© 2020 by Rabbi Zvi Aviner
IDOLATRY-3/Know Me by These Names
Know your CREATOR, know yourself, and k now the difference
Let’s summarize where we are in our study
- We are studying the IDOLATRY Commandment, the first of Noah’s Seven.
- Adam received it among the the first six in Eden. Noah, after the Flood, supported them and Moses, on Sinai, repeated them to Israel in the Ten Commandments. By this, Moses made IDOLATRY Commandment applicable to the Children of Noah and the Children of Israel.
- Every Commandment has two sides – a Negative part which is a prohibition, telling us what not to do, and a Positive side which tells us what is expected from us to do. The Negative part of the IDOLATRY Commandment, is given by Moses in the the Second of his Ten Commandments as a list of all possible idols which we should NOT worship
- The Positive aspect of IDOLATRY Commandment is presented by Moses in the First of the Ten Commandments. There it says “I Am LORD your GOD Who took you out of Egypt Land”.It presents GOD, whom we should know and worship.
- Moses does not leave us a neutral option of not worshiping anyone. He knows well that Man is born to either worship GOD or the idols. .
- The Positive part may be seen as in INTRODUCTION or as a COMMANDMENT, the first of the Ten. According toe Maimonides, it commands on us to do our best to get to Believe in GOD and to Know Him. “To believe” means to develop a faith in Him, whereas “to know” means to know Him for sure, as humanly possible .
- Maimonides carves out two roads to achieve that goal: Study Science, and Study Torah. One road is not enough.
- We’ll follow his advice and see whether or not one can arrive at KNOWING that God exists! .
1: Know me by these Names
To understand Moses’ First Commandment let’s read it again: Ii says
The First of the Ten Commandment
”I Am the LORD your GOD
Who took you out of Egypt land.”
The Second of the Ten Commandments
”Thou shall not have another G-d, over my face,
“Thou shall not make yourself any carved statue or any image
of anything in the Heavens above and in the Earth underneath,
and in the waters that are under the Earth.
Thou shall not bow to them and shall not serve them…” (Exodus 20:1
You see here Man torn apart between believing in GOD (the upper part) or believing in the idols (the lower part) . Moses does no leave a “neutral option” of believing in no one. Man is destined to stand that challenge. Man is built to be attracted to something- either to the idols, or to GOD. Let him better be attracted to GOD.
As we’ve said, the First, Positive Commandment of Sinai obliges us – Maimonides says – to do our best to arrive at Believing in GOD and Knowing Him. It is a process, a road to take, that may require life long studying. Studying Nature, and the Torah.
“To Know” – we’ve said- means to arrive at a level of being sure about GOD’s existence. But it also means TO KNOW AND UNDERSTAND HIM BY THESE NAMES. To comprehend Him by the Names and the Way He has chosen to present Himself here. This knowledge is not left to scholars or theologians, but to every person, an Israelite or a Noahide.
What Names? What way?
The Names and the way He appears in the First Commandment. Here they are:
1. I Am
2. LORD your GOD
3. Who took you out of Egypt
In line 1 – “I AM” – the Speaker presents His SELF
In line 2– “LORD your GOD”- the Speaker presents His Names. Titles or ATTRIBUTES
In line 3– “Who took you out..”.- the Speaker describes His Deeds, Actions, His Kingship.
As an illustration, suppose I enter your classroom and say: Hi –
- I Am my (self)
- Rabbi Dr Zvi Aviner ( my attributes)
- And I teach Torah (my deeds)
I have chosen my presentation carefully.
When I said “My name is Rabbi Dr” I chose my titles carefully. I selected “Rabbi” before Dr. because to you, in this Torah class., the title Rabbi is more important than Dr. It infers that I am qualified to teach you Torah. .I also added Dr. to infer that besides Torah I’ve studies science enough to talk also about it.
To my patients in my clinic, I’d place the title Dr. before Rabbi, or omit the rabbi altogether. They are not affected by it. .
Hence choosing the titles and their order is important, for it send a messages to a specific audience.
Note also that once I’ve chosen a specific way to introduce my self, ignoring it or changing it would be improper. If despite my words a student addresses me by the first name alone, or changing the order, it would be rude, improper and would breach in my authority.
Distorting my titles would not only be rude, but wold betray ignorance of their meaning. Saying “Roobi” instead of Rabbi would mean that the person is unaware of what a rabbi means. Calling me “docturi” instead of Doctor would betray ignorance of that the title doctor means. .
Same in regard to the Names that GOD has chosen for Himself. They were chosen carefully, sending us specific messages that can’t be ignored or overlooked. . .
Similarly, when I presented myself as “I teach Torah in the Noahide Virtual Yeshiva” I sent you the message that I’ve been trusted by your board to teach here. This is my deeds, what I do.
So what are the Titles LORD and GOD, exactly?
LORD your GOD
As a rule, throughout the entire Bible,
LORD is always the English substitute for the Hebrew acronym Y*H*V*H
GOD is the English substitute for the Hebrew EeLoHiM
What is the meaning of these Hebrew Names?
