The Significance of Sheim Hashem in Shirat HaYam by Gavi Dov Hochzstein


In the second verse of Shirat HaYam, Moshe and Bnei Yisrael sing (Shemot 15:2), “Azi VeZimrat Kah VaYehi Li LiYeshua Ze Keili VeAnveihu Elokei Avi VaAromemenhu,” “God is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will glorify Him; my father's God, and I will exalt Him.” During this Pasuk, Moshe uses abbreviated versions of the name of Hashem, such as “Kah” and “Keil” but never uses any full names. Ramban points out this oddity, as in the entire Torah, Moshe generally uses the full names of Hashem, as the latter commanded Moshe upon their first encounter (3:16), “Zeh Shemi LeOlam VehZeh Zichri LeDor Dor,” “This is my name forever, and this is my memory from generation to generation.”

Ramban offers several explanations for the reasoning behind the Moshe’s terse speech. One understanding is that Keriat Yam Suf was performed via a Malach, or a servant, as we learn from “HaYad HaGedolah,” “The great work” (14:31). Consequently, the full Divine Name is not necessary and a shorthand name suffices. Therefore, Moshe uses abbreviations in this Pasuk.

However, in the following Pasuk (15:3), Moshe proceeds to say “Hashem (Yud-Kei-Vav-Kei) Ish Milchama Hashem Shemo.” In this case, Moshe not only uses one of the more meaningful, complete names (Yud-Kei-Vav-Kei), but also apportions significance to the name, as he emphasizes, “Hashem Shemo.” With the previous understanding that Hashem had sent a Malach to split the sea, it does not make sense why Moshe would continue and proclaim the real name of Hashem.

The answer, Ramban explains, lies in the word “VeAnveihu,” “And I will beautify Him” (15:2). According to Rashi and Onkelos, the straightforward explanation of this word is that Moshe states that he will praise Hashem and build him a house (the Beit HaMikdash). According to Ramban, Moshe is claims that he will elevate Hashem by using His name. The use of the divine name is considered “Naveh Elyon” or “eternal beauty.” The key is that Hashem was known to Moshe’s forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, only as “Keil Shakai,”  “God Almighty” (BeReishit 17:1), as the name, Yud-Kei-Vav-Kei, was not revealed to them. Additionally, when Moshe says “Keili,” he is explaining that Hashem exercised the Midat HaRachamim, trait of compassion, with the former, while Hashem exercised the Midat HaDin, attribute of judgment with Moshe’s aforementioned forefathers.

Therefore, the usage of Sheim Hashem in the two Pasukim is a progression. First, Moshe makes a comment about Hashem’s strength with the name “Kah.”  Then, he says, “Ze Keili VeAnveihu Elokei Avi VaAromemenhu,” “This is my God, and I will glorify Him” (15:2). The following clause, “Elokei Avi VaAromemenhu,” “My father’s God and I will exalt Him” (15:2), can be understood as Moshe’s reason for beautifying Hashem, as “Elokim” stresses the Midat HaDin. Accordingly, via the subsequent Pasuk, Moshe proceeds to implement his promise of beautifying Hashem by using the name, Yud-Kei-Vav-Kei.

The message from this understanding of Ramban is clear. We should make sure to take care in using the appropriate names at appropriate times. For example, we should give the respect to others they deserve by calling them by their suitable title. Additionally, we should realize the significance of the name of Hashem in the ways it is used throughout the Torah, and take great care in preventing the Sheim Hashem from being profaned. Each usage of His name teaches us something specific about His character in that context. If we were to be more careful to give the proper Kavod to the Sheim Hashem as it is used, we could be Zocheh to witness the Sheim Hashem’s (Yud-Kei-Vav-Kei) Midat Rachamim and, in turn, the coming of the Mashiach, BiMheira BeYameinu.

Decoding the Shirah by Avi Hirt

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