י ה ו ה
The Secret Letter in the Name Yahweh
The Torah is full of hidden teachings. These include the secret of the name Yahweh, the origins of the Kabbalah, the metaphysics of the fire sacrifice, the secret of the blasphemer, the truth about Moses’ sin at the rock in Kadeish, the secret of the red heifer sacrifice, and much more. But among these hidden teachings of the Torah, the secret of the name Yahweh is the key.
The Torah’s primary name for God is yhvh (yud-hei-vov-hei), which is usually rendered in English as Yahweh, Jehovah,
or the “Lord.” Other names for God that appear in the Torah include Shaddai, Elohim,
and El. Oddly, however, the Zohar (13th century c.e.)
asserts that there is a Hebrew letter dalet (“d”) hidden
in the name yhvh (Yahweh). (For more detail on the Zohar’s allegorical explication of the name yhvh, click here.) The Zohar is not
some marginal source that we can lightly dismiss; rather, it is the leading text of the Jewish mystical tradition,
widely accepted by Jews of every denomination. Moreover, the Hebrew letter hei (“h”), which is the last letter of the name yhvh (Yahweh),
is drawn using the letters dalet (“d”) and yud (“y”), but compressing those letters together into a single letter, the yud
thereby becoming the left leg of the hei:
Therefore, the Hebrew letter hei (“h”) can be read as dalet-yud (“dy”),
and when the Zohar asserts that the name yhvh contains a hidden
letter dalet, it is really saying that the name yahweh is yehewdy (i.e.,
Yehudi), which means “Jew” or “Judean.”
Too incredible to accept? The Torah itself confirms this great secret when Moses instructs the Israelites: “[If you are righteous,] all the peoples of the earth will see that the name yhvh is proclaimed on you, and they will revere you.&rdquo (Deuteronomy 28:10, italics added; see also Numbers 6:27; Isaiah 43:7; Jeremiah 14:9; 2 Chronicles 7:14.) And in other places, scripture is more subtle. Many verses in the Torah refer to “raising the hand” in an oath or in a blessing or to work a miracle. The Hebrew word for “hand” is yad, which is written in Hebrew the same way as the name of the Hebrew letter yud. (For more detail on this “hand” that is really a Hebrew letter “yud,” click here.) Hence, all these passages that refer to “raising the hand” are alternatively translated as “raising the yud,” meaning raising up the letter yud that is concealed in the second hei of the name yhvh. When that yud is raised up, the secret name Yehudi is revealed. Thus, these passages convey, by way of a pun that is meaningful only to a trained scribe, the secret of the name yhvh.
yhvh declares, for example: “I raised my yud to the offspring of the House of Jacob and made myself known to them in the land of Egypt, I raised my yud for them, saying, ‘I am yhvh, your God.’ ” (Ezekiel 20:5.) Consider also the numerous places in scripture where yhvh defeats pharaoh and the Egyptian army by stretching out his yud (i.e., by revealing the name Yehudi). (See, e.g., Exodus 3:20, 7:3-5; Numbers 33:3.) In addition, we are told that “Aaron[, the Chief Priest,] raised His yud [(i.e., God’s hidden yud)] to the people and blessed them.” (Leviticus 9:22.) And there is also yhvh’s promise in the book of Isaiah: “I will raise my yud to the nations.” (Isaiah 49:22.) By reading the Hebrew word for “hand” as a reference to the letter yud, all these verses (and many more) suggest to a trained scribe a revelation of God’s name Yehudi, which also happens to be the Hebrew word for “Jew” or “Judean.”
Repeatedly, the Hebrew prophets supplicate yhvh to save the Jewish people, not because the Jewish people have unerringly merited salvation, but for the sake of his name. In other words, yhvh should redeem the Jews because, if an individual Jew (Yehudi) remains immersed in ego and selfishness, then God’s own name (Yehudi) is immersed in ego and selfishness, and if an individual Jew (Yehudi) is scorned for public immorality, then God’s own name (Yehudi) is scorned.
And, of course, the opposite is also true. If a Jew (Yehudi) is widely praised for his righteous behavior, particularly righteous behavior on behalf of all of humanity and witnessed by many non-Jews, then God’s name (Yehudi) is honored and respected throughout the world; and if a Jew is publicly martyred because he is a Jew (Yehudi), then God’s name (Yehudi) is sanctified. For that reason, the Hebrew euphemism for martyrdom is “kiddush ha-shem” (“sanctification of the Name”), and the euphemism for public wrongdoing by a Jew is “chilul ha-shem” (“profanation of the Name”). In short, what a Jew (Yehudi) does affects God’s name, which can only mean that Yehudi is God’s name.
