Names of God Series 4
Ascending the Tree of Life In Kabbalah: Key to Your Inner Power, Elizabeth Clare Prophet writes:
Thirteenth-century Kabbalist Joseph Gikatilla describes the names of God as keys for your mystic ascent up the Tree of Life, each one capable of opening another gate of light and another dimension of God's vast consciousness.
Here, we explore the mysteries of the divine names, including some of Gikatilla's insights into the significance and purpose of each name.
Gikatilla examines the names of God corresponding to the sefirot in ascending order, starting with the last sefirah, Malkhut, and moving to the first, Keter. He does not explain why he takes this approach, but Moshe Idel, in his introduction to Gates of Light, concludes that it is because Gikatilla advocated a mystical ascent, or return, through the sefirot.
Our ascent up the Tree of Life begins with the lowest sefirah, Malkhut. The name of God associated with Malkhut is Adonai. Adonai is the plural form of Adon (“Lord”), which was used in ordinary speech as a title of respect when addressing a superior.
When applied to God, Adonai is a title of honor that denotes God's absolute lordship. Although Adonai literally means “my Lords,” it is translated as “Lord.”
Gikatilla says that Adonai is the name of God that is “closest to all created things.” Adonai is “the great provider of Creation” who “governs all creatures, gives life and death, bequeaths and enriches, brings low and exalts, makes sick and heals.” He also says that the wise draw their wisdom from Adonai.
Yesod—El Hai and Shaddai
The names of God that Kabbalists associate with Yesod are El Hai (“Living God”) and Shaddai (“Almighty”). The patriarchs knew God by the name El Shaddai, meaning “God Almighty.” When God appeared to Abraham to announce that he would make his covenant with him, he said, “I am El Shaddai; walk before me, and be thou perfect.”
Gikatilla says that El Shaddai is known as “the Fount of living waters” because it sustains all creatures. El Shaddai is also “responsible for the prevention of tribulation.”
Gikatilla relates the name El Hai to eternal life and repentance.
The person who wants to reach eternal life should cleave to El Hai ….
…[ El Hai ] stands ready to be merciful and do the bidding of all who ask when the person intends to mend and improve his ways….
The Shrine which is called El Hai has a place which is called the Gates of Tears, and God Himself opens these gates three times a day. For the penitent, these are the gates where they take consolation and repent their evil deeds. For when the penitent prays, cries and lets tears fall in his prayers, his prayer and his cries enter the Gates of Tears.
Elohim Tzevaot (“God of hosts”) is the divine name associated with Hod. The divine name associated with Netzah is YHVH Tzevaot (“Lord of hosts”), which Jews vocalize as Adonai Tzevaot because they are forbidden to pronounce YHVH. Tzevaot means “hosts” or “armies.” It is sometimes written in English as Sabaoth.
When Tzevaot is attached to either Elohim or YHVH, it depicts God as the supreme commander over all heavenly and earthly forces–the God who is transcendent, exalted and omnipotent. In the Old Testament, YHVH Tzevaot is the divine warrior and leader of the armies of Israel and is linked with the judgment of Israel and her neighboring nations.
When David faced Goliath, he said with confidence in the power of his God, “Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts [YHVH Tzevaot], the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied.”
Elohim Tzevaot is the name of God used frequently by the prophets, and Gikatilla says that the prophets draw their prophecies from both Netzah and Hod.
“There are places in these Shrines [of Netzah and Hod],” he says, “from which all masters of wisdom nurse their ability to enter and achieve the intrinsic hidden heavenly truths, and gain access to visions, prophecy and dreams.”
The name of God that Kabbalists associate with Tiferet is designated in Hebrew by the consonants YHVH (yod, heh, vav, heh) . These four letters are known as the Tetragrammaton, the Greek word meaning “four letters.”
YHVH is considered to be the greatest name of God—the name from which all other names spring. It is also the name of God most frequently used in the Old Testament.
