What Does It Mean To Know God’s Name?

By Amos Wittenberg, UK

amos wittenbergThe YawShooWaWa brigades are out in force on the internet sending gigabytes of weird stuff around. They try to convince you that somehow you need to know God’s Secret Name to be blessed, saved, redeemed, transformed, born-again, obtain atonement for your sins, obtain a Green Card or win a free iPad in this fantastic prize draw.

They will quote Scripture to you, say, the following verse:

כִּי בִי חָשַׁק וַאֲפַלְּטֵהוּ אֲשַׂגְּבֵהוּ כִּי־יָדַע שְׁמִי׃

[For his desire was in Me and I will deliver him, I will protect him for he has known My Name (Ps 91:14) or any other verse speaking in this sort of language.

In this note I set out to give a Torah perspective on this Name issue. In particular I want to show what it means to know Hashem’s Name and what it does NOT mean. The second is easily accomplished. It does NOT mean to know the spelling of His Name or the precise pronunciation of His Name. Look at this verse (and look at it in context! I speak to people who are not too lazy to take out their bible and read things IN CONTEXT!):

וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה מִי ה’ אֲשֶׁר אֶשְׁמַע בְּקֹלוֹ לְשַׁלַּח אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא יָדַעְתִּי אֶת־ה’ וְגַם אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא אֲשַׁלֵּחַ׃

[And Pharaoh said: who is HASHEM that I should listen to His voice to allow Israel to leave; I have not known HASHEM and also, Israel I will not allow to leave] (Ex.5:2)

Can this possibly mean that Pharaoh did not know Hashem’s Name in some literal sense? Surely not! Pharaoh actually uses Hashem’s Name twice in his very own words! Rather, Pharaoh (who wasn’t a dummy!) himself explains the meaning of “knowing Who Hashem is”: it is to listen to His voice and to let Israel go.

To “know Hashem’s Name” is to have a relationship with Him. In Jewish mystical lore there is a lot of material about the various sacred Names of Hashem. Each and every one of those names refers to an aspect of our (potential) relationship with Him, or better, an aspect of His relationship with us, which is only in so far potential in that it remains one-sided – only His outstretched hand to us – until we take His hand and surrender to Him to walk with Him, to the exclusion of any other.

Just ignore the onomatomancers, pseudo-mystics, Sacred Namers, and what have you. It is another infantilizing form of running away from the truth of Torah. That truth is much simpler than the convoluted treatises of these dream merchants.

God does not demand from you any esoteric knowledge. If you want to “know His Name”, all you have to do is recognize what He has done in the long history of His people. Everything He promised, He has kept. Do you want to “see this in Scripture”? It is all there if you know how to read.

Here goes:

וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל־מֹשֶׁה עַתָּה תִרְאֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶעֱשֶׂה לְפַרְעֹה כִּי בְיָד חֲזָקָה יְשַׁלְּחֵם וּבְיָד חֲזָקָה יְגָרְשֵׁם מֵאַרְצוֹ׃ וַיְדַבֵּר אֱלֹקִים אֶל־מֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אֲנִי ה’׃ וָאֵרָא אֶל־אַבְרָהָם אֶל־יִצְחָק וְאֶל־יַעֲקֹב בְּאֵל שַׁקּ וּשְׁמִי ה’ לֹא נוֹדַעְתִּי לָהֶם׃ וְגַם הֲקִמֹתִי אֶת־בְּרִיתִי אִתָּם לָתֵת לָהֶם אֶת־אֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן אֵת אֶרֶץ מְגֻרֵיהֶם אֲשֶׁר־גָּרוּ בָהּ׃ וְגַם אֲנִי שָׁמַעְתִּי אֶת־נַאֲקַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר מִצְרַיִם מַעֲבִדִים אֹתָם וָאֶזְכֹּר אֶת־בְּרִיתִי׃ לָכֵן אֱמֹר לִבְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲנִי ה’ וְהוֹצֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם מִתַּחַת סִבְלֹת מִצְרַיִם וְהִצַּלְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מֵעֲבֹדָתָם וְגָאַלְתִּי אֶתְכֶם בִּזְרוֹעַ נְטוּיָה וּבִשְׁפָטִים גְּדֹלִים׃ וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶתְכֶם לִי לְעָם וְהָיִיתִי לָכֶם לֵאלֹקִים וִידַעְתֶּם כִּי אֲנִי ה’ אֱלֹקֵיכֶם הַמּוֹצִיא אֶתְכֶם מִתַּחַת סִבְלוֹת מִצְרָיִם׃ וְהֵבֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם אֶל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נָשָׂאתִי אֶת־יָדִי לָתֵת אֹתָהּ לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב וְנָתַתִּי אֹתָהּ לָכֶם מוֹרָשָׁה אֲנִי ה’׃

[And HASHEM said to Moses: now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh for with a strong hand he will let them go and with a strong hand he will banish them from his land.  And God spoke to Moses and said to him: I am HASHEM. And I have been seen by Abraham, by Isaac and by Jacob as God Almighty but by My Name HASHEM I have not been known to them. And also I have set up My covenant with them to give to them the land of Canaan, the land of their sojournings as strangers where they have sojourned.  And also, I have heard the groans of the children of Israel whom Egypt enslaves and I have remembered My Covenant.  Therefore, say to the children of Israel]: I am HASHEM and I will take you out from under the sufferings of Egypt, and I will rescue you from their enslavement, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.  And I will take you unto Me as a people and I will be unto you God and you will know that I am HASHEM your God Who takes you out from under the sufferings of Egypt.  And I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, and I will give it to you as an inheritance: I am HASHEM.] (Ex.6:1-8)

Of course the Patriarchs did know Hashem’s Name.  That name is mentioned many times in Genesis.  But look at the context!!  With the Patriarchs Hashem set up His covenant but He did not actually give them the land of Israel.  That had to wait until now.  That’s what it means when God “makes His Name known”: that He fulfils His promises.  When He took us out from under the sufferings of Egypt, we “knew His Name”.

More evidence?

Just do a word search on the phrase “You shall know that I am the LORD”.  Isaiah and Ezekiel are literally full with references.  And it ALWAYS means “You shall experience My might” and it NEVER means “You shall have secret knowledge WAWAWA”.

So next time someone wants to sell you that the word “God” is some Babylonian idol, or “LORD” is a “false name”, just shrug your shoulders and walk away.  Don’t even try to argue.  Let them have their toys.  It has nothing to do with knowledge of God.  That knowledge comes from walking with Him, not from dabbling in onomatomancy.

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