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Yahweh Was Moses’ God from the Land of Egypt
The secret revealed in the foregoing section is awesome in itself, but the next is revolutionary: God’s hidden
name yehudi (i.e., yhvh)
actually refers to the Egyptian god djyehudi (a/k/a Thoth, the author
of the Egyptian Book of the Dead).
Again, too incredible to accept?
Well, Hebrew scripture confirms this great secret, too. Through the mouth of the prophet Hosea,
yhvh says: “I am yhvh,
your god from the land of Egypt . . . .” (Hosea 13:4,
italics added; see also Hosea 12:10.) And in the book of Exodus we read: “The Egyptians will know that I am yhvh when I stretch out my yud.” (Exodus 7:5) Yes, the Egyptians will know, because with the yud stretched out, the name Yehudi (signifying the Egyptian god djyehudi) is revealed.
It is also significant that Moses was reared as an Egyptian prince in pharaoh’s place (Exodus 2:10), and that two Jewish historians from ancient times (Josephus and Artapanus of Alexandria) report legends describing Moses’ close association with the Egyptian god Thoth. Interestingly, yhvh tells Moses at the burning bush that the Israelites’ ancestors knew God by the Canaanite name El Shaddai and did not know the name yhvh. (Exodus 6:3) This evidence strongly suggests that Moses, the Egyptian prince, was the one who introduced the name yhvh to the El-worshiping Israelites, and that the name yhvh refers to Moses’ Egyptian god Thoth. See also here. This secret, known among Jewish mystics as “the great secret of the name” (ha-sod ha-godol ha-shem), demonstrates that the Torah is fundamentally a syncretistic
text aimed at harmonizing Egypt’s venerable Thoth cult with Canaan’s rival El cult.
The two leading religious systems of Moses’ world were the Egyptian religion and
the Canaanite religion. Torah’s beautiful message is that
the two rival gods (Egypt’s Thoth and Canaan’s El) are really one, and therefore the two rival
peoples can also be one, living together in peace and harmony. Moses led two groups up from Egypt,
but he was able to unite those groups, by showing them that their gods (Thoth and El) were really
the same. Moses insisted: “You will know that yhvh
(Thoth), your God, He is . . . the faithful El . . . .”
(Deuteronomy 7:9.) Similarly, in the Book of Psalms we read: “For yhvh (Thoth) is El the Great and great king over all the gods (Elohim)”
But, more relevant for our own time, yhvh (Thoth) is also one with Allah. The word Allah is a contraction
of El-Ilah, which is Arabic for “El-God” and which derives directly from Canaan’s
El cult. Thus, when Torah tells us that yhvh is the faithful El
(Deuteronomy 7:9), it is saying that yhvh and Allah are one, and therefore Jews and Muslims
can be one, living together in peace and harmony.
In fact, the hidden syncretism of the Torah suggests not just that yhvh and Allah are one, but that all gods are one, and that all nations can therefore be one, living together in peace and harmony. Indeed, that is true Torah observance. (On religious diversity, click here.)
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Unlocking the Torah’s Secrets
The great scholars of Hebrew scripture tell us that the Torah is not to be read merely for its superficial meaning. Rather, the Torah is “like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11), concealing treasures among its diverse pen strokes.
We live in a superficial time when novel and weakly supported Bible theories proliferate on the Internet, and most of these theories do not merit even a moment of our attention. The fact remains, however, that the Torah’s text hides scores of secrets, like the secret of the name Yahweh discussed briefly here, and these secrets are both valid and verifiable. They find ample confirmation in ancient Hebrew and Aramaic commentaries on the Torah, and they are based on longstanding and widely recognized hermeneutical principles. Moreover, they are too consistent throughout the Torah to be dismissed as mere happenstance. Rather, they are intentional components of the Torah’s text, and they hold the key to a proper understanding of scripture:
Woe to the person who says that Torah intended to present a mere story and ordinary words! For if so, we could compose a Torah right now with ordinary words, and more laudable than all of them [in the existing Torah]! . . . Concerning Torah, one should look only at what is beneath the garment. So all these words and all these stories are garments. (Zohar 3:152a)
Lovers of the Torah who want to deepen their understanding are invited to read Torah Nondualism: Diversity, Conflict, and Synthesis in the Pentateuch.