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What Is Hashem’s Name?


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Note to readers: This column is dedicated to the refuah sheleimah of Shlomo Eliezer ben Chaya Sarah Elka.

The Gemara in Kiddushin 71a says that when Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu (in this week’s parshah),zeh shemi l’olam, v’zeh zichri l’dor dor – this is my name forever, and this is my name for every generation” (Shemos 3:15), he was teaching Moshe two separate names of Hashem. Rashi explains there that this is derived from the fact that the pasuk does not say “zeh shemi v’zichri.” The Gemara says that Hashem told Moshe that He has both a name that is written and a name that is pronounced. Hashem’s written name is spelled “yud, kei, vav, kei” and His pronounced name is spelled alef, daled, vav, nun. (We will refer to this name as Adnus.)

The Brisker Rav explains that this drasha fits beautifully into the wording of the pasuk. The beginning of the pasuk, zeh shemi l’olam, refers to the written name of Hashem that is part of the written Torah – which has been and will always be around. The latter part of the pasuk, v’zeh zichri l’dor dor, is referring to the pronunciation of Hashem’s name – which is part of Torah she’be’al peh that is passed down from generation to generation.

The Brisker Rav offers another explanation as to how this drasha fits into the wording of the pasuk. In Pesachim 50 the Gemara’s drasha from the pasuk,bayom hahu yiheyeh Hashem echad, u’shemo echad” is that in Olam Haba we will read the shem Hashem as it is written. Therefore in the first part of the pasuk, which says zeh shemi l’olam, the reference is to the written name because that name will be used even in Olam Haba. The second part of the pasuk, which refers to the name that is pronounced, uses the words “l’dor dor” because it will only be in use in this world, not in the World to Come.

There is a machlokes whether Hashem’s name is considered a regular kri u’kesiv, where one thing is written but we say aloud a different word, or if the correct pronunciation of the written name that is spelled “yud, kei…” is pronounced as if it was written “alef, daled….” The Brisker Rav, in his sefer on the Rambam (Hilchos Avodah Zarah 2:7), says that the pronunciation of the spelling of the letters “yud, kei…” is not similar to a kri u’kesiv whereby the spelling has one pronunciation while we pronounce a different word. Rather, the correct pronunciation of the spelling of “yud, kei…” is Adnus.

The Rambam writes that if one blesses the shem hameforash (Hashem’s name) lashon sagi nahor (the opposite way), he is put to death by stoning. According to the Rambam, this applies to one who blesses the name Adnus. The Brisker Rav explains that this is because the name Adnus is the pronunciation of Hashem’s name.

The Chasam Sofer (hashmatos to teshuvos, Choshen Mishpat 192) disagrees with this. He writes that the name of Hashem, yud, kei…, is a kri u’kesiv, in which the spelling of the word is not pronounced; rather, a different word is recited in its place. The shem hameforash that is spelled “yud, kei…” is properly pronounced as it is written; but we do not pronounce it. We recite the name Adnus in its place as a reference to that name; it is not the actual pronunciation of the spelling of the word yud, kei… There is another name of Hashem that is spelled alef, daled…. We happen to use a different name of Hashem (Adnus) when pronouncing the name of yud, kei…. The reason why the Rambam writes that one who blesses the name Adnus is liable, as if he blessed Hashem’s name, is because there are two shemos hameforash – yud, kei, vav, kei and Adnus, which is written and pronounced alef, daled….

There is a machlokes regarding whether one is required to read a general kri u’kesiv by looking at the word or by heart. For example, the word is written as “yishgalenah” but is pronounced “yishkavenah” (Devarim 28:30). The Peri Megadim (Orach Chaim Eishel Avraham 141:9 and Mishbetzos Zahav 143:2) says that the ba’al kore need not look at the written word, for he is not reading that word; rather he is to recite the correct pronunciation by heart. The Shaarei Efraim (3:13) and Reb Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe Orach Chaim 1:32:6, and 3:43) say that one must look at the written word and recite a different word in its place.

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