What’s God’s Name?

by Jennifer Singer (Sarasota, FL)

When someone says “I don’t believe in God” the obvious question is, “Which God don’t you believe in?”

Often the answer is a third grade version, something like, “a guy sitting in the clouds with a big white beard,” or perhaps “the scary judge who’s going to punish me for every tiny infraction.”

I don’t believe in those versions of God either.  I’m not sure exactly what God I believe in, but I do know It/He/She/Whatever isn’t something tangible, or even conceivable.

That’s the point, right?  God is beyond definition or description.  God is Beyond.

One of the Hebrew names for God is Ayn Sof –  אין סוף — without end, infinite.  This kind of mystical name for God is a lot easier for me to swallow than the third grade models.

In the bible, when Moshe asked God to identify Himself, God said: Ehyeh asher ehyeh.  The Hebrew looks like this:  אהיה אשר אהיה

It’s sometimes translated as “I am that I am” but in fact it’s in the future tense and more accurate translations are:

”I will be what I will be,” or

“I will be who I will be,” or perhaps even

”I will be because I will be.”

(The middle word, asher, can be translated as what, who, because, or that, depending on the context.)

Rabbi Marcia Prager put it this way at DLTI (Davvennin’ Leadership Training Institute):

“Making the words [of the prayer book] release deep truths is a struggle — words like God, which are in many ways so unfortunate and unfortunately over- and badly used.  We need to engage our internal translators, and sometimes it’s not so easy.”

Reb Marcia teaches that the root of the word Adonai, one of the names most used in Judaism, isn’t from the word for “sir” but rather from the word for “joints, connectors.”  Thinking of God as Connector rather than Sir makes more sense to me.

And yet…. I still struggle.

Jennifer Singer, a rabbinic student with the Aleph program of the Renewal movement, has served as Foundation Director at the Sarasota-Manatee Jewish Federation, worked as an educator at the Flanzer Jewish Community Center, and taught in programs across the community for adults and children.

In 2006, she earned a Master of Arts degree in Jewish Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary, and currently works as a fundraiser for Technion University, as well as part-time at Kol HaNeshama, a Reconstructionist congregation, where she leads services and a Family Education program called Doorways to Judaism.

She shares her home with her husband, two daughters, four dogs, three parrots, two cats, and a turtle.

You can read more of her work at her blog SRQ Jew (http://srqjew.wordpress.com/) where this piece first appeared. It’s reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

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1 Comment

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One response to “What’s God’s Name?

  1. Jennifer, Great piece. We all struggle, probably because the answers to the questions we ask will only be known for sure after we are gone. Kind of unfair, don’t you think? I agree with everything you talked about and just wrote a small piece along the same subject which I will put out next week on my blog. I would love for you to read a piece I wrote a while back entitled: View from a (non)Jew. http://WittyWomanWriting.com/view-from-a-nonjew/
    I just subscribed to this blog. Happy to be here.

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