If God had a business card, what would it say?
The job description could be: “Creator of the Universe,” “Redeemer of Israel,” “Healer or the Sick” or simply, “God.”
And what would God’s name be: “Adonai,” “Holy One” or “Source of Life?” Actually, God’s proper name is:
An ineffable name of which a poet wrote: “The mysteries of Your name cannot be explicated.”
Fortunately, Unetanah Tokef is not a legal text, because I would like to offer some explanations.
At the burning bush, God said to Moses
Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh – I Will Be What I Will Be… Thus shall you say to the Israelites, “Ehyeh – I Will Be sent me to you.”
God calls Godself “אהיה – I will be” in the first person, as the speaker
When Moses reports to the people he switches to the third person “יהיה – He will be,” because God is unseen.
The letter vav substitutes for the second yod (as proposed by the medieval commentator Rashbam), yielding:
This is name is derived from the state of being verb Is-Was-Will be.
The spelling with a vav can be understood as bringing together all three Hebrew tenses: future, present, and past, because God is God for all time.
At the bush God spoke in the first person. Moses spoke about God in the third person, and we approach God in the second person, “You” as if God were present.
Filled with awe by the mystery, we do not pronounce this name, but it is printed in our prayer book.
When praying quietly, try not to rush to “Adonai” immediately. On occasion, take a moment to wait in wonder, in the presence of God who Is-Was-Will be, who Speaks, is Present and is Unseen.
Note: in Hebrew grammar, the first, second and third persons are also known as “speaker, present, unseen (or hidden), respectively