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How Many Names Does G‑d have?

How Many Names Does G‑d have?

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Question:

In my Kabbalah classes, we are discussing the names of G‑d and I have some questions: How many names does G‑d have? Why would G‑d have any name - let alone so many! What should we have in mind when praying with these names? When can and can't I use the names?

Response:

You're right. In essence, G‑d has no name. He is infinite and can not be given any titles or description. You could say that by definition, He has no definition.

But then comes creation. G‑d chooses to become involved with His own thought of a physical world, descending, so to speak, within it. And in His relationship to us, the creatures of that world, He now assumes many descriptions: Creator, Judge, the Merciful One, Master...

Simply put, each name is a different manner in which we experience G‑d's presence. When seeing the Grand Canyon, we marvel over the masterpiece he created. When reading the story of the Exodus, we recall His mighty Hand. When praying on Yom Kippur, we think about His powerful judgement.

In the words of the Midrash, "you want to know My name? I am called according to My actions."1

Kabbalah takes the concept of names one step further. You are probably familiar with the term Ohr Ein Sof, the Infinite Light, being the source for all existence. But in order for such an intense energy to translate into vitality for us, it must first be filtered through finite kelim or "vessels." Obviously, these are not containers in a spatial sense. Think of them as modalities or varied aspects of a single whole. The names of G‑d refer to the light as it is channeled through these kelim/modalities. Jewish law lists seven "Names of G‑d that are not permitted to erase" due to their holiness--these correspond to the lower seven of the ten sefirot (divine "attributes"). Sometimes we list ten such names, corresponding to all ten sefirot.2

But here it's crucial to make the following two points:

1) We pray to G‑d - not to the sefirot, G‑d forbid (or even to the light invested within the sefirot). These sefirot are mere tools - or as we say in prayer, "an axe in the hands of the woodchopper." As I wrote above, they are no more than G‑d's modalities of relating to us. When we wish to relate to Him as He is compassionate, we use the appropriate name. When we are appealing to Him to excercise His modality of justice, we use the name that calls upon that mode. The same with any prayer—the prophets and sages who composed them knew precisely which names to use for the appropriate effect.

2) G‑d is not bound by any rules or system. "Light and vessels" are merely the manner in which G‑d decided to generate and sustain a world. At any point, He can achieve whatever goals He wishes, with or without the mediums He has set in place.

How many names are there? The Kabbalists discuss many hundreds of names. Names used in the vernacular count as well. In fact, many halachic authorities apply the prohibition, "Do not take G‑d's name in vain," to apply to any name that is used to refer to G‑d.3 Casually uttering "omigod," would accordingly be viewed as a transgression of this serious prohibition.

As mentioned above, however, Jewish tradition discusses seven especially holy names of G‑d that cannot be erased and must be written with special concentration. Due to the holiness of these names, we restrict their use to prayer only. Outside of a liturgical context, we may read those names as simply Hashem—meaning "the name." Or we substitute certain sounds to alter the pronunciation of a name, such as replacing the 'h' with a 'k' in names of G‑d such as 'kel' and 'elokim'.

Below is a chart of the ten divine names, based on the Shnei Luchot Habrit cited earlier. This is a classic work, mostly anthological, by Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz, a major 16th century halachist and kabbalist. I have avoided writing out the actual names, since it is forbidden to erase or discard them. The transliteration of the names is interpolated with "k" and other means to avoid the actual pronunciation, since the names should only be pronounced in an appropriate context.

Name

Sefira

Attribute

Ekya

Ketter

Desire

Kah

Chochmah

Wisdom

YHVH punctuated as Elokim

Binah

Understanding

Kel

Chessed

Kindness

Elokim

Gevurah

Might

YHVH punct. Tzivaot

Tifferet

Compassion

YHVH Tzivaot

Netzach

Victory

Elokim Tzivaot

Hod

Glory

Shakkai

Yesod

Foundation

Adnai

Malchut

Royalty

Footnotes
1.
Midrash Rabbah, Shemot 3:6; see also Moreh Nevuchim 1:58.
2.
See Shnei Luchot Habrit, Bet Hashem.
3.
Shulchan Aruch HaRav: OC 85:3.
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Discussion (39)
March 19, 2017
I see that someone says we should obey Torah and not Talmud.

This is impossible. The Torah relies on the Oral Torah (especially the Talmud) to define its terms. Example: the Torah says to write the commandment on Totafot on our hands and between our eyes. What are totafot?

The Torah doesn't say. The knowledge was handed down orally (and by looking at totafot). But what if you've never seen them? Fortunately, the Talmud describes exactly how to make them. Nowadays they're called Tefillin, but without the instructions in the Talmud nobody today would remember how to make them.