English versions of the Old Testament generally translate YHVH as “Lord” (with the ord in small capital letters) or as “Jehovah,” although Jehovah is an erroneous pronunciation of YHVH.
The scene is Mount Sinai, where Moses is tending his father-in-law's flock. God calls to Moses out the midst of the bush that burns but is not consumed and promises that he will deliver the Israelites from their Egyptian taskmasters.
He tells Moses that he is sending him to Pharaoh, for he has chosen Moses to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses says, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh?” But God assures Moses that he will be with him. Then Moses says to God:
“Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel and shall say unto them, ‘The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you,’ and they shall say to me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say unto them?”
And God [ Elohim ] said unto Moses, “I AM THAT I AM” [ Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh ]. And he said, “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: ‘I AM [ Ehyeh ] hath sent me unto you.’”
And God said moreover unto Moses, “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, ‘The Lord [ YHVH ], the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you’: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.”
The last phrase has also been translated as “By this name I shall be invoked for all generations to come” and “This is how I am to be addressed for generations to come.” Although these translations indicate that God intended us to invoke him by his name YHVH , no one is sure how YHVH should be pronounced or even what it means.
Some scholars say it comes from the verb “to speak” and therefore means “he who speaks,” which emphasizes YHVH’s revelatory role. Other commentators say that YHVH is connected with the Hebrew word for “to be,” or “I am.” In this sense, the root “I am” can be taken to mean either “I am here, ready to help” or, in its causative form, “I cause to be”—that is, “I create; I cause to be what happens; I am the God who shapes history.”
However, according to Jewish tradition, the name YHVH was so sacred that only the priests knew how to pronounce it. Eventually, during the period after the exile in Babylon, its pronunciation was lost.
Some sources tell us that the rabbis guarded the correct pronunciation of YHVH because the people had misused it or because they feared that the people would eventually do so. Maimonides, for instance, says that YHVH was “no longer uttered in the sanctuary on account of the corruption of the people.”
He claims that “the greatness of this name and the prohibition against pronouncing it are due to its being indicative of the essence of [God].” In other words, the name YHVH has such awesome power because it embodies the pure, undiluted, undifferentiated essence of God.
Based on references to the pronunciation of YHVH preserved in the writings of the church fathers Theodoret and Origen, scholars believe it was probably originally pronounced as Yahweh (YAH-weh or YAH-way) or Yahveh (YAH-veh or YAH-vay). But Jews, including Kabbalists, still consider the name YHVH to be too sacred to pronounce. When praying they substitute Adonai in its place.
In Gates of Light, Gikatilla says that the real reason it is customary to say Adonai in place of YHVH is that Adonai (the divine name associated with Malkhut ) is the storehouse for the treasures of God, the palace where YHVH dwells, and the opening through which one enters to reach God.
For Kabbalists, the name YHVH is a key to the mystic ascent, and they formulated several meditations based on the symbolism of its letters.
Isaac of Acco teaches that the secret to cleaving to God and being protected from evil is to meditate on YHVH by seeing those letters in one's mind's eye while keeping one's heart focused on Ein Sof. Another Kabbalist taught that those who meditate on and cleave to the name YHVH are filled with happiness, strength, joy and vitality.
To the Kabbalist, the Tetragrammaton, YHVH, represents the different aspects of the sefirot. Yod stands for the father (active) principle and represents Keter and Hokhmah . Heh stands for the mother (passive/receptive) principle and represents Binah.
The union of father and mother produces vav, the Son. Vav also stands for six sefirot , Hesed through Yesod. The final heh represents Malkhut, known as the daughter, bride or lower mother.
Elohim is the name of God that Kabbalists associate with Gevurah. In the Old Testament, Elohim is the generic term for the Deity. It is a plural word, but when used as a name for God it is singular in meaning. For example, in the opening chapter of Genesis we read: “And God [Elohim] said: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.'”
