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יום שישי, 28 באוגוסט 2009

Man and God – a summary

This is a translation of my last Hebrew post. It is a brief summary of three series I've posted in the past year, and is based on three chapters in Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits' (REB) book: "Man and God: Studies in Biblical Theology". In the book REB explores major concepts in the Hebrew Bible – the Tanakh. The conclusions I wish to draw fro these investigations are not necessarily found in that book but rather in other works REB and other prominent Jewish thinkers.

A Survey of concepts

In the ancient word there existed a concept of the supreme Deity, a transcendent [1] and exalted creator. In the Tanakh, that deity's name is YHWH [2] (יהוה), and it would even seem that even the heathens were familiar with it. For example, in the Exodus from Egypt, the deity identified itself as YHWH but wasn't required to prove its own existence *:

And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh will not hearken unto you, and I will lay My hand upon Egypt, and bring forth My hosts, My people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt, by great judgments. And the Egyptians shall know that I am YHWH, when I stretch forth My hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them (Exodus 7)

When the Speaker makes manifest his power, when He reveals himself as sovereign ruler or judge, when he thus is above nature, removed from them and transcending them he makes himself known as YHWH. Therefore the revelation of supernatural power in the ten plagues, is the proof that the speaker is YHWH.
Nonetheless, it is this transcendence which renders YHWH irrelevant. He is conceived to be to  far and aloof from man, and indifferent to his fate. For this reason men invented elohim – deities  - to intervene between YHWH and man. The acceptance of an Elohim does not involve a rejection of YHWH. In the story of the Golden calf, the Elohim is the one whom one may follow... he is the god who is near, but under YHWH who is aloof.

For great is YHWH, and highly to be praised;
He is to be feared above all elohim.
For all the elohim of the peoples are things of naught;
but YHWH made the heavens (Psalms 96)

Against this background the Tanakh offered a revelation and pronounced a monotheistic message that YHWH is immanent[3]. There exist three statements that depict YHWH as such:

1. YHWH is Elohim

In the Tanakh elohim is a leader, a judge and he therefore accessible. In a borrowed meaning it also means deity. YHWH is known as Elohim when he shows his care and mercy towards man:

And I will take you to Me for a people, and I will be to you Elohim; and ye shall know that I am the YHWH your Elohim, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. (Exodus 6)

It is when he reveals his caring concern for man, when he shows his providential intervention on behalf of man, when he is near man, in the midst of men, he communicates the knowledge that he is YHWH your Elohim.

I am the YHWH thy Elohim, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shall have no other Elohim before Me (Devarim 5)

Yet I am the YHWH thy Elohim from the land of Egypt; and thou know no elohim but Me, and beside Me there is no savior. (Hosea, 13)

Ha-Elohim is the one whom one may follow... the one who leads. He who leads is near, and he leads because he is concerned. Elohim stands for the manifestation of providential divine attitude toward man.

We saw that elohim is also a deity, an object of worship, which man chooses to bow down to. Therefore man's acceptance is crucial for YHWH to be Elohim. The credo of Judaism, has therefore at it's core the proclamation that YHWH is Israel's national Deity:

שְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל:
יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ,
יְהוָה אֶחָד

Hear O Israel:
YHWH is our Elohim
YHWH is One

The transcendent Creator is also the immanent Preserver.
But not withstanding that YHWH is also Elohim, YHWH is yet One

This awareness – that YHWH is accessible – draws man close to Him. In the Tanakh "to know" (לדעת) means intimate relationship, and indeed knowing YHWH is indicated by moral conduct:

Thus says YHWH: Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understands, and knows Me, that I am YHWH who exercise mercy, justice, and righteousness, in the earth; for in these things I delight, says YHWH.  (Jeremiah 9)


2. the Name of YHWH

A 'name' (shem) in the Tanakh is a person's self expression, and the means by which other people know him. YHWH is His glory and reputation, and His acts create that name:

From a very far country thy servants are come because of the name of YHWH thy Elohim; for we have heard the fame of Him, and all that He did in Egypt (Joshua 9)

for they shall hear of Thy great name, and of Thy mighty hand, and of Thine outstretched arm--when he shall come and pray toward this house; (1 Kings, 8)

In other places the name stands for YHWH power and might

Elohim, save me by Thy name, and right me by Thy might

The name therefore signifies YHWH immanence, and it is the Name that is sometimes glorified because by it YHWH becomes present in our midst and thus relevant :

Praise, O ye servants of YHWH, praise the name of YHWH.
Blessed be the name of YHWH from this time forth and for ever.
From the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof YHWH's name is to be praised.

