Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.” Well, in the world of Hebrew, Shakespeare couldn’t be more wrong. Words are not just used for communication, words have the power to create. God spoke and it was so. God spoke and the heavens and the earth were created. The Hebrew letters God used to speak life into existence were not coincidental, but rather instrumental in creation. They comprise the building blocks of a word’s true definition, its essence. So, yes, a rose by any other name would NOT smell as sweetly.
I wondered, would this be true of the different names of God?
This month we celebrate, what are often called, the High Holy Days (Yom Teruah/Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot). The tone of worship is often very solemn coupled with deep and meaningful hymns and prayers.
In one such prayer, we call upon God’s name, Avinu Malkeinu / Our Father, Our King. Its lyrics cut to the heart of the High Holy Days, proclaiming, “Our Father, Our King, be gracious to us and answer us, even when we have little merit; support us, and deal kindly with us, and redeem us.” Its lyrics are repeated 3 times, each time with greater kavanah or heart’s intention. It is as though with each repetition, like waves on the seashore, its truths bury deeper and deeper into our souls speaking renewal, cleansing, and awe.
As I was reflecting on the name Avinu Malkeinu used in this prayer, I remembered a story a friend of mine told me of a middle-aged man in her congregation. Only a few short weeks before his death from a sudden embolism to the brain, he became more and more unleashed in his worship. He would sing and dance and shout with a beautiful cry, “Daddy, Daddy!” You could see it in his eyes, in his heart, the deep abiding joy and peace he felt to say this simple word. You could almost feel the intense longing to be held by his Heavenly Abba, Father. It was so heartfelt. It was as if there was no one else in the room but him and his Daddy, no one else mattered. The window into this deep intimacy left its mark for sure. You couldn’t help but be ministered to by this childlike faith and wanting to be close, so close to his Creator.
This got me thinking, would it have changed my perception of the story if the man had cried out, “Avinu Malkeinu” instead of “Daddy, Daddy?” Yes, I honestly believe it would. In English at least, the word father can have a harsh connotation at times. Sometimes, the word father, as opposed to dad or daddy, can indicates a very clinical, distant or unfamiliar tone. It is not our daddy that punishes us, it’s our father that disciplines us, right? The one that calls us by our full name in that stern voice that sends shockwaves of fear and impending doom over us, but, it is our daddy that holds us close when we cry, when we’ve been hurt.
When we hear the voice of the shofar call out, symbolic of the voice of God, we must remember that it is not just the voice of our father that we hear but the voice of our daddy. It is not just the voice of our father calling us to deep repentance and cleansing, but the voice of our daddy calling us to abiding love and eternal faithfulness.
This holiday season let us not just know God by His name, Avinu Malkeinu, but let us also know Him by Daddy! Let both names on our tongues, create for us an even deeper, more meaningful, more well-rounded relationship with our Heavenly Father, and let them both be a sweet, sweet, sound in His ears!
To a sweet new year in Messiah’s Name
“How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103)