Y*H*V*H (LORD) stands for the Attribute of MERCY, COMPASSION and FORGIVENESS
EeLoHiM (GOD) stands for the Attribute of Judgment., the All Mighty JUDGE
Thus the First Commandment actually says in Hebrew
- Y*H*V*H your EeLoHiM
- Who took you out of Egypt Land
- I Am
- the Merciful, your All Mighty Judge
- who took you out of Egypt
Suppose I run for an office as a judge, and I say to you: Vote for me, because
- I Am
- merciful, compassionate yet truthful judge
- I have worked for you as a district prosecutor
Vote for me, I say, for I am a tough, truthful judge who knows the law, who seeks the truth , yet I am also compassionate and merciful when needed. As for my credentials – you know me from the time I served as a prosecutor in your district.
The point is: had I said vote for me as a judge because I am merciful and compassionate, I am full of love to all human beings. Had I said that you’d probable reject me saying : Oh,you are a wonderful man, but we need someone tough around here to persecute criminals and punish them as they deserve! .
On the other hand, had I said: Vote for me because I am tough with criminals and I”Il punish them harshly as they deserve, to the letter of the law. I’ll not let mercy and compassion soften my heart and interfere. Had I said that, you’d most likely reject me saying that you need a judge who would be more compassionate.
The best judge is the one who can mix mercy and Justice.
In fact, the best judge would first find out the sheer facts and the truth about the case. A judge who would first gather evidences, hear the witness, go down to the field to see and investigate the facts. A judge who knows the laws and the proper retributions.
Only then the judge would see how much mercy and compassion and forgiveness may be applied towards. Then the judge would issue the verdict. .
In the first Commandment, the Speaker -GOD – presents Himself as an Heavenly Court. He would first act as EeLoHiM and seek only the absolute truth, the mere facts. Only then He would change His measures, act as Y*H*V*H and apply Mercy, Compassion and Forgiveness.
The order is important- first ELKM, then YHVH.
Going back to my example- I said vote for me for I am merciful, seeking justice. I presented my attribute “merciful” since you’d love it, knowing that the final word would be left for mercy.
In the same way, the Speaker in the Ten Commandments says “I Am YHVH your GOD” sending us the message that the Merciful Attribute YHVH would speak last. Mercy prevails.
Remember- YHVH and EeLoHiM are not different gods but different Attributes. The same as my titles Rabbi and Dr. are not describing two different persons but different titles. Sometime I act as a Rabbi and sometimes as a Doctor, yet I am the same SELF. In the same token, the Infinite “I Am” (SELF) of the CREATOR may act as a harsh JUDGE, or as a MERCIFUL Y*H*V*H.
The I Am is “above” the Attributes , since the SELF issues the final verdict.
Note that the acronym Y*H*V*H – as we’ll see in details- is pronounced as an acronym, latter by letter. It is the same as you’d pronounce CBS, ABC, CNN, letter by letter. No distortion is allowed.
Why at the top of the Tablets?
The First Commandment presents, as you see, the Heavenly Court. The Speaker tells how He would exercise Judgement against violators of the Ten Commandments . The violators would face a Court that follows the rule of YHVH EeLoHiM, Mercy and Justice.
This is holds true for the rest of the Torah. The Laws are harsh, and their violators would face EeLoHiM who seeks the absolute Truth. But the Court would then apply MERCY and Forgiveness as it finds appropriate.
Henceforth, whenever you read a Bible text, pay attention to the Speaker. Is it Y*H*V*H? Is is ELKM? Each Attribute usually Speaks out its own angle.
Thus, Who chased Adam and Eve out of Eden?
Who pardoned Cain?
Who brought the Flood?
Who toppled the Tower of Babylon?
Who overturned Sodom?
Who told Abraham not to sacrifice Isaac?
Whose voice did Israel hear at Mount Sinai?
It will open your eyes!!!
An important implications: the language of blessings
In the First of the Ten Commandments, we’ve said. the Speaker instructs us how He wishes to be known and ADDRESSED.
The Rabbis (in Ezra time, 500 B.C.) therefore instituted that the language of all our blessings would follow the platform presented by the Commandment. Thus they coined the blessing for bread as follows:
The structure of the first Commandment is
- I Am (SELF)
- LORD (YHVH) your GOD (ELKM) (Attributes)
- Who took you out of Egypt Land (Kingship. This is what I did for you)
Against which the rabbis instituted the blessing for bread:
- You (against I Am)
- Lord (AaDdoNai) our GOD (EeLoKiM) (Attributes)
- The King of the Universe, who’s brought bread out of the ground (Kingship. what He did for me)
The Hebrew AaDoNai means My Lord (my Landlord, my Owner, which is a substitute for YHVH as proposed by Abraham. we’ll study this point later in due course)
It is OK for Noahides to recite a Blessing using LORD and GOD as long it is understood that LORD is only an honorable substitute for YHVH, the Attribute of Mercy, and GOD means the All Mighty JUDGE.
Now what are the Names YHVH and ELKM exactly? For that we need to go to – where else – to the miraculous Chapter One of Genesis.