Analyzing a Single Name of G-d

 

Within the Torah there are sometimes multiple names for the same thing – e.g. Jacob names a place differently than Laban does. And there are also multiple names for G-d: most commonly Elokim, or YKVK. Sometimes G-d is referred to through other relationships: “The G-d of my father(s)” or “The G-d of the Ivri [Hebrews].”

We generally understand each of these as reflecting an aspect or another of the divine: Elokim is the powerful G-d of all the physical world, YKVK seems to reflect more of a personal relationship, etc.

But there is one name for G-d that caught our eye, because it is relatively rare. And it is only really found, for the Jewish people, in Genesis. That word is Shaddai. And I thought it might be interesting to explain, using the context in the text itself, what Shaddai means. Here are the cases:

Abraham:

And when Avram was ninety nine years old, the Lord appeared to Avram, and said to him, I am G-d Shaddai. … I set my covenant between me and you. I will make you exceedingly, exceedingly many.

Isaac says to Jacob:

Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Betu᾽el thy mother’s father; and take thee a wife from there of the daughters of Lavan thy mother’s brother. And G-d Shaddai shall bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayst be a multitude of people;

Jacob:

And God said to him, Thy name Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and He called his name Israel. And God said to him, I am G-d Shaddai: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins; and the land which I gave to Avraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land.

The pattern is obvious! Each of the forefathers gets one connection to this aspect, Shaddai, wherein G-d promises to make them fruitful, a multitude. It is a promise toward a future that, given that each of the families in Genesis were essentially alone in the world, was a very big promise, indeed. They had to wonder (as Avraham openly did), how and when G-d would deliver on this promise.

Indeed, when Jacob is sending Benjamin away with his brothers, perhaps to his death, Jacob openly invokes the name “G-d Shaddai,” and it does not read like a rhetorical flourish. Instead, it seems to be a reminder to G-d that there is a promise that was supposed to be fulfilled:

Take also your brother, and arise, go again to the man: and G-d Shaddai give you mercy before the man, that he may release to you your other brother, and Binyamin. If I be bereaved of my children, then I am bereaved.

Faced with the loss of his children, Jacob reminds us of this aspect of G-d, Shaddai, that there is an outstanding divine promise for more children, indeed for an entire nation, that has yet to be fulfilled!

Later on, Jacob does not forget this divine pledge. Jacob essentially adopts Ephraim and Menasseh specifically to help G-d fulfill his promise for more children!

And Jacob said to Joseph, G-d Shaddai appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me, and said to me, Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people; and will give this land to thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession. And now thy two sons, Efrayim and Menashe, who were born to thee in the land of Egypt before I came to thee into Egypt, are mine; as Reuven and Shimon they shall be mine.

And then Jacob uses the word for the last time in Genesis, passing on the blessing he received from his own father, to Joseph.

… by the God of thy father, Who shall help thee; and by Shaddai, who shall bless thee, with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that couches beneath, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb.

Note the poetic imagery here as well – the power to reproduce comes with this divine aspect, Shaddai.

And then… the name is essentially “retired” in the text. When G-d introduces himself to Moses, he says,

and I appeared to Avraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, by the name of G-d Shaddai, but by my name, YKVK, I was not known to them.

And then G-d (and the people) never use this name again.

I think this is because, at that point, G-d had fulfilled the promise of Shaddai. The Children of Israel in Egypt were quite numerous, indeed. Avraham and Isaac and Jacob and even Joseph had all indeed fathered a multitude: G-d had delivered on the promise!

The name Shaddai does not appear again with a Jew in the text of the Torah. (It appears with the prophecy of Bilaam, and this is the subject of a separate piece).

[an @iwe, @susanquinn, @blessedblacksmith and @eliyahumasinter work]

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  1. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Thanks @iWe. All completely new to me.

    I am surprised that no one ever taught it to me before; the subject of names in the Scriptures—especially of G-d—and their significance is emphasized in Christian study.

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