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Pronouncing the Name of G-d

Question: Why do we say “Ado-noi” instead of pronouncing the name of G-d as it is spelled – Yud- Hey-Vav and Hey. Is it written anywhere that we should not say G d’s actual name?

Answer: Thank you for a great question. You raise a very interesting and important point.

The Talmud learns the verse (Exodus 3; 15) “This is my name forever” (Hebrew word for ‘forever’ is ‘l’olam’) as if it were written, “This is my name to be hidden” (‘l’helem’). From here they derive the principle that we should not pronounce G-d’s name as it is written. The actual correct pronunciation of the name was only ever known by a few people in a generation, and only used in the Temple during services.

Nowadays we don’t even know the correct pronunciation, and those who try to read it are making a mistake. They don’t realize that the printers just put the vowels for ‘Ado-nai’ under the letters Yud-Heh to show how to read it (because occasionally it is supposed to be read as ‘Elo-him’ – in which case those vowels are used).

There is a deeper idea behind G-d’s name being hidden. The act of creating the world was an act of G-d hiding Himself. It is only because He is hidden within creation that we can exist and function – if we would actually see G-d directly not only would we have no free choice, but we would not even exist. However, if He had hidden Himself too much it would have been impossible for us to ‘find’ Him or relate to Him. Therefore He can be found within the hidden. This is represented by the one Name, which represents ‘the essence of G-d’ (as much as we can understand such a concept). All the other names of G-d are descriptions of His attributes, and all have meanings. The four-letter name somehow represents what G-d is in his relationship with the world.

I hope this answer helps
Rabbi Sedley

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