Similarly the Mishkan (miscalled "tabernacle". Or the divorce document. Or the sukkah (mistranslated "booth"--it's not a booth. It's like a roofless hut with greenery on top, a certain shape, certain materials. Gd taught the meaning of these words orally to Moses; Moses taught them orally to the people. These explanations were eventually written in the Talmud.
Yitzchak
Indianapolis
March 19, 2017
In the Ten "commandments" (actually "words") it says, "the LRD thy Gd"--that would be the Y name above, with the vowels and pronunciation of the A D N Y name above, and in English written with small caps to indicate it's the Y Name and not merely lrd.

And Gd is written as the Kelokenu name above. Of course you can look at it in your Hebrew Bible to see how it is actually spelled.

It is spelled with an alef, then lamed, then heh, then the suffix meaning "your".

Those two are the ones most often used in the Bible. But not the only ones.
Yehudah
Chicago
March 1, 2017
What Name did G-D use when he wrote the ten comandments that Moses broke?in the ancient text? I know you cant write it all down ...so write what ever you can please
Vernard Latham
77328
February 5, 2017
Chaim, I too object to the printing out of the sacred letters.

Ariel, I too object to the writing of amulets.

Someone asked what the Four-Letter Name means.

It uses the same letters as the verb "to be" and it is often said that it means, "Causing to be".

Notice that the name is not a noun. Not a "thing" but a behavior. An action. Gd is constantly causing this physical universe to be.

This world is like a computer program that is repeatedly and constantly being rerun.

We have enough computer games now that we can easily imagine that this could be done. The existence of the physical universe is not absolute. It does not really exist at all. It's caused to "exist" by the One who creates and runs the program, so to speak. Gd causes it by thinking it. Gd constantly thinks our universe into "existence". Otherwise everything would disappear.
Hymie
New York City
February 5, 2017
In general: scroll down to comments by Max Marantz. His answers are good.

Aboput Judges 6:24. It would help if you had a Hebrew Bible with a Jewish translation. My Bible has Hebrew on one side & English on the other. It says, "Gideon built an altar there unto HaShem [i.e., the Four Letters, in the Hebrew] & called it HaShem-Is-Peace unto this day."
The King James generally writes the word Lrd with a capital L & "ord" in small capitals when it is "translating" the Four Letters. The KJV understood and respected that it ought not to try to write the actual Four Letters. They used small caps so the reader could see where the Four-Letter-Name occurs.

In English, it's customary to write the word "god"/"gods" when referring to the non-gods of non-biblical religion, & to use a capital G when referring to the biblical Deity.

I (& many others) omit hyphens & write Gd or Lrd--much closer to the Hebrew, where there were no vowels to start with. The Responsa says it counts in French, etc.
Josef
New York City
February 5, 2017
You are right to be concerned about the loose leaf sheet where you have written it.
If you have a paper with sacred Names on it, do not ever throw it out. One reason for not writing it is because it might wind up "on a dung heap" as the medieval Responsa text warns us.

Take it to an Orthodox synagogue. They will put it with the worn-out Bibles and prayer books in a room called a Genizeh. They may keep it forever, as the Cairo Genizeh did. OR, When they have enough to fill a coffin, they may have a funeral for it in a sacred cemetery plot. In any case, you will avoid sin by leaving the sheet with them.

Next time, don't write it on a single looseleaf sheet.
Instead, write it in your Bible. Most people would not throw a Bible in the trash, so that should be fairly safe. It would be wise to copy the names into your Bible NOW, and then immediately take your sheet to the synagogue. That way you won't have to worry what happens to the sheet.
Avram
New York City
February 5, 2017
To Robert and others who were unable to make out the names in the rabbi's list
All the names that the rabbi listed are in the Siddur.

Look at your Hebrew prayerbook. It is permitted to say these names when praying, except for yud-kay-vav-kay, when we say either Kadonai or Kelokim or HaShem.

To pronounce these names in prayer, remove the K and start with the vowel. Also change the internal K to an H. (This works also with most of the Names in the rabbi's list.)

Now do you recognize the names (usually translated Lrd or Gd) in the prayerbook?

I hope this helps.
Ann
Houston
February 2, 2017
How many hands did Hashem built the world with.
Larry l Eisenberg
Ny
July 20, 2016
Please answer the questions which have been asked so far.

Thank you.
Shoshannaa
St. Paul, Minn
July 13, 2016
names of G-d
Thank you for the teaching,may Hashem increase more knowledge in you
Eric lukunga mulowayi
Lusaka