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Rabbinic Reflections - Parshat Noach                                        November 2, 2019 - 4 Cheshvan 5780

10/31/2019 12:22:59 PM


Shakespeare wrote, in Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By Any Other Name would smell as sweet.” To which Albert Einstein once quipped, “But that’s Rose’s name! What are we supposed to call her if not Rose?” However, like Shakespeare, “God by any other name is still God!” In fact, Torah refers to God by several different names. Among them, the most common are Elohim and Adonai.

Dr. Ismar Schorsch, previous Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, the fountainhead institution of the Conservative Movement in Judaism, points out, “As the story of Noah opens, the Torah returns to the word ‘Elohim’ for ‘God’ (Genesis 6:12-13): “When Elohim saw how corrupt the earth was… And Elohim said to Noah…. ” It is the same noun used by the Torah in Chapter 1 to depict the creation of the cosmos. Unlike the four-letter personal name of God Adonai, ‘Elohim’ is a plural form and a generic term for deity that can also serve to refer to pagan gods.” Schorsch continues by saying, “The [ancient] Rabbis did not fail to turn the distinction between these two names of God into a far-reaching theological insight. Indeed, the ineffable nature of God is precisely what gives rise to a profusion of divine names in Judaism, with each one conveying but a single aspect of God.”

Rabbi Howard Siegel, in his comments on our portion, notes that for the Rabbis, the name “Elohim” was used to portray God as the “Righteous and unbiased Judge,” while “Adonai” displayed God’s personal and intimate relationship with each individual human being. Another way of considering this is to understand “Elohim” as the Godly attribute of justice and “Adonai” as representing mercy. Both are attributes of the One God.

The “Elohim” attribute of God comes to judge the corruption in the new world and determine it must be destroyed. The “Adonai” attribute provides personal comfort and support to oah (Genesis 7:1): “And Adonai said to Noah: ‘Come, you and your entire household into the ark.’” In Genesis 7:16, both attributes of God appear, the “Elohim” who ordered the building of the ark and the destruction of the world, and the “Adonai” who personally made certain Noah and his family were safely within the ark before the flood began: “And they went in [the ark], male and female of all flesh, as Elohim commanded him; and Adonai closed the door upon him.”

Rabbi Siegel concludes: Names have meaning and significance. “Noah”, meaning “pleasant and comforting”, aptly describes the character of this man. So, too, the first humans: “Adam,” meaning “earth” or “earthly,” came from the “dust of the earth,” and “Eve,” meaning “mother of life,” is the first woman to experience the divine gift of procreation. God also has names from which we learn that this world will be ruled justly, but God’s justice will never turn a blind eye to mercy and personal caring

Shabbat Shalom!

Wed, August 12 2020 22 Av 5780