Scholars say Elohim may be derived from one of several root words, including those meaning “powerful,” “strong” or “foremost,” giving Elohim the meaning “the Strong One,” “the Mighty One” or “the Foremost One.” Those roots all indicate that the name Elohim expresses the fullness of God’s powers and describes a God who presides over all other gods.
Elohim and YHVH are the two chief names of God used in the Old Testament. YHVH is used in situations that refer to God’s covenant with his people and is the name that shows God's personal, redemptive nature.
Elohim refers to God in his role as Creator and Governor of the universe who rules the affairs of men and controls nature. Puzzled over why Elohim was used in certain passages of the Old Testament and YHVH in others, rabbis concluded that Elohim stands for the attribute of justice and YHVH stands for the attribute of mercy.
Gikatilla affirms that Elohim represents justice and judgment. Elohim “takes revenge against the wicked who rebel against YHVH,” he says.”
Gikatilla advises us never to be brazen in the face of the judgments of Elohim:
If a plague, a disease or death comes to an individual, he should not be brazen before the Heavenly Court and Elohim, which is the place of true justice.
There is great wisdom in these words, for we never know when a hardship or challenge that comes our way is our opportunity to balance negative karma for an unjust act we performed in this life or a past life.
That is one reason we are still on earth today—we have to pay off all our accounts and to comfort those whom we have burdened. We are learning to love and serve those to whom we owe a karmic debt so that both they and we are free to accelerate on our respective spiritual paths.
Elohim is not only the dispenser of divine punishment but also the giver of life. Gikatilla writes:
Elohim is known to some Kabbalists as the essence of the consuming fire,…but this attribute may do exactly the opposite with the same simple force. This power can bring death or life on the one hand; it can, however, annihilate or sustain, make ill or heal, and all this is contained within one attribute with one pattern. It is from this power that all messengers from above must have permission to complete the judgments that have been decreed on humanity: for life or death, to destroy or sustain, to wound or to heal, all are contained in this attribute.
The name of God associated with Hesed is El, the Hebrew word translated as “God.” El was the common name for a god in ancient Near Eastern cultures. It may come from a root meaning “to be strong” or “power,” connoting not only might but authority and transcendence.
In the Old Testament, the term El is often combined with adjectives, resulting in names like El Elyon (the Most High God), El Hai (the Living God), El Shaddai (God Almighty) and El Olam (God Everlasting).
El occurs by itself frequently in the Book of Job and other biblical poetry. We can see the importance of this name in ancient Israel by the fact that the name Israel (meaning “he strives with God”) is a compound that includes the divine name El.
El, says Gikatilla, is “absolute mercy” that descends to save us. “In times of trouble the saints and the pious would hasten to pray and direct their thoughts to the attribute El, ” thus saving the world from “many kinds of tribulation.” Gikatilla says that El saves those who have been sentenced from their punishment.
The name of God associated with Binah is YHVH, vocalized as Elohim. As I said earlier, Kabbalah teaches that the names of God are keys to understanding the secret meaning of the Bible. Since Elohim appears in the first three words of Genesis, Kabbalists say this passage reveals something about Binah .
According to the Zohar, those opening words of the Old Testament, “ Bereshit bara Elohim ” (“In the beginning God created”), are not about the creation of the world but about the creation of Binah.
The Zohar says “ Bereshit bara Elohim ” really means: By means of the Beginning [a code name for Hokhmah ], the hidden emanator [ Ein Sof or Keter ] created Elohim [a code name for Binah ].
Gikatilla says that Binah , the Supernal Mother, merits the whole name YHVH because she delivers blessing to all the sefirot . Binah is also “the essence of redemption, freedom and many other kinds of salvation.”
In his section on Binah, Gikatilla again stresses that the activity of the sefirot is largely dependent on our actions. When we fulfill the law and perform good deeds, Binah brings blessing and favor to all the sefirot.
This in turn causes Malkhut / Shekhinah to dwell among us and to bestow God's blessings upon us. But if we are disobedient, Binah removes herself and God's light ceases to flow to the earth.
