Complex Memories – the Notion of ה’ זכרך

EnglishThe verses, which constitute the Verses of Praise (פסוקי דזמרא) are not always easy to understand, and erroneous associations can make understanding these verses an even greater challenge.

One verse I find particularly difficult is part of יהי כבוד (more on that payer below):

ה’ שִׁמְךָ לְעֹולָם\ ה’ זִכְרְךָ לְדֹר־וָדֹֽר׃

Artscroll translates it as [quotes are in the AS translation]:

“HASHEM” is Your Name forever/
“HASHEM” is Your memorial throughout the generations.

What does is mean that “HASHEM is Your Name forever?” Did anyone suggest that G”d would, as it were, contemplate changing his name?

And how is a name a “memorial?”

[For consistency’s sake, “HASHEM” will be the stand in word for G”d’s Ineffable Name, the Tetragrammaton, throughout this blog post, despite the fact that I am personally partial to “ETERNAL.”]

According to the Artscroll Siddur’s commentary, this verse is explained by a passage in the Babylonian Talmud, Pessachim 50a. That passage interprets G”d’s answer to Moshe’s question “When the Israelites ask me what the Name of their Patriarchs’ G”d is, what should I tell them?” (Shemot 3:13) G”d ends His reply with the words זֶה־שְּׁמִי לְעֹלָם וְזֶה זִכְרִי לְדֹר דֹּֽר – “this is My name for ever, and this is My memorial unto all generations.” (3:15)

The Talmud (T.B. Pessachim 50a and Kidushin 71a) explains that G”d taught Moshe that His Name, the Tetragrammaton, is written, but not pronounced, being read A-donai (Lord), instead.

Since the above verse displays obvious parallels to our verse, reflecting both, the usage of “Name” (שמי & שמך) and “forever” (לעלם), as well as “memorial” (זכרי & זכרך) and “all generations” (לדר דר), hence, Artscroll explains that our verse means The [unpronounced Tetragrammaton] is Your Name forever, [though] HASHEM is Your memorial throughout all generations,” meaning that even though we do not pronounce the Tetragrammaton, it remains G”d’s true, essential Name. However, we cannot grasp His essence, so we do not even pronounce that Name. Instead, we substitute A-donai for it, which is a memorial, it reminds us throughout human history of G”d’s unfathomable, Ineffable Name.

The problem is, the Talmud expounds the unfathomable nature of the Tetragrammaton from this verse, in two ways, neither of which applies to our verse in Yehi Khevod.

The first Talmudic rationale
Rava wanted to teach [the Tetragrammaton] during his lecture, [but] a wizened scholar told him: It is written “to hide.” סבר רבא למדרשה בפירקא. אמר ליה ההוא סבא: לעלם כתיב

When G”d teaches Moshe His Name, He states: “This is My Name forever.” The Hebrew word for “forever” is לעולם. However, it is written in the so called defective spelling (חסר), meaning, without a Vav as a help vowel. Hence, the same word can also be read le-‘aleim, “to hide,” which implies that G”d’s Name must remain hidden. According to most interpretations, this refers to the pronunciation of the Name, though Maharsha (R. Samuel Eliezer ben R. Judah HaLevi Edels, 1555-1632) extends it most particularly to expositions about the inner meaning of the Divine Names.

The second Talmudic rationale
Rabbi Avina asked: It is written (Shemot 3:15) “This is My Name forever, and this is my memorial to all generations?!” [The answer is:] Said the Holy One, blessed be He [to Moshe]: I am not called as [my Name] is written. [My Name] is written with Yod-Heh… [the Tetragrammaton], while I am called with Alef-Daleth [Lord].

רבי אבינא רמי: כתיב, +שמות ג+ זה שמי לעלם, וזה זכרי לדר דר. אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא: לא כשאני נכתב אני נקרא, נכתב אני ביו”ד ה”א, ונקרא אני באל”ף דל”ת.

The discontinuity between Rabbi Avina’s remark and his answer is the fleshing out of his question, between the lines. Initially he assumed that both occurrences of the determinative “this” were modifying the same noun, presumable the Tetragrammaton. So Rabbi Avina wondered what meaning was added by the phrase “and this is my memorial to all generations.” Thereupon he answered that each determinative “this” referred to a different Divine Name. The first phrase referred to the Tetragrammaton, which is G”d’s essential Name, while the second phrase referred to the Name Lord (A-donai”), which is how human beings speak of G”d, hence, it reminds us of Him, without quite being his essential Name.

Now when Artscroll translated Ps. 135:13 in Yehi Khevod as “HASHEM is Your Name forever/ HASHEM is Your memorial throughout the generations,” it was really referring to Rabbi Avina’s exposition.

Except … well, except that hardly seems a possible explanation of the verse in question, for unlike Shemot 3:15, where no Divine Name is mentioned — two determinative “this” stand in their places — in Tehillim 135:13 there are no determinatives, but the Divine Names are surely spelled out, and both of them are Tetragrammatons! Surely it cannot be that the verse comes to teach us that the Tetragrammaton is the memorial by which people speak of G”d, for that is precisely the Ineffable Name.

