Translating “God” and “Lord”

Because of the anthropomorphic connotations of the English words, “God” and “Lord,” because of the human tendency to use “God” as a thing or object (thereby objectifying “God”), and because of their inherently gendered meanings (”Lord” as opposed to “Lady” and “God” as opposed to “Goddess”), these words have too much baggage to use in current translations of the Hebrew Bible. Therefore, I often replace “God” with “THE ALL” and “LORD GOD” with “ALL THAT IS.” For “LORD,” I simply use “SOURCE.” This will no doubt prove strange for many readers, but de-familiarization is part of the process of reacquainting oneself with the deeper meanings of the biblical text.      These translations also have the advantage of preserving the actual significance of the Hebrew words which have become ossified in English (and other modern languages) translations and consequently lost their original meanings.

YHWH comes from the Hebrew word, “to be” (hayah), and is explicitly associated with being, becoming, existence, etc. By using a verb to describe the Divine, early Jewish writers imply that the Divine is fundamentally not an object or a thing, but rather that it is relational in nature. One might describe it as “energy,” because it is a force, not an object. The English word, “Lord,” reflects the Hebrew vowel pointing of YHWH as adonai (a – o – ai), used by Jews from antiquity to the present day to avoid saying the Divine name. There are other circumlocutions used by Jews to avoid saying the Divine name:   e.g. “the name” ( hashem) and “the place” (hamaqom). By using “SOURCE” or “ALL THAT IS,” I maintain the original meaning of the word without using the Divine name.

Elohim  is the word that normally translates “God” (from El, the chief deity of the Ugaritic pantheon), but it is a plural form that naturally implies a multiplicity of deities. In the Hebrew Bible, it normally indicates the deity of the Jewish people: the One God, the Eternal. Occasionally it directly indicates more than one god (such as in Genesis 1:26 and 3:22), but even there the notion of oneness persists. As a plural form, Elohim suggests that one cannot limit the Divine to a single thing (which a singular form would connote) and actually implies that the Divine is so all-encompassing that no thing falls outside of its compass. Elohim means unity. From a metaphorical perspective, one might see the Divine as a choir rather than a soloist; here the many become one. This is why the term, “monotheism” (which implies singularity rather than oneness or unity) is inadequate for describing the Jewish and Christian concepts of Divinity. “THE ALL” preserves the all-encompassing character, relationality, unity, and oneness of the Divine.

See how I do this in “translations of Genesis by larry” in “about mystic scholar”: http://mysticscholar.org/about-mystic-scholar/translations-of-genesis-by-larry/

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The Source is No/Thing

The Source has no name, because the Source is No/Thing.

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The I and the You

The “I” does not refer to the same person as the “You.” The “I” is a navigator who helps us operate in the world. The “You” is a spark of light that is love and wisdom itself.

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YHWH

YHWH, “Lord” (adonai), actually means “that which brings into being.” In other words, YHWH is the Source, the source of all that is.

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“God” is a Label

‎”God” is a word, a name, giving us the illusion that we somehow control whatever “God” is. We don’t. That’s why Jews have no name for “God.” That’s why most Buddhists have no “God” at all.

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A Mitzvah

In Hebrew, a mitzvah (often translated “commandment”) is not an order, but a commitment to be aware of what is holy and to act accordingly.

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Ruach

Often translated “wind” or “spirit”, ruach in Genesis 1:2 refers to the underlying force of existence and the universe: ” “Energy.”  It’s gender is feminine and is frequently understood in Jewish tradition (especially mysticism) as a feminine counterpart to a more masculine organizing creator.  Whether or not these gender connotations are useful or accurate in some way, they offer a picturesque and poetic way of describing the ultimate.

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Torah

Torah, which means “teaching” in Hebrew refers to (1) the first five books of the Bible, (2) the entire Bible; and (3) the whole of Jewish interpretive tradition, including the written Bible, the oral teachings, and various writings such as midrash Interpretations of biblical stories) and responsa (legal interpretations).

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God and the Self as Nothing

The Source is nothing. Nothing does not mean a vacuum, but no thing (no/thing). No/thing is pure energy.

A favorite quote of mine in this regard is from Dov Baer of Mezrich as translated in Lawrence Kushner,The Book of Words, p. 96 (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 1993): “You need to think of yourself as nothing. Forget yourself entirely. Pray only for the sake of God’s presence. Only then will you come to transcend time and attain the ‘World of Thought.’ No contradictions. No distinctions between life and death or sea and dry land. All the same . . . This can only happen if you forget yourself entirely. But it cannot be the case while you are attached to the tangible reality of this world. Fixated on the distinctions between good and evil and mundane creation. How otherwise could one possibly transcend time and attain ultimate unification. Thus, as long as you remain convinced that you are ‘something,’ preoccupied with your daily needs, then the Holy One cannot be present, for God is without end, that is, ‘nothing,’ no vessel can contain the One. But this is not so when you think of yourself as nothing.”

Here, “nothing” really means without boundaries and limits.

Dov Baer expresses his ideas more dualistically than I would (e.g. “attached to tangible reality,” “mundane creation,” and “World of Thought”), but his message is beautiful: To feel the presence of the Source, one must drop all categories, especially the self.

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God

I don’t see God as an entity at all, as a thing. God is not a being, but an energy that pervades the universe and transcends the universe. For that reason, I don’t even use the word, “God,” but instead use “Source,” or sometimes “Source of Being.” To relate to the Source, one must transcend all categories (which are, by definition, finite and limited). The Source is neither personal nor impersonal, but the sacred energy/breath that underlies all existence.

This is not an easy place for me to reside. I only get there at moments. Often I am deluded by my own self and its desires, which get in the way. But I do get there at times–certainly more now than when I was younger. And that makes all the effort worthwhile.

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Name of God (not G-d)

The name of God in Hebrew is yod-heh-waw-heh, with no vowel points, i.e. the Tetragrammaton (“four letters”).  Originally, that word would have had vowel points, but we don’t know what they are for sure.  In order to avoid saying the name of God, the Jews of antiquity changed the vowel points and said “adonai” (“Lord”) instead.  Now we have others who simply say “ha-Shem” (“the name”) which makes sense because yod-heh-waw-heh is in fact the name of God.  But the name of “God” for Jews is “yod-heh-waw-heh,” not “God.”  The word for “God” in Hebrew is “Elohim.”   Thus:  “Elohim” = the concept of God; “yod-heh-waw-heh” = the name of God.  Some have started to spell the word, “God” in the form of “G-d,” equating this with the Hebrew.  This is English, however, and “God” is not a Hebrew word.  There is no need to use the spelling, “G-d,” which in fact communicates the misimpression that “God” is also a Jewish name–it’s not.  The name of God is and has always been “yod-heh-waw-heh.”  The word, “God” is not the equivalent of “yod-heh-waw-heh,” but rather “Elohim.”  In my opinion, “G-d” is a misnomer.

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