Hashem: The Name…why is G-d referred to by this Name by the Jewish people
If you spend time around observant Jews, you probably know that Hashem, literally “The Name,” is a common way to refer to God. Why do people use this appellation?
True, on one hand it is forbidden to pronounce the actual four-letter name of God (Yud Heh Vav Hey). But a deeper reason for saying “Hashem” is because that is the essence of our relationship with God. To explain:
Nobody walks around calling themselves by their own name. I don’t say, “Jon is going to eat breakfast and then Jon will go to work.” Rather I would say, “I’m going to eat breakfast and then I’ll go to work.” The only people who talk about themselves in the third person (and get away with it) are egocentric athletes, politicians, etc. Even in English we call it “third person” — not first, not even second, but third. It suggests a distancing from an intimate relationship.
A handle is not the essence.
A name essentially only exists for the benefit of the outsider. People don’t identify themselves by their names — that’s why names are also called “handles.” As in, your AIM or Google-chat handle. (Anyone remember CB radios?) A handle is something outside the very essence of the thing, but exists so that other people can hold it. A coffee mug has a handle — not to contain the coffee (the mug’s real purpose), but so that you can have a relationship with the mug which allows you to partake in its coffee.
Human beings are no different. We don’t have a big relationship between our identity and our name, but other people do. An indication of this is how we can meet someone that shares our name, and have a very clear separation between us and them. I have a very good friend named Jon. In fact, when I think of the name Jon, I don’t think of myself. I think of him!
So why do we say “Hashem?” If names are there to help those who say it and not the person or object being named, then why don’t we call God by His true name (YKVK)? Why the distant appellation, “The Name”?
The name you choose to call someone by indicates the relationship you have with them. Knowing God is infinite should humble us and remind us of the endless limitations we have as humans. The four-letter name of God (YKVK) that is written in our prayers is never pronounced phonetically because that name represents the infinite aspect of God which is beyond human comprehension. That name is really a combination of three Hebrew words: Haya, Hoveh and Yeheyeh – past, present, and future. The idea isn’t just that God was is and always will be, but that He transcends time. In other words, God exists in the past, present and future — simultaneously.
Being stuck in a finite world, this is something we cannot fully comprehend, but the concept of God being Infinite is something so powerful and humbling that just saying “Hashem” (The Name) helps us do two things: One, it evokes awe by reminding us of the infinity of God as reflected in the four-letter Name; and two, it distances us from this concept to remind us of our own limitations.
Reminding ourselves of our own limitations is a great thing. It brings us to rely on that which does not have limitations, namely God. Healthy dependence is a great way to build a relationship which, after all, is the essence of our job here on Earth — to forge a relationship with the Creator.
Intimacy through Names
Imagine a city in the middle of a war. The dirt flying in the air. Missiles overhead. Everything in chaos. The smell of chemicals permeating the thick fog that has become the sky and civilians running through the streets in confusion, in panic — a living nightmare.
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