I was checking my email when the front desk called. There was a young man who wanted to speak with me. Of course, send him back.
A 5th grade boy walked into my office, clearly stirred. What’s up? After a moment…
He asked, How can I become holy enough to say God’s real name?
This was unexpected. Here’s where I took the conversation.
Why do you ask? What are you thinking about and feeling?
He’d been in Hebrew class and the teacher mentioned that YHWH– which Jews pronounce Adonai, isn’t what God’s name actually sounds like. Only very holy people are allowed to say God’s real name.
After some careful listening I explained that in ancient times the high priest would say God’s real name once a year– on the holiest day and in the holiest place (Yom Kippur, Holy of Holies). The bad news is that we no longer have a high priest or a Holy of Holies and nobody knows how to pronounce God’s real name. The good news…
We have many names for God. Some of them are very old, coming from the Torah and the Talmud. Some of them are newer, names that we have made up. But they aren’t proper names like you and I have. They’re actually names that describe different attributes or aspects of God. We call God “King of the Universe” and “Guardian of Israel” but we also call God “The Healer” “The Giver” (the 5th grader’s example) “The One who hears our prayers” and many other names. We even call God, “The Place.”
About “The Place” I explained– and now this strange name makes sense to me. When you came into my office with your profound and beautiful question you transformed my office into a place that was filled with the spirit of God. “The Place”– that’s a name that describes God’s capacity to transform the mundane into the sacred without any warning or notice. “The Place” is our undeniable experience of the transformative presence that some of us call God.
I ended by pointing out that many people have lots of names for God and many people have no names for God. The more names we have for God, the more likely it is that God will be a meaningful and inspirational concept in our lives, that God will be “M’kor Ha’bracha” (“A Source of Blessing”).