Letter | God’s name is a breath
Abigail Pogrebin’s exploration of a group of rabbis’ conceptions of God is intriguing. Yet it leaves out some of the more transformative approaches, especially those deeply influenced by Eco-Judaism.
In my new book, Dancing in God’s Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion (Orbis, October 2020), I have explored one of the oldest biblical Names as really a way of seeing the world.
Moses heard that Name, “YHWH,” at the Burning Bush. In biblical writing it is not replaced by “Adonai” — Lord, and rarely connected with “Melekh” — King. Those were substitutions made by Rabbinic Judaism.
The Name never had vowels, and so was not “Yahweh,” nor ”Yahovah.” If one tries to pronounce it, what comes is simply a Breath. Its brilliance as a Name of God is that It alone, Breathing alone, is “spoken” in every human tongue. All the myriad names of God have breath as their root and nurture. And not only human languages but also every grass and tree, every frog and leopard. The interbreathing of oxygen and CO2 between animals and vegetation is what keeps all Earthly life alive.
As the Siddur teaches, “Nishmat kol chai tivarekh et-shimcha, YHWH elohenu” — The Breath of all life praises your Name, Yahhhh our God,” because the Name is the Breath of all life. In that phrase, “our God” does not mean the Jews’ God, nor the humans’ God, but the God of all living, breathing beings.
And in our era, when the entire web of life on Earth is threatened by the insistence of some human Carbon Pharaohs on choking us with more CO2 than all the trees and grasses can transmute to oxygen, what we call the “climate crisis” is a crisis in the very Name of God.
Naming God as “the Interbreathing Spirit of the word, Ruach Ha’Olam” is to see each being as unique, all interwoven into Echad, the One. No “Melekh,” no ruler, no subjugator.
Shalom, shanah tovah, shinui tov —
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Ph. D.