A Solemn Day

Today is Yom Kippur, the day of atonement that comes after the ten Days of Awe, starting with Rosh Hashanah, the head of the year. Obviously if you are Jewish you would already know this. For the first thirty years of my life I was only vaguely of the terms, and mostly ignorant of the true meanings.

For the last forty years of my life I have learned and applied much of what I have learned. That doesn’t make me Jewish, but I believe it brings me closer to G-d, with a better relationship.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about the concept of reverence, and how that it is expressed in the world. We can see examples of reverence by people bowing, or by people not turning their backs to the object of reverence. It is important to note that if you see an example of reverence, it doesn’t not mean that you are being reverent. Reverence is a personal choice that manifests itself in an action. Witnessing the action doesn’t somehow transfer reverence to you.

In fact, simply coping the act of others being reverent doesn’t not mean that you are actually reverent. It must be your choice, your action.

The discussion then centered on G-D’s name. In scripture it is written that G-d shared his name as “I AM”, and in Hebrew this was written using four consonants, “YHWH”. It is also described as the Tetragrammaton. How this word is pronounced has filled volumes of books. From early on it became a tradition to never say the name, out of reverence. The name was written, but if someone would read aloud, that reader would replace the name with Adonai, LORD, or HaShem (the name). This was an act of personal reverence.

When Scripture was translated into Latin, the Y was changed to the letter “I” or later, “J”. This is why we see the Hebrew word “Yeshua” written first in Greek as “Iesous” and then in Latin as “Iesus”, and finally in English as Jesus. Even though the “I” was pronounced with a “J” sound, so it still sounded like Jesus.

As far as the Tetragrammaton, this was not quite as simple. Without the necessary vowel sounds, the word could sound vastly different. There is much evidence that the word YHWH was pronounced “Yahweh”, an in some translations this is how it is rendered. It is still not pronounced aloud, but often replaced with Adoni, by the speaker. Again, this was a personal act of reverence by the speaker.

Later translations used the “J” instead of “Y”, and choose slightly different vowel sounds, so “Yahweh” became “JoHoVaH”, or Jehovah. And for some reason this was okay to vocalize, but hopeful said with reverence.

At some point the Hebrew scribes decide that “YHWH” sound not be written, o out of reverence it was replaced with the words that were used vocally when the scrolls were read. YHWH became Adonai, or LORD, or even many of the other names that were used in the oral tradition. This was done out of reverence, but logically it was only the reverence of the scribe. This replacement took the action of reverence out of my hands. I could still have a general feeling of reverence, but it is much less personal.

In the same way, I can write God, and the capital “G” implies the name with accompanying reverence. But when I type “G-d” that gives the same message, but adds the active act of reverence by the author. The reader of “G-d” is not expressing the act of reverence by simply reading “G-d”.

As you can see, this discussion with my friend covered some fine nuances. But it did help me to focus my acts of reverence as an active choice. That I can “coast” on the acts of reverence of others. That I can become more knowledgeable of Scripture, but I must also make it an action of faith.

Glad to finally be in a new year.

Shalom!

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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