Names of G-d, part 3

Dear Friends,

There continue to be a number of follow-up questions from the readers on our discussion of the Names of G-d. I will present to you one of them today:

Dear Rabbi:

A friend forwarded your thought-provoking article about erasing the name of G-d. I have a related question and would love your take on it:

I am in a study group reading Tehillim [Psalms] with a group of Orthodox women who say “Hashem” instead of “G-d.” My grandfather, who was also Orthodox, used the word G-d and was the one who taught me to put the dash in between the other letters as the whole universe fits in that space (as G-d is everything and everywhere). They said we should never say G-d as it is taking G-d’s name in vain.

I argued that that word is the highest, most beautiful and most powerful word in the English language. How could it possibly be used in vain (in our study context, not yelled with cursing)?

Please advise as we would all love to know your opinion on this. Wishing you a beautiful and peaceful Shabbat.

With gratitude,

Lorraine Friedman

Dear Lorraine,

It’s great that you are engaged in a Tehillim study group! That’s such a wonderful thing!

Although we are very careful not to take G-d’s Name in vain, you are correct that, when appropriate, it is a beautiful thing to be able to mention His Name. When one properly concentrates on the Name and its meaning, to pronounce the Name is a very uplifting, exhilarating experience which elevates the person and the prayer or study being done.

In practice, while praying, reciting Tehillim as a prayer or praise or when singing the Shabbos Zemiros (songs sung at the Shabbos table) and the like, it is appropriate to mention the Name of G-d when it appears, rather than saying “Hashem” (Hebrew for “the Name”).

When studying Psalms and the like, the common practice is to mention the Name of G-d when one reads an entire verse.

When, however, one reads the verse word by word, translating or explaining each word before going on, so that the entire verse is not read at one time, then we customarily will say “Hashem” when the Name of G-d appears in the verse. (I say “customarily,” because strictly speaking even in that case the Name could be mentioned, but that is where we are a bit more careful. Many Sephardic rabbis will say the Name of G-d even during studies and even without reading the entire verse.)

Best of luck and success in your studies!

Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is dean of DATA–Dallas Area Torah Association.

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