Parashat Vaera: What’s in a Name?

The Quest for Authenticityby Rabbi Herzl Hefter

2 And God spoke to Moses and said to him: “I am the LORD. 3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty (El Shaddai), but by My name LORD (YHVH) I was not known to them.

The Divine name El-Shaddai has a number of possible meanings.

1)      Nachmanides – the root of shaddai is ‘shadad’ (שדד) meaning ‘might’. He who defeats the laws of nature.  Hence the common translation of El-Shaddai as “God Almighty.”

2) “Shad” (שד) – breast; the aspect of God’s personality (so to speak) which we perceive as the  Omnipotent Sustainer.

3) Maimonides in the Guide (I ch. 63) The letter “shin” is the prefix contraction of the word “asher”, “that”. She – Dai.  That [which] is sufficient. This means that God’s existence is self-sufficient.

R. Simcha Bunim of Przysucha (1765–1827), one of the great Hasidic masters in Poland, put forth a fascinating possibility.  Utilizing the same form as the Rambam, She-dai, he explains that there is sufficient revelation of God in the world to recognize His existence. There is just enough of Me in the world to know Me.

Sufficient; only just enough.  This indicates the precarious nature of creation.  Too much Divine revelation and we lose our independent identities.  We have the children of Israel at Sinai beseeching Moshe to protect them from the all-consuming Presence of God.   On the other hand, too little Divine revelation and we have a world which is both deaf and dumb, devoid of meaning or the possibility of redemption.

The German philosopher,  Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716) writes that God created the best of all possible worlds. According to R. Simcha Bunim, God created the only possible world.

This only possible world teeters  perilously  between faith and skepticism, hope and despair, existence and annihilation, God’s at once comforting and disquieting Presence and His terrifying absence.  Only in the world of El-Shaddai, where belief in God cannot be taken for granted and atheism is possible can faith be meaningful.

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