What is God's Name?!
| Published: August 23, 2021
Shalom, In Psalm 23:3, there is the sentence: “He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake”. What does “for His Name’s sake” mean? We know the Names: Hashem, Yahweh, Elohym, Yahuah which one does the people of ISRAEL use for God, please explain, and are they all suitable?
Thank you very much!
A name is an identification tag, and accordingly, the Name or Names of God are a way of saying: the attributes or way/s through which He is seen by man. When man follows the “guidance” of God through the Torah and mitzvot (commandments or guide), he is revealing the “Paths” of God [e.g. the 13 Paths or Attributes of God, in Shmot (Exodus) 34, 6: Merciful, Kind, Just…] by living a Godly life. Accordingly “He ‘guides’ me in the ‘paths of righteousness’ for His Name’s sake”, that we should act Godly, like Him.
Similarly, the Name of God is seen in the world through the nation of Israel. For example (Daniel 9, 18), “Oh Lord, hear; Oh Lord, forgive; Oh Lord, listen and do (redeem Israel), do not delay; for Your ‘sake’, my God, for Your Name is called upon Your city and upon Your people.” This verse has a very contemporary ring to it, for very often, Israel is threatened & shelled by our Arab enemies from Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Iran. After several hundreds of missiles, shells and mortars raining upon innocent Israeli civilians (imagine having to run several times a day and in the middle of the night to wake up your children and run to the protective shelters, or having 6,000,000 men women and children being hunted and systematically exterminated in the Nazi holocaust, simply because we’re God’s Nation!), we ask God to please intervene and aid Israel and her soldiers, “for Your Name is called upon Your city (Jerusalem) and upon Your people (Israel)”. When Moslem fanatics kill Jews, they proclaim it as a victory for Mohammed, Islam and its violent ideals (“Allahu Akbar”). Until it is clear that God and morality (His real attributes) abhor such Islamic jihad wars, the world is going to suffer. We therefore pray that Hashem should have mercy on His Name, for the merciful attributes of God are seen through His protection of His city (Jerusalem) and His People (Israel), both of which bear His Name (=reflect upon Him and His Greatness), and through the defeat of the immoral and violent. Just as it is a bad reflection, as if it were, on God, when people ask, “where was God during the Holocaust”, so too, we pray for the ‘sake of His Name’, that the God of Israel reveal to all that He is alive and well and living today in Israel, for His sake (that people should know that He and His Torah/Paths are true).
In short, God’s attributes/Names (“the paths of righteousness”) are seen both through the actions of man, and through God’s actions towards Israel. The contemporary Ingathering of the Jewish Exiles to Israel (where most Jews today have returned for the 1st time since the exile of the 10 tribes about 2,700 years ago) and the miraculous Six-Day War (=God’s actions towards Israel), as well as the unparalleled morality of the Israeli army (=the actions of Israel), are all reflections for the ‘sake’ of God’s Name= how He and His attributes/Paths are seen to the world.
The 2 Names which you mentioned based upon Y-H-W… are actually 1, but we don’t use that Name out of respect [we don’t even write it except in the Torah scroll, Tefilin (upon our arms and head during prayer) or Mezuzot (on our doorposts)], nor even know how to pronounce it (as is clear from your question!) for it is, as if it were, God’s essence. Rather in it’s place, in prayer we use Adonay (literally: our Master) or Elohim (literally: our Judge, the All-Powerful). In regular speech, we use the Name: Hashem (literally: The Name), which is on an even lower, more far-removed level, out of respect for Him. We are truly in awe of God, but also have a personal relationship with Him, speaking to Him and referring to Him, even in our mundane daily lives.
With Prayer for Shalom in Israel!
Rabbi Ari Shvat