The Unpronounceable Name

So recently, I’ve been reading a book by Keith Johnson called His Hallowed Name Revealed Again.  Part of what started this is when attending Christian churches, they insist on attempting to pronounce the Tetragrammaton (the unpronounceable name of God) as either Yahweh or Jehovah.  The first is actually a nonsense word that doesn’t mean anything – the second is actually another name for God, but not with the same root letters of the Tetragrammaton (all Hebrew words have a root of 3 letters).  The Tetragrammaton was never supposed to be pronounced (according to the oral tradition of the Torah, or the Kaballah) because it never included vowels.  That, of course, comes from the rabbinical tradition.

Keith Johnson, on the other hand, learned from a friend of his named Nehemia Gordon, who is a Karaite Jew.  I’d never even heard of that before reading this book, and find their tradition to be slightly odd.  They say that they only go by the written word, basically discounting the oral teachings, but they use writings from a time period when the oral tradition (which included the vowels in the Hebrew writings) was written down – so their sect is only from about 200 B.C., rather than the thousands of years more of the rabbinical sects.  Still that’s over 2000 years of history, so they can’t be completely discounted – would be rather hypocritical, wouldn’t it? <g>

From what I’m understanding (having only read 4 chapters of the book thus far, which is quite interesting, and I’m learning a lot, as well as practicing my Hebrew), the way the Tetragrammaton is pronounced is that they simply say the letters.  O-kay.

Having learned from the rabbinical traditions (orthodox Chabad and slightly odd reform), saying the letters of the Tetragrammaton is fine, but being aware that anything you write it on becomes a piece of holy writing so that you understand just how important the Name is, is part of learning the proper respect, fear and love of the Name of God.  Generally, when a Jew comes across the Tetragrammaton in the writings, they substitute one of the other names of God – most often Hashem (the Name) or Adonai (the Lord – which is how you see it translated in Christian Bibles).

Interestingly, Chapter 4 got to me because of the number of times the Tetragrammaton was written.  (To be fair to reading the book, I am focusing on actually saying the letters in my head when I come across them, rather than going with my normal habit of substituting.)  So I’m attempting to evaluate, is this a learned response from my previous classes?  Or is this a bit more of a visceral response that says, you’re not to invoke that sort of power without really good reason.  I guess it’s kind of like calling “wolf” – if you do it often enough, people stop paying attention.  I don’t want God to not pay attention, but at the same time, I can understand that there are times you would want to invoke the Tetragrammaton to actually indicate importance.

Then of course, comes the question of, is it hubris to think that I have any clue whatsoever what God believes to be important?  That can go one of two ways – is whatever I consider important enough to bring to God important to God?  Or is anything one human needs or wants important in the grand scheme of things?  Are any of us worthy of actually invoking God’s name?

I wish I could post the reply that I got from one of the old Rabbis I used to learn from (Joel Bakst – City of Luz) when I wrote to him about it, but his reply was actually part of a book he’s working on.  It does go into rather a lot of detail on the cosmology of Kaballah, but one portion of it cause the entire thing to make sense to me.  “The rearrangement of the letters Y-H-V-H as H-V-Y-H in order to pronounce it as Havayah also spells out a real word in Hebrew. The literal dictionary definition of havayah means “existence”!”

This, to me, is explained quite clearly when God told what His name was in Exodus 3:14:  “I AM that I AM.”

Still working on the questions. 🙂


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