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Why does God have so many names?

by Rabbi Shalom Hazan

Good question. Now, in typical Jewish fashion, let us try to address it by... asking another question.

What is a name? A name is used to identify a person (or object). All you have to do is decide that this particular person (or thing) will be called so-and-so and -- poof! -- you have a name. In fact, Kabbalah teaches us that a name represents the external aspects of the person, as opposed to his essence. For the person himself, on his own, has no need for a name. So, it would seem, a name is nothing more than a label.

On the other hand, Kabbalah explains, a name is connected very deeply with the essence of the person. We see this when a person faints, G-d forbid. Sometimes the person can be awakened by simply whispering his or her name in the ear. This is because the name does have an essential connection to the soul. Why? Because who is it that is called by the name? The (essence of the) person himself!

Kabbalah teaches us that a name represents the external aspects of the person, as opposed to his essence
So, getting back to your question: G-d's essence is so far removed from our physical reality that if He would not choose to be involved with it, there would be no connection whatsoever between us. However, He did choose to create the world and to be constantly involved with it (this is what is known as Divine (individual) Providence).

There are many different channels -- an entire chain of levels known as Hishtalshelut -- through which G-d's energy comes into the world. G-d's names each represent another one (or a combination) of these channels or energy-forces.

So the name is, in a way, and external part of G-d, since it is only there for G-d to relate to us. On the other hand, it is G-d's energy -- connected to His essence -- that is channeled through the names.

A quick example: The name Elokim denotes strict judgment as opposed to kindness. In creating the world, the name Elokim is used because G-d -- so to stay -- has to constrain His great light in order to allow the existence of something other than Him. At other times the tetragrammaton is used. That is a name denoting G-d's infinite kindness and giving.

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