The name that which exists in the present, while a name which was only known in the past becomes a memorial:

And Moses said unto Elohim: 'Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them: The Elohim of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me: What is His name? what shall I say unto them?'
And Elohim said unto Moses: 'I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE' [4]; and He said: 'Thus shall thou say unto the children of Israel: 'I WILL [I AM]' hath sent me unto you.'
And Elohim said moreover unto Moses: 'Thus shall thou say unto the children of Israel: YHWH, the Elohim of your fathers, the Elohim of Abraham, the Elohim of Isaac, and the Elohim of Jacob, hath sent me unto you; this is My name for ever, and this is My memorial unto all generations (Exodus 3)

In this excerpt 'YHWH, the Elohim of your fathers,' is the memorial, and not by this name does YHWH will redeem the people. By sending Moses, YHWH creates a new 'for ever' name for Himself, and He will be known from now on as 'Elohim of Israel'. The reason this name shall be eternal is because by creating a people, Israel, He has created a historic entity which is not limited to the life span of certain individuals.
The Exodus was an event of such importance that its memory resounded in the national psyche centuries later. This is the meaning of an eternal name:

'Where is He that…That caused His glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses? That divided the water before them, to make Himself an everlasting name?…so didst Thou lead Thy people, to make Thyself a glorious name…Thou, YHWH, art our Father, our Redeemer from everlasting is Thy name (Isaiah 63)

who didst set signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, even unto this day, and in Israel and among other men; and made Thee a name, as at this day (Jeremiah, 32)

And now, YHWH, that hast brought Thy people forth out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and hast gotten Thee a name, as at this day; (Daniel, 9)

and didst show signs and wonders upon Pharaoh, and on all his servants, and on all the people of his land; for Thou knewest that they dealt proudly against them; and didst get Thee a name, as it is this day (Nehemiah, 9)

When the Temple in Jerusalem was built, the name was attached to it because it was vehicle for YHWH providence:

Moreover concerning the stranger that is not of Thy people Israel, when he shall come out of a far country for Thy name's sake--for they shall hear of Thy great name, and of Thy mighty hand, and of Thine outstretched arm--when he shall come and pray toward this house; hear Thou in heaven Thy dwelling-place, and do according to all that the stranger calleth to Thee for; that all the peoples of the earth may know Thy name, to fear Thee, as doth Thy people Israel, and that they may know that Thy name is called upon this house which I have built.  If Thy people go out to battle against their enemy, by whatsoever way Thou shalt send them, and they pray unto YHWH toward the city which Thou hast chosen, and toward the house which I have built for Thy name (Kings I, 8);

It is when YHWH hears prayers is His name being established.

Likewise, a prophet who who is announces YHWH's word is said to carry His name. It is because he passes YHWH's words – a name – to the people:

Take heed of him, and hearken unto his voice; be not rebellious against him; for he will not pardon your transgression; for My name is in him (Exodus 23).

However, even more than the Temple and the prophet, YHWH's name is identified with the people of Israel:

And YHWH hath avouched thee this day to be His own treasure, as He hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all His commandments. and to make thee high above all nations that He hath made, in praise, and in name, and in glory; and that thou mayest be a holy people unto YHWH thy Elohim, as He hath spoken (Deuteronomy, 26)

And all the peoples of the earth shall see that the name of the LORD is called upon thee; and they shall be afraid of thee (Ibid. 28)

Jeremiah makes this even more explicit:

For as the girdle cleaveth to the loins of a man, so have I caused to cleave unto Me the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah, saith YHWH, that they might be unto Me for a people, and for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory; but they would not hearken. (ch. 13)