Furthermore, the first exposition doesn’t apply, either, for unlike in Shemot 3:15, “le-‘Olam” in Tehillim 135:13 is written in the plene (מלא) spelling, meaning, with a Vav as a help vowel, so that there is no way one can read that “le-‘Olam” as “to hide” (“le-‘alem“) rather than “forever.”

It seems we are dealing here with an unintentional error. [UPDATE 2010-01-02: Actually, R’ Nosson Scherman is blameless, as the grafting of the above Talmud passages onto Tehillim 135:13 is found in R’ Eli’ezer Rokeach’s commentary to prayer. However, while I am loath to call a remark by the Rokeach an error, it remains a difficult juxtaposition.] Both verses are related, as is obvious and as I will further explain below, but the derash, the exegetical explanation of one isn’t necessarily transferable to the other verse.

We are all sometimes guilty of carrying an analogy too far, and it is, after all, a fairly innocent error. In all honesty, this is how I discovered that these two verses are actually related, so I owe a debt of gratitude even to a lapse. שיחת חולין של תלמידי חכמים perhaps includes their lapses, too.

The Verse in its Context

Interestingly, it seems that when the same verse reappeared later in the same siddur, this time in its proper context of its full psalm, the author may have become unhappy with this explanation. The verse comes from Psalm 135, which happens to be part of the Shabbat and Holiday פסוקי דזמרא. There, the translation is still the same, but without quotes around “HASHEM,” and the commentary is quite different. Quoting Rashi, it reads:

This Name symbolizes eternity. Just as He has controlled history in the past, He continues to do so always.

A More Precise Reading

All the classical commentaries (at least those on the page of the Miqraot Gedolot Tehillim) consider this verse to mean that G”d’s reputation, His impression upon humanity and the world, is everlasting. Over the course of history, G”d’s presence will be felt and remembered and ultimately revealed to all, with the Final Redemption.

Ner leRagli, Rabbi Aviel Ornstein’s commentary to Tehillim (Feldstein, Jerusalem 5762/2002), adds an interesting dimension. The first phrase, “HASHEM is Your Name” refers to times of Divine Revelation, while “HASHEM is Your memorial” refers to times of Divine Hiddeness, which what we experience throughout most of history. Hence, the verse tells us that G”d’s Name is eternal, and even when He acts out of hiddenness, i.e., without openly intervening, still, we remember His Name.

One translation stands out for being both in line with the above commentaries, and for being very direct:

O LORD, Thy name endureth for ever; thy memorial, O LORD, throughout all generations. (JPS)

The direct manner of the verse seems warranted, as the Psalmist addresses G”d directly (שִׁמְךָ, “Your Name” and זִכְרְךָ, “Your memorial”).

Rendered somewhat more understandably (memorial isn’t used in this sense in English), we could render:

HASHEM!, You Name endures forever, HASHEM!, You are remembered throughout all generations.

Shemot 3:15 Revisited

Following years of studying Chumash with Rashi, I have always only read that verse as referring to Rabbi Avina’s teaching. However, now that, thanks to this small error, I realized the relationship between both verses, I am reminded that this verse, too, has multiple levels of meaning.

On an exegetical level, it teaches that G”d’s Ineffable Name is, well, ineffable, and therefore to be pronounced LORD.

However, on the simple literal level, it teaches that G”d’s Hand in history is constant, and that even when we fail to see it, such as during the years of our ancestors’ bondage in Egypt, as well as throughout centuries of persecution and misfortune, G”d’s Name is remembered and we well know that ultimately His immanence will be perceived and recognized by all. That must have resonated with Moshe, as G”d revealed to him that the time for the great revelation of the Exodus and of the giving of the Torah was coming near.

Both levels of interpretations provide profound insights.

The Context in יהי כבוד

יהי כבוד, a compilation of verses from all over Tehillim, which begin by emphasizing G”d’s eternality, and segue into G”d’s election of Israel, to end in the revelation of G”d’s Sovereignty over all existence. (R’ Yisachar Jacobson, Netiv Bina)

This surely seems like a reflection of the Tashbetz’ triple theme of Creation-Revelation-Redemption, creation being the revelation of G”d’s Infinity and Might, Revelation coming about through the agency of Israel and finally Redemption, which involves recognition and acceptance of G”d’s Sovereignty by all of humanity. (BTW, can anyone chapter and verse this Tashbetz? Please do so in the comment section; I am desperately looking for it in context.)

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One Response to Complex Memories – the Notion of ה’ זכרך

  1. Aton Holzer says:

    Nice. Incorporate the creation-revelation-redemption idea in the siddur.

    One possible limmud Zechus: the second tetragrammaton here may not be the referent of Zichrecha L’Dor VaDor. Rather, we may have here an instance of staircase parallelism. Just like יְמִינְךָ ה נֶאְדָּרִי בַּכֹּחַ יְמִינְךָ ה תִּרְעַץ אֹויֵב really means, יְמִינְךָ, ה: נֶאְדָּרִי בַּכֹּחַ תִּרְעַץ אֹויֵב, and like some suggest regarding שמע ישראל ה’ אלהינו ה’ אחד, that it really means שמע ישראל, ה:’ אלהינו אחד, the correct understanding here might be YKVK: Shimcha L’Olam, Zichrecha L’Dor VaDor, in which case the referent in the second half is not the tetragrammaton, but the Zecher of the Tetragrammaton, i.e. Shem Adnus.

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