Avraham’s revolution had begun to gain traction. He traversed the promised land, participating both in wars as well as in diplomacy, all the while disseminating awareness about a one God. Though his message radiated throughout the Land of Israel, it still hadn’t infiltrated cultures outside the land of God. His only previous attempt—during his brief sojourn in Egypt—was unsuccessful. Toward the end of his life he succeeds in circulating his groundbreaking ideas outside the Land of Israel. Dispatching his trusted servant to his former family is primarily a “wedding project”—to locate a bride for Yitzchak. Additionally, it is a “cultural exchange program”—an opportunity to spread his bold, new religious ideas to his former homeland.
Avraham’s servant doesn’t deliver sophisticated religious lectures or rousing sermons, but, in his own way, he spreads Avraham’s gospel. This servant possesses unflappable faith in God who he knows assists his mission of locating a suitable wife for Yiztchak. The lavish gifts he bestows reflects the generosity and altruism that Avraham had founded his religious system upon. Beyond his generosity and faith, this servant inspires Rivka’s family through a very simple but effective method: He constantly mentions God by name. As the drama of Rivka unfolds, the name of God appears 15 times! The servant prays to God for assistance, thanks Him for his success and bows in appreciation. This God-awareness is contagious as Rivka’s family—not especially known for their priestly background—also mentions God three times. This is, by far, the highest concentration of God’s name in the entire sefer of Bereishit. This condition was jump-started by Avraham who instructed his servant to swear in the name of God to dutifully fulfill the complicated mission.
This simple mentioning of God’s name is very different from the frontal religious preaching of Avraham during his journeys. Typically, Avraham would introduce the notion of God by teaching religious doctrines and theological principles. His teaching is described with the phrase “likro b’shem Hashem,” literally “calling in the name of God.” By contrast, this uneducated servant may not be capable of discoursing in sophisticated religious concepts. Instead he is a simple servant, but one who lives with constant and tangible God-awareness and he threads his daily interaction and conversation with the name of God.
We all strive to forge an abiding relationship with God. This relationship is generally founded upon high-minded experiences such as Torah study, mitzvah performance, prayer, charitable behavior and commitment to Jewish history. However, sometimes these powerful ideas and experiences become so mesmerizing and so all-consuming that we don’t always sense God’s presence within them. Halacha can become a routine of life, Torah study an all-immersive intellectual pursuit, and charity a social campaign rather than a religious crusade. One of the manners of cementing God’s presence is frequently mentioning His name in our day-to-day affairs. By including God’s name in our daily conversation we create greater familiarity and greater presence. Typically, we insert His name when planning the future (im yirtzeh Hashem) or when thanking Him for our successes (baruch Hashem). Certainly, some overuse these phrases, saddling their sentences with unnecessary mentions of God’s name, thereby creating muddled meaning. Perhaps this overuse discourages some from more balanced mentioning of His name. A healthy dosage of God’s name within our verbal diet creates a more palpable presence of Him in our lives.
In addition to mentioning Him in our common sentences, we mention His name ritually over 100 times a day—in our daily blessings. Sadly, our fast-paced life doesn’t always allow proper time for full concentration when reciting our daily brachot. However, focusing when we mention God’s name seems like a more attainable goal even if we aren’t able to muster full concentration during the entirety of our prayer or during the entire sweep of bracha recital.
A third method of creating greater intimacy with God is describing Him in more personal terms. The term God is an English and universal term employed by peoples and religions across the world to refer to a vast array of deities. By contrast, there are more “personal” titles, employed solely by Jews, that can convey a greater sense of relationship. These terms include Hashem, Hakadosh Baruch Hu and the Ribono Shel Olam. Sometimes swapping in these terms for the word God can alter the dynamic of our relationship, lending it a more private and familiar feel.
Full disclosure: In my articles I do employ the more universal term of God to maintain “literary consistency”: As the articles are written in English, the term God allows greater fluidity when reading. In my personal conversations I try to employ the more intimate terms of Ribono Shel Olam, Hashem or Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
This challenge of creating a concrete presence of God in our lives extends to an additional aspect—beyond the question of how often we include His name in our daily conversations or brachot. Often, our educational curriculums and general religious study veers away from discussing God while focusing solely on values, Torah study, mitzvah performance or historical commitment. Obviously we pursue these timeless agendas because we view them as God’s will; submission to these experiences is, by definition, submission to His will. However, sometimes we don’t sufficiently trace our conversation back to God even though we assume its implicit correlation. More explicit discussion about God can create a more powerful presence of God in our lives. Modern man sometimes blushes at the mere mention of God. Jews should take care not to allow these modern trends to shape our discourse, language and conversation.
With the untimely passing of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, z”l, the Jewish world has lost one of its greatest spokesmen. Avraham was heralded as the uniter of Heaven and Earth because he transformed the image of God from a celestial authority, disconnected from the human realm, into a loving Creator Who continued to be present and interactive with His creation. Rabbi Sacks eloquently and passionately reminded us that Torah and its values are not only eternal, but that they also comment on every aspect of human affairs—from social trends and moral thought to politics and history. He reminded us that the word of God and His presence radiate throughout every corner of the human experience. He inserted God awareness into the imagination of so many moderns—both Jew and non-Jew alike. As the Jewish nation has emerged from two millennia of “historical hibernation,” we are slowly reimagining our universalist agenda. Rabbi Sacks was able to distill the core values of Judaism and inspire a worldwide community of the faithful.
He married Torah and God’s will to our Earth with an eloquence reflecting the magnificence of God’s Heaven.
Yehi zichro baruch.
The writer is a rabbi at Yeshivat Har Etzion/Gush, a hesder yeshiva. He has smicha and a BA in computer science from Yeshiva University as well as a master’s degree in English literature from the City University of New York.