I spread out the names of my God before me
Rivka Miriam, “I spread out the names of my God before me”, Said the Investigator: Poems (2005, translated from the Hebrew by Reuven Greenvald)
פָּרַשְׂתִּי לִפְנַי אֶת שְׁמוֹת אֱ-לֹהַי
רבקה מרים, אמר החוקר (2005)
“And God spoke to Moshe, and [God] said to him: I am YHVH. I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzhak, and to Ya’akov as El Shaddai, but by my name YHVH I was not known to them” (Exodus 6:2–3).
When God shifts from using the ancient El Shaddai (usually translated as “God Almighty”) to YHVH, meaning, “I will be what I will be,” the divine-human relationship becomes more intimate.
Since the older name’s meaning is obscure, a midrash proposes that there are two components in “Shaddai”: she and dai saying “it’s enough”; the patriarchs got just as much of God as they needed.
And some hear echoes of a fertility god/dess in El Shaddai when the name is connected to shaddayim (breasts)—the God of Genesis is all about family growth.
But Moshe and his generation would need more from God as they transform from family into a people. The self-limiting El Shaddai opens up to an expansive and inclusive YHVH who offers personal revelation and spiritual growth to all Israel (Netivot Shalom, 20th-century Jerusalem).
Rivka Miriam, contemporary Israeli poet, invites us to sit with her on the floor of that cold room. There, we too can understand how God-naming is a most intimate experience of personal growth.