Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 17 May 2008 / 12 Iyyar 5768

What’s a Name In?

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

From: Jason in PA

Dear Rabbi,
Is there some connection between G-d’s name and the mitzvot? I ask because I have seen a prayer often said before doing a mitzvah which talks about unifying G-d’s name through performing the mitzvah.
Dear Jason,

The prayer you have seen is referring to the idea of “unifying” G-d’s name from the higher spiritual worlds to the lower, physical realm of this world. While the idea is quite deep and complicated, the basic idea is that through our performance of mitzvot in this world we draw down positive influence from on high, infusing this world with the Divine Presence. This in turn results in a connection that centers all Creation around G-d, hence a “unification” of His name.

While we cannot explore this concept in too much detail, perhaps the idea can be more easily understood through a few practical, familiar mitzvot as examples: 1. charity; 2. the “hamotzie” blessing said over breadon Shabbat and Festivals; and 3. “zimun” – the blessing after the meal with three or more men when recited over wine.

In these cases, the inner message and intention of the mitzvah is related to the correlation between the four-letter Name of G-d “yud” and “heh” and “vav” and “heh”, and the way the fingers, hands and arms correspond to these letters.

Regarding charity, there is an idea that as one shares of his G-d-given resources with the needy, G-d actually sends down more blessing to be shared. This mitzvah, then, is associated with drawing down a greater degree of Divine influence that unifies the upper and lower worlds around G-d. As such, G-d's name is infused within and permeates the mitzvah of charity. The round coin corresponds to the rounded letter yud, while the five fingers in the hand of the giver correspond to the letter heh. He then dispenses the charity with an out-stretched arm that takes the shape of the letter vav. The interaction between the giver and the recipient, whose receiving hand corresponds to the final heh, then completes the unification of G-d's name in this mitzvah.

Many have the custom for “hamotzie” of Shabbat and holidays to take hold of the two loaves with the ten fingers while both hands are extended. Since this double portion of bread is symbolic of the way in which Shabbat and the Festivals are the interface between the spiritual and physical, a conduit through which the source of blessing and bounty flow into the weekdays, it is not surprising to find G-d’s name infused within this mitzvah as well. The ten fingers are the yud, both five-fingered hands are the two hehs that correspond to the upper and lower worlds, and the outstretched arms connecting the loaves are the vav that bridges the two. Interestingly, “vav” in Hebrew actually means a hook or connector, and this is apparent in the case of charity as well where the out-stretched arm connects two people, thereby unifying G-d’s name.

Finally, the zimun upon blessing after a meal also exhibits this phenomenon. Here, the greatness of G-d’s bounty is proclaimed and publicized, a recognition which brings in its wake more bounty and blessing. As in the prior examples, here, one person lifts the cup of wine with his ten fingers, which are the yud. He places it in the hand of the one who will lead the blessing, which is the heh. After the blessing, he shares the cup with others with an out-stretched arm, the vav. The recipient of the cup then completes the unity of G-d’s name by taking it in his hand, the final heh.

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