other than Himself. As God was one, unitary and unique before creation, so too following creation, there is no need for any existence other than He. This being the case, God is described as “filling all the worlds,” that is, His existence fills every corner and every level of existence, leaving no place for any other being.
However, in addition to the description of God’s essence, there is the mode of relating to God through His “emanation.” That is, God, through His will, chose to restrict the revelation of His complete glory, and in place of the primordial state, in which truly there is no need or place for other beings, He allowed the possibility of existence of worlds and creatures outside Himself. Despite the fact that in truth, God’s existence fills every corner and every place within the cosmos, and does not allow any other existence, by restricting His light and glory, God allowed “apparent reality” in which there are creatures which have their own identity. Since the sole possibility for such existence is hiding the Divine essence from His creatures, God is described as “surrounding all worlds.” That is, God’s essence is not revealed in the worlds which have creations within them, but He is seen as surrounding these worlds from without.
Relating to God as “surrounding the worlds” allows us, His creatures, to maintain a relationship with Him, since it is only through His surrounding the worlds that our existence becomes possible. This being the case, we have no possibility of perceiving His essential existence, which is not manifest in the world and is beyond the capacity of any creature to understand. We can relate only to the “emanation” of God’s glory, the limited revelation of the Divine essence, which is adapted to the perceptive ability of His creatures and through which all aspects of creation are maintained.
This perspective, according to which creatures can have no understanding of the Divine essence, but only of His emanation within the worlds, is reflected in the appellation we attach to God in our prayers and blessings. When we turn to God to express our true relationship to Him, we cannot use the appellation which refers to His essential existence, since that is completely beyond our ability to comprehend; rather we use the term which refers to His revelation within the world.
The appellation of “havaya” hints at God’s essence, and therefore we never pronounce it, since we have no real concept of God’s true and absolute existence. In place of “havaya” we pronounce “adnut,” expressing God’s mastery over the world and all its creatures. Using this appellation allows us to relate to God on the terms in which He reveals Himself to us, as the Master and Manager of the universe, a level we can understand despite our inability to understand the Divine essence. It is recognition of the fact that perceiving the Divine essence is beyond our limitations. We therefore employ the expression which reflects God’s relationship to us and the manner in which He reveals Himself in His world.
Between Beit HaMikdash and Province
In ordinary existence, which is guided by the administration of the world which God established, indeed there is no place for pronouncing the name of “havaya.” Our existence as independent beings seemingly negates any possibility of relating to God’s infinite and unlimited essence.
The one exception to this rule is in the Beit HaMikdash.
Ostensibly, the Beit HaMikdash’s function is to be God’s house on earth. When God instructed Moshe to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle), He clearly defined its purpose “And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst.” [Sh’mot 25:8] The Mishkan and its successor, the Beit HaMikdash, serve as the place where God as it were dwells within the world. When God instructed Moshe to build the Mishkan, He presented an awesome innovation. From the creation of the world until that point, creatures had no discourse with the Divine essence, but only with its emanation as revealed in the world. With the Mishkan, there is the possibility of contact and communication between the worlds of creation and the Divine essence! God asked that a place be built where His Shechina will be manifest and from which there will issue illumination of His essence. This is the great wonder of the Beit HaMikdash, a unique place within the world.
Concerning this wonder, Isaiah [66:1] states "אי זה בית אשר תבנו לי ואי זה מקום מנוחתי" (“What house could you possibly build for Me? And what place could be My home?”). The prophet wonders at how it is possible to restrict God’s infinite presence to a physical building which is subject to the laws of nature. Human intellect indicates that it is impossible to contain the infinite within a confined space. How can we understand this reality? Indeed, human intellect cannot comprehend this. God, with His unlimited abilities, created the possibility of intersection between the natural and limited world and the infinite and unlimited world. The Beit HaMikdash created the novel and marvelous reality in which we, God’s creatures, can relate to His essence. With God’s unlimited ability, He created the opportunity for us to experience a reality which is seemingly impossible; as it were restricting His infinite existence to within the confines of a physical structure.
This marvelous connection is the source of various miracles which occurred in the Beit HaMikdash on an ongoing basis. The place which experiences Divine illumination above the laws of nature and in which the presence of the Creator of all Worlds is palpable is not subject to the limitations of nature and its laws.
Based on this, it is understandable that within the Beit HaMikdash the Shem haMeforash was pronounced as written; in the place where God’s essence is felt, it is appropriate to pronounce the name of “havaya” as written.
Revelation of God in Accordance With Am Yisrael’s Perfection
Midrash Bemidbar Rabba expounds the verse "יברכך ד' מציון" (“May the Lord bless you from Zion”) [Tehillim (Psalms) 128:5] to mean that all blessings issue from Zion. The place chosen as the focal point of the revelation of God’s Shechina is the place from which tangible blessings and abundance flow. The natural consequence of the connection between the limited world of creation and the infinite and unlimited existence of God is blessing and abundance which burst through the limitations imposed by nature.
Rabbi Kook zt”l writes that when we do not have Eretz Yisrael in its entirety and the Beit HaMikdash is not established, all blessings are shrouded in darkness, not in clarity. Based on our exposition, Rabbi Kook’s comment has clear meaning: as God has sworn that His name – which indicates the revelation of His essence – cannot be complete until Amalek, the eternal enemy of Israel is eradicated [Rashi. Sh’mot 17:16] so too His name cannot be complete until Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) reaches its completion and perfection through settling the entire expanse of its Land and building the Beit HaMikdash in its proper place.
As long as Am Yisrael has not reached this level of perfection, through complete development of its Land and building the Beit HaMikdash, God’s name cannot be complete, and necessarily, blessings will be incomplete. It is only when Am Yisrael achieves completeness, physically and spiritually, that God’s name will appear in its completeness, along with the blessings which are not limited by the restrictions of nature.
Implications for Our Generation
The process of Am Yisrael’s return to its Land and building her up physically and spiritually is not merely preparation for future redemption. Even now, in our days, all progress in this glorious process, however minimal, brings an additional revelation of the glory of God and deepens the manifestation of the Shechina in our midst. Every increase in the Jewish population of Eretz Yisrael, in the economic or military strength of the community, in the number and quality of yeshivot and in the process of bringing distant brothers closer to Torah and mitzvot, constitutes a stage of the Shechina’s return to its place and its revelation within us. Because of the greatness and significance inherent in this process, it encounters significant problems. The more we understand the significance of this process and attempt to take an active part in it, whether through spreading Torah and mitzvot in places which need strengthening, in active measures to settle and develop the Land, including financial support, the more we will see the process advancing and improving, until it is completely realized with the revelation of God’s name and His throne within us, before the eyes of all flesh.