The most mysterious and most intimate Name of God in Jewish tradition was written as four Hebrew letters that in Western transliteration are YHWH. This Name is especially closely connected with the liberation from Egypt, since it was revealed to Moses at the Burning Bush as the Name of God he could give to the Israelites in preparing them for their birth of freedom.
We do not know how the name was pronounced in Biblical days. The "YHWH" had no vowels. It certainly was not pronounced "Jehovah," and probably not "Yahweh."
When the letters on the scroll or book said YHWH, Jews have usually said aloud "Adonai," "my Lord," and most translations say "Lord." But this conveys a sense of God that is outside, above, dominating and not at all a sense of God as intimate, "in here," liberating. So in our generation some Jews have struggled toward a new way of understanding and translating YHWH.
Two aspects of the Name could help us understand it better. One is that these four letters draw on the letters for the past, present, and future of the verb "to be" so that this Name of God might mean "The One Who Was/Is/Will Be." Or they may represent the causative of the verb "to be": that is, "The One Who brings Being into being." Some translations have therefore used "The Eternal" or "Holy One of Being."
Another aspect of YHWH is that if we were to "pronounce" these four letters without any vowels — "Yyyyhhhhwwwwhhhh" — the pronunciation would be simply a breath. In this way, we not only mentally understand but bodily experience God as the One Who is the breath and gives the breath to us and to all life. What the trees breathe out, we breathe in; what we breathe out, the trees breathe in. As the Jewish prayer book says, "The breath of all that lives praises Your Name. "
Understanding the "YHWH" in this way means that it is truly universal – for the Breath exists in all languages and every life-form. Indeed, the breath in the sense of the balance of Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide and other gases in our atmosphere is exactly the aspect of our planet that is now most endangered, and its deformation most dangerous to all forms of life.
In accord with this aspect of the Name, we could simply pause to breathe whenever we come to YHWH, or we could translate it as "Breath of Life," or we could use as a substitute another of the ancient Names of God: "Yah," as in "Hallelu-yah," "Let us praise Yah."
This Haggadah prints this Name as YHWH. Readers may choose, therefore, how to say these letters. We would encourage readers to pause and breathe so as to have an inner sense of God within and all around them, God Who breathes into us the urge toward freedom.
Not only the Name of God but the form of blessing should be open, and can vary from one recitation to another, using heberew or not using it, perhaps adding not only English but other languages as well. Some possibilities: "Barukh atah Adonai elohenu melekh ha-olam .; Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe..." "Nivarekh et eyn-hachayyim ; We bless the Wellspring of Life " "We are thankful for the majesty of creation . . . " "We celebrate Life . . . " "We honor the breath, the sacred spirit...."
Haggadot.com is a project of Custom & Craft Jewish Rituals, Inc (EIN: 82-4765805), a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt California public benefit corporation. Your gift is tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.
Anyone you invite to collaborate with you will see everything posted to this haggadah and will have full access to edit clips.