Sunday, August 7, 2016

The puzzle of God's name finds no solution in the letters

Of all the concepts in the Jewish scriptures, I am always drawn to the ones that pose a puzzle. The best kind of puzzles are the ones that look simple but have a unlimited depth of wisdom or application in them. They can create the illusion of an easy solution but frustrate the unaware novice. I've learned that simple is not easy.

I began as a novice in puzzles being sucked in to the elegance of the proposition. But then the frustration of not finding the easy solution to match an "easy" problem has stuck with me since then. I feel it serves some justice to solve any kind of difficult problem when it arrives in my lap to be able to say that it didn't get the better of me again.

There's the problem in Genesis of where Cain and Seth got their wives. I think that's not the point of the story. The author certainly didn't care. You really can't apply that to your life easily. What about that part where Cain is driven from the land to wander the earth and is afraid? He was afraid of who would kill him. So what other person not in this early tribe was going to kill him? That's not really the point either. I wouldn't be talking to anyone at work about that part. The part about sin and judgment is more important though and does deserve a conversation when it's appropriate.

That four letter word

Another problem that seemed worth some investigation was when Moses asked God for His name.
They didn't have much in the way of physics terminology back then so the answer of "I'm called the sum total of gravitational potential energy plus internal energy of masses plus electromagnetic radiation" wouldn't have meant much. How do you tell a curious and respectful guy what your basic way to be addressed is if you don't have words for that, especially when you might be mixed up with some pop Egyptian gods?
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:13-14)

I don't think Moses would have cared for the scientific description even if he knew his physics. I don't think that was the point. There's something that Moses wanted to know that wasn't about a definition. In physics, the point of that formula that describes the way things are has to do with conservation of energy where nothing is lost and nothing is gained because we live in a closed system according to the guys who count the beans that control the universe. Not a bad concept for an eternal God. Still not the point.

The tetragrammaton that serves to describe the name of HaShem in the story is a puzzle. People like to go mystical on it with finding gender and creative energy in the letters themselves. People go crazy over not saying the name out of holiness, never using anything but that name out of law abiding third commandment following adherents, to using other pronunciations which is a good compromise hoping that by following both they won't sin. I don't think that's the point.

Avoidance of an answer

Does a person trying to be humble about his nature come off as mysterious because he withholds information? Sometimes, but maybe out of misinterpretation. If the president of a business that isn't recognized by some of the warehouse workers, like on Undercover Boss, gets asked what he does, would it be seen as mysterious for him to describe it as "I get work done occasionally" ? There's a humorous side to the vagueness there. Was God being coy also then by being vague?

God's description of His name was purposely avoiding any relationship to the gods of the day by not giving a name. You have to find a way to set yourself apart and yet still be approachable. That's a tough problem. But then God explains. He sets out a name vaguely associated with the conservation of energy by saying that He's always been the same amount of God and will never lose His status there. In fact, it's all that there is. Always has been, always will be. It's physics in a nutshell.
God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. (Exodus 3:15)

The relationship is the point

Then he tells Moses that this divine force has intent. The intent is to make a relationship with His people. He also backs it up with credentials from the meaningful tapestry of their tribal memories. He's hitting all cylinders here. God has a relationship with this new guy, Moses, and it's the same relationship that has protected and prospered His people throughout generations. This is His name. The name of their successes past, the name of a call to action now, and the name of their deliverance to a promised land in the future. This is the point.

The point is not to analyze the four letters and their relationship to each other, the relationship to unknown sounds, or the relationship to the entire Kabbalistic cosmological body of knowledge. It's not about the what you see, but about what you don't see. It's what you remember and know in your heart.

Why would you think that after your spouse goes to the store and gets some GE light bulbs which light up the house that you can then go write big GE letters with a Sharpie on anything and it will light up? Is there anything special to the letters? You know it's not about the letters because it wasn't about a name. It was about what God represented to the Hebrews and also what God didn't want to be associated with. They had that problem with the golden calf very soon after which showed that the concept wasn't too clear about how different God was from the Egyptian thinking of gods.

So it's also about honor, humbleness, and not emptying God's titles of any of His true nature. It's about not profaning another divine description which doesn't do God justice. It's a tricky problem with an elegant solution that isn't about hiding anything inside the numerical equivalents of the letters but about hiding the true meaning of God's name throughout history in your heart. Keep it secure. Keep it holy. And keep the covenant.

May you Lord God always be holy in our hearts when we seek to call your name, the name that has always existed and will always exists. Burden our hearts to call your name, to help us walk straight through a mass of complex problems and in Your powerful ways, find a simple solution by relying on you to take us there. Shame and correct us if we fail to remember that you are the God that kept His hand on Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And bring us joy as we follow you in solving life's most difficult problems.
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