Concepts in Judaism

Who is Hashem? What Does “Hashem” Mean?

What can we fully grasp about Hashem? Who is Hashem – Really? A simple and Kabbalistic explanation by Rabbi Nachum Chaimowitz

Who is Hashem? What Does “Hashem” Mean?
According to traditional Jewish belief, the objective starting point of everything is: “Hashem”. The Torah starts off: “In the beginning, Hashem created heaven and earth” (1:1). G-d’s first words to the Jewish people when giving them the Torah were: “I am Hashem, your G-d”. Maimonides, when enumerating the mitzvot, begins with the very first mitzvah as being: “Know that there exists a First Cause (i.e. Hashem) and He Brings into existence everything which exists”.

This is the objective “starting point” that we have passed down in traditional Jewish belief. It is what was revealed to us as being the true spiritual starting point for everything. It is something we would have never been able to guess in this world of ours which seems from our perspective to be endless; it is not something that someone “just chose” arbitrarily. It is something that can be clearly verified through one’s personal experience. But before we begin to test or to apply this first axiom, we must first understand who Hashem is.

Hashem’s “Name”
The word “Hashem” literally means “the Name”. It is a reference to the particular Name of G-d that was revealed to Moses in Egypt. It is referred to as “the Name”, alluding to the fact that it may only be contemplated in thought, and not pronounced. Although we are not permitted to enunciate the letters of “the Name” of G-d, and only refer to it as “Hashem” or “Ado-noy” (our Master), the actual letters themselves hold the key to their meaning. The etymological root of the letters pertains to the Hebrew verb of “being” or “existing”.

Therefore, whenever we contemplate or refer to the “the Name” or to “Hashem”, our intent is really to describe G-d as “the One Who brings all that we know of into being”. Yet even this description, while sufficient to fulfill our basic, required level of relating to G-d through our prayers, is limited by our finite human perspective, and does not fully encapsulate his True Reality.

It is only from our limited human perspective that we refer to G-d in terms of the attribute of “Being” and “the One Who brings all that we know of into existence”. There is yet an even higher and more inclusive conception of Hashem that pertains to his true Reality. In his true Reality, “Hashem”, infinitely transcends the description of “just” being the One Who brings all that we know of into being; his true Reality is Infinity Itself.

Ain Sof Baruch Hu –The Infinite One Blessed be He
The Kabbalists teach that the only reference to Hashem that we can use to describe His True Essence, is “Ain Sof” – literally, No (i.e. beyond) Description – “Baruch Hu”, Blessed be he. That is to say, the only real description for Hashem is: “No possible description”, “No possible limitation”, “No possible encompassing articulation or reference”.  Any word or description that we may express already implies some sort of border or limitation. Since we are finite beings and our minds can only grasp finite concepts, all of our words and communications necessarily relate to finite existences.

We can therefore not use our limited concepts in defining Hashem. Hashem’s True Existence is so great and so beyond our capabilities to grasp, that any description we could ever conceive of is already limiting of him and is therefore, untrue.

Were we to attempt to imagine the “Reality of Hashem” as He really is, we’d need to imagine him as being without any limitation or description or reference – which is impossible for us to imagine. The Kabbalists therefore tell us that the most accurate way for us to perceive of Hashem is as Existence – but beyond any specific description that we can fathom. We can come to know for sure that Ain Sof Baruch Hu Exists – but we cannot truly encompass in our minds His Essence. His true essence is the Source Life-giving force itself, the source Energy for everything; although we can grasp that it exists, we cannot grasp what its essence truly is.

Although we are finite beings with finite concepts, and from our limited perspective the greatest way we can imagine “Hashem” is as “the One Who brings all that we know of into being”, Hashem’s ultimate and true Realty far transcends that. As much as we could possibly grasp of that true Reality, we will always fall short in our perception due to our finite limitations. His true Reality is Ain Sof Baruch Hu – Infinity Itself, and will therefore always be much, much greater than anything we, as finite beings, can ever imagine.

He is beyond everything we can grasp in our finite world; and he is beyond everything in the universe which we can grasp. His Reality extends beyond the universe, and the entire universe is really located in Him. He is the first Cause and Creator for everything in the universe that we know. He is where we come from and therefore, is the objective “starting point” of all. He is also where we’re going to and is therefore, the objective “goal” of everything we’re trying to reach as well.

Adapted from "It’s All for the Good" by Rabbi Nachum Chaimowitz. Available at  http://www.israelbookshoppublications.com/store/pc/It-s-All-for-the-Good-p1150.htm
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