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D'varim/Deuteronomy 32:3 When I proclaim the name of the L-rd, give majesty to our G-d.
Four Hebrew words in this (short) verse need some explanation. is a very common word, with meanings that include "for, when, because and that". The choice of 'when' in this context is an expression of the antiphonal nature of the command being set up here by Moshe. The verb is the Qal 1cs prefix form of the root , "to call, proclaim, read" thus covering more types of speech or utterance than any one English word might cover. The second verb, , is the Qal mp imperative form of the root "to give, set, place" (Davidson), here expressing the command to give glory to G-d. Lastly, the noun from the root , "to be or become great, exalted" expresses the idea of greatness, majesty and magnificence.
Rashi uses another example from the Torah to justify the translation 'when', commenting that " functions in the sense of 'when', as it does in "And when you enter the land that the L-RD will give you" (Shemot 12:25, NJPS). Our verse means", he continues, "when I call out and mention the name of HaShem, you ascribe greatness to our G-d and bless His name." It is from this verse that Chazal said that we respond "Blessed is the Name of the glory of His kingdom for all eternity" after a blessing in the Beit HaMikdash (b. Ta'anit 16b). The Rashbam agrees, noting that is "Not 'for' but 'when'. When I tell you of the mighty deeds that the Holy One performed for you, the good things with which He will reward you, and furthermore that He will act rightly in all that He will do to you, then you too must admit to the truth and give glory to our G-d."
Nachmanides says that the action "when I proclaim" takes place in heaven, while "give glory of G-d" takes place on earth. He says that this command is "addressed to all Israel." Ibn Ezra thinks the same, and brings some texts from the Psalms to illustrate his opinion: "This is once again addressed to the heavens and the earth: 'The heavens declare the glory of G-d, the sky proclaims His handiwork' (Psalm 19:2, NJPS); 'Heaven and earth shall extol Him, the seas, and all that moves in them' (Psalm 69:35, NJPS)." Chizkuni reports that "The name of the L-rd contains three different letters (yod, hay and vav), which can be combined in six different ways, matching the four directions (north, south, east and west or, alternatively, left, right, front and behind), the heavens and the earth all of which were created through it."
At the start of Ma'ariv, the evening service in the synagogue liturgy, the service leader will say, "Bless the L-rd, the Blessed One", and the congregation respond, "Bless the L-rd, the Blessed One, for ever and all time" (Sacks, Authorised Daily Prayer Book). This pattern is repeated in both forms of the Kaddish, where the leader or mourner says, "Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, raised and honoured, uplifted and lauded be the name of the Holy One" and the congregation respond, "Blessed be He", before the leader continues the prayer. This again is based on our text, as the Talmudic Sages required: "It was taught: Rabbi said, commenting on 'For I will proclaim the name of the L-rd; ascribe greatness unto our G-d', Moshe said to Israel: When I mention the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, ascribe greatness unto Him ... When I make reference to the Righteous One of all the Worlds, say a blessing!" (b. Yoma 37a).
So much so, explains RabbiHirsch, that "in truth, the whole Torah is a 'proclamation' of the Name of G-d, the revelation of G-d in this world, in the human race, in Israel and in the way Israel has to form its life. And particularly one who steps up to read or have the Torah read out in the circle of his contemporaries is first to declare that it is His Torah, G-d's Teaching that He has given us." This why both before and after reading the Torah we bless HaShem, for giving us His Torah and for planting eternal life in our midst.
TheSforno even extends the reach of the command to bless G-d to the act of prayer. He claims that "'one who proclaims the Name of G-d', is he who prays, as it says 'I have called on Your name, O L-RD, from the depths of the pit. Hear my plea; do not shut Your ear to my groan, to my cry!' (Lamentations 3:55-56, NJPS) and also 'Moshe and Aharon among His priests, Samuel, among those who call on His name -- when they called to the L-RD, He answered them' (Psalm 99:6, NJPS)." Anyone who prays, who cries out to the L-rd, calling on His Name - and "The name of the L-RD is a tower of strength to which the righteous man runs and is safe" (Proverbs 18:10, NJPS) - is proclaiming the divine name and anyone who hears or participates should respond by blessing G-d or, at the very least, by saying 'Amen'.
What should we understand proclaiming G-d's name to be doing? What does it involve? Jeffrey Tigay suggests that it means "declaring His qualities and recounting His deeds." When HaShem gave Moshe a revelation of Himself at Mt. Sinai, hidden in a cleft of the rock lest he should see HaShem's face, when Moshe went back up the mountain with the second set of tablets, "The L-RD came down in a cloud; He stood with him there, and proclaimed the name L-RD. The L-RD passed before him and proclaimed: 'The L-RD! the L-RD! a G-d compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin" (Shemot 34:5-7, NJPS). Similar proclamations can be seen in the Song at the Sea (Shemot 15), the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) and Zecharias' prophecy at the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:68-79).
How, then, should we behave when proclaiming the Name today? When we share the gospel with someone, how should we talk about Yeshua? His is the "name above all names" (Philippians 2:9) and the "only name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12); everyone who calls on His name "will be saved" (Romans 10:13). As Rav Sha'ul goes on to say, "How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?" (v. 14, ESV). It is absolutely necessary that we use and talk about Yeshua in a way that others can hear and understand, not veiled in some mystique or secret ritual. Neither is it a matter of closely guarded pronunciation - the gospel, and entry into the kingdom through relationship with Yeshua - must be freely and instantly available so that anyone may respond as G-d calls them by His Spirit.
Should we try to protect the name of Yeshua against abuse - yet that same name has become one of the common swear words in English and many other languages. How do we show reverence for the Name - as I believe we should - without looking or sounding pious or po-faced? It is a difficult balancing act, but without some sign or significance on our part, common usage will reduce the most important name in heaven and earth to less than nothing. We may have to put up with a little teasing, but a quiet and gentle reminder that we find misuse of the Name offensive will often garner respect and a toning down of the level or frequency of misuse. Even prolific swearers and blasphemers will often apologise for their language in the presence of a clergyperson and try to moderate it in front of them.
And between ourselves, when in the company of known believers or at home? Why not try to cultivate the habit of saying a blessing whenever the L-rd's name is mentioned. Learn a short blessing to say before and after reading your Bible as a means of not only showing respect, but for setting that time apart as holy time spent with the L-rd. Try to move from an 'if' attitude to a 'when' attitude, recognising who G-d is, what He has done for you and how He holds the world together.
Further Study: Psalm 105:1-3; John 9:35-38
Application: Think about how you could bless G-d today, in a way that honours Him without making yourself look strange. Perhaps you might ask G-d what He would like and what would bless Him.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2018
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