The name of God associated with Hokhmah is Yah . Saadia Gaon, a tenth-century Jewish scholar, translates Yah as “the Eternal.” Maimonides says that the name Yah implies “eternal existence.”
Yah is an abbreviation of YHVH that is made up of the Hebrew letters yod and heh, and some scholars believe that Yah may be an older form of YHVH. Yah was combined with proper names, as in the name Isaiah, which means “ Yah or Yahu is salvation.”
According to the Zohar, “All is included in [Yah] : those that are above and those that are below. In it the six hundred and thirteen commandments of the Torah, which are the essence of the supernal and terrestrial mysteries, are included–the essence of the Masculine world above and of the Feminine world below.”
Leo Schaya interprets this to mean that “when this name is invoked sincerely, then it is as though one were carrying out all the commandments of the Jewish religion.”
In the Bible, Yah is found chiefly in poetry, where it is often used in the phrase Hallelujah (Hallelu-yah), meaning “praise Yah.” For instance, the final verse of the last Psalm proclaims, “Let every thing that hath breath praise Yah [the Lord]! Hallelujah [Praise ye the Lord]!”
“This name [Yah] compassionately forgives and compensates for the inadequacy of man in relation to the divine will,” writes Schaya.
The realm of mercy is the key to miracles and wonders, writes Gikatilla. Just as the world is renewed from the realm of mercy, so the righteous who direct their prayers to that realm can “renew signs and wonders in the world with their prayers, thereby changing the world’s natural routine.”
Kabbalists also call Hokhmah “ Ratzon, ” or “Will.” All the miracles and wonders performed in the time of the prophets and the Talmudic sages were possible “because their prayers could reach the source of Ratzon,” says Gikatilla.
“The one whose prayer reaches the source of Ratzon may have limitless supply of all his needs….He who has the key in his hand can get from that room anything he wishes.”
Keter—Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh
The name of God associated with Keter (Crown) is Ehyeh (“I AM”) or Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh (“I AM THAT I AM”). Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh has also been translated as “I am who I am,” “I am what I am” or “I will be what I will be.”
To me Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means: “I AM Being. I will reveal myself in the unfolding of events. For you cannot know me as pure Being; you can only know me as I make myself known to you through my actions.”
Gikatilla says that Keter encompasses different kinds of mercy and compassion. God used the names “I AM” and “I AM THAT I AM” when he spoke to Moses out of the burning bush and gave him the commission to lead the Israelites to the promised land. Gikatilla says that the people were not fit for redemption at that time, but God’s bountiful mercy saved them.
When Malkhut receives the blessings that come from Ehyeh, “all heavenly and earthly creatures of the world are filled with rejoicing and tranquility, and the world will be filled with peace and friendship.”
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh (I AM THAT I AM) is more than a sacred name. It is an empowerment. It is a scientific formula. When you recite that name with faith and love, God releases his energy as a stupendous waterfall of light to heal mind, heart and soul.
To me “I AM THAT I AM” means simply but profoundly “as above, so below.” God is affirming, “I am here below that which I AM above.” When you say, “I AM THAT I AM,” you are affirming that God is where you are. In effect, you are saying: “As God is in heaven, so God is on earth within me. Right where I stand, God is. I am that ‘I AM.’”
These names of God are keys for your mystic ascent up the Tree of Life. Each name is capable of opening another gate of light and another dimension of God's vast consciousness.
“We have given you ten keys for connecting [the sefirot],” writes Gikatilla at the conclusion of Gates of Light. “With them you can open many gates, sealed with many locks.”
“Now that we have the keys in hand,” says Elizabeth Clare Prophet, “Let's explore how the creative power of sound and enhance our work with God's names.”
The above article is excerpted from Kabbalah: Key to Your Inner Power by Elizabeth Clare Prophet. [Editor's note: Please refer to the print edition for extensive footnotes, figures and annotations.]