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Many names reflect deep connections to the divine.

Byline: FROM HEART TO HEART By Rabbi Maurice Harris For The Register-Guard

One of the things I love about Judaism as I understand and practice it is its open-ended approach to the mystery we call God. There are many names for the Mysterious One in Judaism, and each of these names suggests a facet or reflection of something that is ultimately beyond, or before, words.

Some of these names include Rachmana (Compassionate/

Womb-like One), Ha-Makom (The Place), Ha-Kadosh Baruch Hu (The Holy One, Blessed Be God), Ayn Sof (Infinite One, or One Without Limit) and El Ro-i (God Who Sees Me).

Sometimes, there is a story behind one of these divine names. I love, for example, the story of El Ro-i. It is the name that the Egyptian slave Hagar gives to God in Genesis, in a moment of deep distress. Hagar has run away from the harsh treatment of her master, Sarai, when she has an encounter with a divine messenger by a spring in the wilderness. Afterward, she says, `You are El Ro-i - `God Who Sees Me.' '

This is the only instance in the Torah (the central sacred text of Judaism) in which a person names God. And who does this naming? Not a man, but a woman. Not a free person, but a slave. Not a Jew, but an Egyptian.

Furthermore, Hagar's name has the same Hebrew spelling as the word for `the stranger.' It is `the stranger' whose calling upon God is so powerful and potent that in her calling she actually bestows a divine name. When I contemplate this particular name of God, I am reminded of the nurturing presence that accompanies the vulnerable, the dismissed, the outsider.

In my personal prayers, I like to vary the divine names I use because otherwise my prayers start to feel stale. After all, it's not any of these names that I'm talking to when I pray; rather, it is something beyond any of these names, something that the names only help point toward.

This unnameable power is within me and far greater than me. It's simultaneously beyond my experience, like the most distant galaxy, and yet right in the breath in my very lungs.

In order to keep my personal prayer fresh and connected, I need to avoid the ossification of any one of these God names. Each time I address the Compassionate One anew, I look for the name that offers a passageway into what the tradition calls devekut - deep connection with the divine. The various names are like glimpses of different aspects of a loving mystery that resides at the heart of the universe.

Rabbi Maurice Harris is one of the rabbis at Temple Beth Israel in Eugene. This column is coordinated by the Two Rivers Interfaith Ministries, a network of more than 35 religious and spiritual traditions in the Eugene-Springfield area. For more information, call 344-5693.


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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Sep 25, 2004
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