The identification is so complete that when Israel suffers defeat at the city of Ai, Joshua shows a real concern for YHWH name:

For when the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land hear of it, they will compass us round, and cut off our name from the earth; and what wilt Thou do for Thy great name? (ch. 7)

In effect the nation of Israel itself constitutes a name of YHWH, by which He is present within world history. YHWH's immanence is therefore also dependant on mans efforts. It is not unlike what was shown regarding YHWH becoming Elohim, where man's consciousness plays a crucial role. Man has to acknowledge and accept YHWH as Elohim.
Ethan Dor-Shav's article "Soul of Fire", provided an etymological relationship between man's unique soul – neshama – and the word shem – name. Based on that I claimed that man's soul is potentially  a name of YHWH waiting  to be realized in this world through man's actions – his self revelation.

An acknowledgment of YHWH name, should lead to the understanding that all other elohim are nothing but YHWH names which are  mistakenly worshiped as independent deities. Therefore it is crucial to stress the fact that Elohim's true name (in the proper meaning) is YHWH:

Shall a man make unto himself elohim, and they are no elohim? Therefore, behold, I will cause them to know, this once will I cause them to know My hand and My might; and they shall know that My name is YHWH  (Jeremiah, 16)

Therefore,  regarding the end of days the prophet says:

And YHWH shall be King over all the earth; in that day shall YHWH be One, and His name one (Zechariah, 14)

YHWH is always one, yet today his names (actions) are attributed to, or regarded as separate deities. On that day, when man realizes his mistake, all the names shall be one when they are attributed only to YHWH.

3. YHWH is Holy

Even more than the above two statements (Elohim and name –shem), the concept of holiness captures the idea that while YHWH is transcendent, He is present amongst us [5]. 'Holiness' is ascribed to anything which has been taken out of its original context and placed into another. In religious terms, holy is that that was placed in the context of the worship of YHWH.:

in the morning YHWH will show who are His, and who is holy, and will cause him to come near unto Him; even him whom He may choose will He cause to come near unto Him … and it shall be that the man whom YHWH chooses, he shall be holy (Numbers, 16)

and Aaron was separated, that he should be sanctified as most holy (Chronicles I, 23)

For now have I chosen and hallowed this house, that My name may be there for ever; and Mine eyes and My heart shall be there perpetually (Chronicles II, 7)

A person is holy from the mere fact that YHWH has chosen him and set him apart in order to draw him nearer. Thus being holy means to be chosen for the purpose of bringing nearer to YHWH. While the concept of choosing implies singling out and separation, it is not yet sanctification which consists of establishing a relationship. The singling out is just a prerequisite. The holy is separated, but it's holy only because it's near and close to YHWH.

Just as holiness, when ascribed to a person signifies their nearness to YHWH, thus YHWH's holiness attests to His nearness to His creation [6]:

And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and they that are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them; but shall stay upon YHWH, the Holy One of Israel, in truth (Isaiah, 10)

The humble also shall increase their joy in YHWH, and the neediest among men shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. (Ibid, 29)

Thus says YHWH, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am YHWH thy Elohim, who teaches thee for thy profit, who leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go (Ibid. 48)

I will not execute the fierceness of Mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim; for I am EL (singular form of Elohim), and not man, the Holy One in the midst of thee; and I will not come in fury (Hosea, 11)

The Holy One of Israel is basically synonymous with Elohim, which is the personal merciful deity.

The people of Israel are holy because YHWH has chosen them and redeemed them:

For thou art a holy people unto YHWH thy Elohim; YHWH thy Elohim hath chosen thee to be His own treasure, out of all peoples that are upon the face of the earth (Deuteronomy, 7)

This is a passive holiness – ascribed to the nation as a whole. Individuals, (possessing free will) are called upon to being holy by performing YHWH's commandments which draw them closer to YHWH. Active holiness is required as a response to YHWH's holiness because for a relationship to be established both persons must participate:

For I am YHWH your Elohim; sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am holy.. (Leviticus, 11)

Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy; for I am YHWH your Elohim. And keep ye My statutes, and do them: I am YHWH who sanctifies you…And ye shall be holy unto Me; for I YHWH am holy, and have set you apart from the peoples, that ye should be Mine. (Ibid, 20)

Because man's response is crucial for establishing a relationship,  YHWH cannot be truly holy without man's consciousness:

And ye shall keep My commandments, and do them: I am YHWH. And ye shall not profane My holy name; but I will be hallowed among the children of Israel: I am YHWH who hallows you. that brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your Elohim: I am YHWH. (Ibid, 22)



YHWH immanence is shown using three statements: Elohim, name (shem) and holiness. A careful analysis will show that most of these expressions are related to the Exodus, where "first contact" has been made:

and I will take you to Me for a people, and I will be to you Elohim; and ye shall know that I am YHWH your Elohim, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. (Exodus 6)

That caused His glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses. That divided the water before them, to make Himself an everlasting name. (Isaiah, 63)

For I am YHWH that brought you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your Elohim; ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy (Leviticus, 11)

From that point on it's somehow expected that man – especially Israel-  shall continue the relationship and in effect be YHWH's presence.

On the sevarah and kra axis (which I introduced in the previous post), the revelation that YHWH is immanent is kra. Men couldn't have achieved the knowledge that YHWH is accessible and caring had it not been revealed to them. The ordinary opinion (sevarah) dictated that YHWH is transcendent *.
However, kra hasn't completely pushed aside the sevarah. Man is called upon to continue the  YHWH's presence in the world, and Israel is entrusted with being YHWH's representative – His name. The means to continue the revelation is by doing YHWH's will through that being conscious that YHWH is Elohim and holy. The continued revelation is therefore dependant on mans intelligence – the updated sevarah. After the Exodus YHWH has been withdrawing back to His previous transcendence, leaving Israel to know him and proclaim his the name of YHWH the Everlasting El. 


* This is not the place to investigate the fact that in the Tanakh YHWH is self-evident. I hold the opinion that such investigation would increase our knowledge of YHWH even with the concepts we hold today.

[1] As I've commented in a previous post, the idea of transcendence should be use cautiously when studying Biblical Theology. I use it to pass the idea that YHWH is considered unapproachable and not identical with the world.

[2] Like REB I will use the Hebrew concepts. I find the use of "LORD" and "god" misleading. YHWH is not a first name of God and Elohim is not god. Rather, a more accurate translation should be God for YHWH; gods or provider for Elohim (according to context).

[3] As with the concept of transcendence, 'immanence' also should be used cautiously. As far as I know, the Tanakh doesn't advocate pantheism according to which the godhead and universe are identical and man is part of it. I use the concept 'immanence' to ascribe the fact that the deity is present in the world and exercises personal providence.

[4] I'm quite aware that the common translation holds 'I AM THAT I AM'. However, since YHWH is here to become relevant (by acquiring a name) He cannot engage in theological propositions with oppressed Hebrew slaves. Therefore to make a name for Himself he has to promise to be with the people. The Sages have captured this in their exegesis: 'I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE, God told Moses: tell Israel that I'M here with you in this subjugation, and I WILL be will you in the future Subjugations' (Berachot, 9b). Also see REB, God, Man and History pg. 171 stating that I AM is metaphysics and not religion which is concerned with God's place in history.

[5] A limited preview of the article by REB can be seen here

[6] REB explained that holiness for YHWH is being removed from His natural context, i.e. transcendence and drawn close to His creations.

אין תגובות:

הוסף רשומת תגובה


וְהַחָכְמָה, מֵאַיִן תִּמָּצֵא; וְאֵי זֶה, מְקוֹם בִּינָה.
אֱלֹהִים, הֵבִין דַּרְכָּהּ; וְהוּא, יָדַע אֶת-מְקוֹמָהּ.
אָז רָאָהּ, וַיְסַפְּרָהּ; הֱכִינָהּ, וְגַם-חֲקָרָהּ.
וַיֹּאמֶר, לָאָדָם--הֵן יִרְאַת אֲדֹנָי, הִיא חָכְמָה; וְסוּר מֵרָע בִּינָה. (איוב כח')