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Moshav Me'or Modiim, Israel
Rabbi Avraham Arieh and Rachel Trugman have over thirty years of experience in the field of Jewish education.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Yom Kippur and the Four Letter Name of God

As part of the religious decorations in many synagogues around the world there is found the following verse from Psalms ( 16:8 ): “I put God before me at all times.” In Kabbalah this verse is interpreted to mean that the essential four letter name of God appears in the form and process of every aspect of reality and is used as a model through which we understand the Divine, as it manifests itself in all areas of life.
     For example, the four letters of God’s name - yod, heh, and vav, heh - form the words we use in Hebrew for the passage of time: past (heh, yod, heh,) present (heh, vav, heh) and future (yod, heh, yod, heh.) The aspect of time when added to the three coordinates of space make up the four dimensions of perceptible reality as taught by Einstein. Many other aspects of time, space and material reality are based on the number four as well, such as the four seasons (autumn, winter, spring and summer,) the four cardinal directions (north, south, east and west), the four basic elements (fire, earth, water and air), the four basic forces of the universe (gravity, electromagnetic, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force,) the four states of matter (solid, liquid, gas and active combustion) the four aspects of creation (inanimate, vegetable, animal and human) etc…
    In addition to the physical universe, the four letters of God’s name manifest throughout the spiritual worlds as well. In Kabbalah we are taught that there are four worlds encompassing all levels of created reality, from the spiritual to the physical: Atzilut - the world of emanation; Briah - the world of creation; Yetzirah - the world of formation and Assiyah - the world of action.
     A beautiful allusion to the four letters of God’s name is found in four major components of the holiday of Yom Kippur. The yod, the first letter of God’s name, numerically equals ten, corresponding to the date of Yom Kippur, the tenth of Tishrei, and the culmination of the ten days of repentance. An additional correspondence relates to Moses bringing down from Mt. Sinai the second tablets of the law with the ten commandments on Yom Kippur.
     The first heh of God’s name numerically equals five, corresponding to the five prayer services of Yom Kippur. We pray three prayer services daily and four times on Shabbat and holidays. The only time of the year we pray five prayer services is on Yom Kippur. This further relates to the five levels of soul (nefesh, ruach, neshama, chaya and yechida,) of which the fifth one, yechida, the super-conscious level of soul, is more accessible on Yom Kippur than any other time of the year.
     The third letter of God’s name, the vav, numerically equals six, corresponding to the six divisions of the Torah reading of the day. This is also an unique aspect of Yom Kippur, as it is the only time of the year there is such a division. The number six in Kabbalah relates to the six cardinal emotional characteristics within a person. On Yom Kippur we attempt to rectify and seek forgiveness, especially for the mistakes and shortcomings we have in these areas of our lives. The letter vav in Kabbalah also symbolizes sexual energy. This is reflected by the fact that the Torah reading of the afternoon service of Yom Kippur deals exclusively with this topic.
     The final letter in God’s four letter name, the final heh, numerically equals five, corresponding to the five prohibitions of the day: eating and drinking, bathing, anointing with oil, wearing leather shoes and marital relations.
     The above example is but one of an almost infinite number of ways we can see the four letter name of God reflected in creation. The more we learn of these correspondences, the more we come to appreciate the deeper meaning of “I place God before me at all times.”

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