The Names of God

Basics in Kabbalah and Chassidut: The Names of God – Havayah

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Havayah is the pronunciation used for God's essential Name spelled with the four letters י־הוה (yud, hei, vav, hei).

Havayah is the most sacred of the Names of God. Although no name can fully express God’s essence, Havayah refers to God’s essence. For this reason it is sometimes referred to as “the essential Name” (שֵׁם הָעֶצֶם), or “the unique Name” (שֵׁם הַמְיֻחָד), or “the explicit Name” (שֵׁם הַמְפֹרָשׁ).

Due to its great sanctity, this Name may only be pronounced in the Holy Temple, and its correct pronunciation is not known today. For this reason, we refer to this Name by either the word Hashem, which simply means “the Name,” or Havayah (הֲוָיָ־ה), one of the permutations of its letters.

In English, this Name is referred to as the Tetragrammaton, meaning the four-letter Name, because in Hebrew it is spelled with four letters.

In the Bible

God’s essential Name is surely the most important word in the Torah. In the Five Books of Moses this Name appears exactly 1820 times.

There are many verses in the Bible in which God’s essential Name appears twice or more. Sometimes, the repetition even seems redundant. The most prominent among these is the first of the two verses that contain the Thirteen Principles of Divine Mercy, [Exodus 34:6-7] which begin with the words: “Havayah, Havayah,….” The seemingly redundant appearance of the essential Name in this verse is interpreted in Chassidic teachings as referring to two ways in which the Name describes the Almighty.

One way refers to God’s essence as it manifests in creation. The other way refers to His essence as it transcends creation.

We cannot grasp the meaning of the higher, transcendent level of God’s essential Name, for indeed it is beyond our very conception of meaning. But the meaning of God’s essential Name as manifest in creation can be understood. In fact, etymologically, the Name Havayah is derived from the Hebrew root הָיָה, the root form of the verb “to be.” The Name’s grammatical form implies “bringing into existence.” Thus, God’s essential Name, as manifest in creation, can be understood to mean, “He who continuously brings [all reality] into existence.” Accordingly, all of life and existence can be conceived of as a four-stage unfolding process that corresponds to the four letters of God’s essential Name.

As a model and as manifest in creation

God’s essential Name is the most basic contemplative model in Kabbalah.

In Chassidut the four stages of the creative process are known as: contraction, expansion, extension, and (second) expansion. They correspond to the letters of Havayah as follows:

Hebrew letterletter's namestage in creation

Correspondence of Havayah with the sefirot of Wisdom and Beauty

Havayah also reflects the Divine power of the continual recreation of all reality (through the 4-stage creative process described above). The source of this Divine power is the sefirah of wisdom as alluded to in the verse, "Havayah with wisdom founded the earth." <ref name="established">Proverbs 3:19</ref> The first manifestation of this power is the creation of time (for which reason, wisdom corresponds to the time dimension).

The primary manifestation of Havayah within creation corresponds to the sefirah of beauty, the central sefirah of the middle axis. In this capacity, Havayah is reflects God's attribute of mercy, the inner experience and motivator of the sefirah of beauty. In the Torah this is the way the difference between God's Name in the first and second accounts of Genesis is explained. While in the first account of creation only the Name Elokim appears, in the second account the Havayah precedes the Elokim creating a compound name, Havayah-Elokim. The sages explain that God's first intent was to create the world in accordance with His attribute of strict judgment, but saw that the world would be unsustainable. Therefore, He added His attribute of mercy (represented by the Name Havayah) and placed it before His attribute of strict judgment (represented by the Name Elokim).

Havayah and the sefirot

Since Havayah refers to God's essence as the (continuous) Creator, it follows that the sefirot are a manifestation of this Name. In other words, the ten sefirot can be understood as an explicit revelation of the same four-stage Divine process of creation encoded in the four-letter Name.

The first letter of Havayah, the yud (י) is known in Kabbalah as a “formed point,” meaning that though it resembles a small point, still it is well formed. The point-like nature of the yud graphically symbolizes the stage of contraction. Conceptually, it corresponds to the sefirah of wisdom, whose seminal nature is likened many times to a point of potential through which something enters reality. Wisdom serves as the entry point for intellectual energy to penetrate the mind.

The second letter of Havayah, the hei (ה) is drawn with three lines, which represent the expansion of the point of the yud into all three spatial dimensions. Conceptually, it parallels the task of the sefirah ofunderstanding: to expand and develop the seminal point of energy that is the sefirah of wisdom.

Because of their enduring partnership, wisdom and understanding are likened to a father (אַבָּא) and mother (אִמָּא). The mother, symbolized by the letter hei, is impregnated by the seminal point of energy given by the father. The mother encloses the father’s seed of wisdom and nurtures it in her womb. The fetus of understanding grows and expands in the womb until reaching full development, ready to be born into reality.

The third letter of Havayah, the vav (ו) resembles a vertical line that extends downwards, connecting the higher realms with the lower. As such, it graphically symbolizes the stage of extension. The numerical value of the letter vav is 6 and it corresponds to the six emotive sefirot from loving-kindness to foundation, which are collectively known as attributes (midot). Building on the imagery of wisdom and understanding as father and mother, the six attributes are considered to be the sons born from the mother’s womb.

The vav’s power of extension allows it to carry the concealed reality of understanding (the first hei) into the revealed reality represented by the sefirah of kingdom, which corresponds to the second hei. Like in the first hei, the letter’s three lines represent the three spatial dimensions, but this time of our imminent and revealed reality, also known as God’s kingdom on earth. In Kabbalah, the matriarchLeah who gave birth to six sons and one daughter represents the mother figure. Conceptually, the second hei is likened to the daughter of the family.

Missing from this correspondence is the sefirah of crown. Crown represents those things, like the super-conscious, that are transcendent or anterior to our perceptible reality. Indeed, though there is no letter that represents the sefirah of crown directly, it is (appropriately) merely alluded to by the upper tip of the yud, first letter.

In Kabbalah, the yud’s upper tip is called the “formless point,” i.e., a simple point possessing no spatial dimensions, a name that indicates the unfathomable transcendence of the crown, to which it refers. As the yud and the first hei are the father and mother, the upper tip of the yud points to the third partner in marriage: God, from Whom the infinite power to procreate derives. The full correspondence of the letters of God’s essential Name to the sefirot is as follows:

letter of Havayahletter's namesefirahpartzuf
קוצו של יtip of yudcrownGod's essence
וvavloving-kindness thru foundationze'er anpin

Havayah and the human body

In Ezekiel’s vision of the resurrection of the dead,<ref name="resurrection">Ezekiel 37</ref> we find a four-level depiction of the body as it is reconstituted—bones, blood vessels, flesh, and skin. The fifth level, the spirit, which Ezekiel prophesizes about separately, gives life to the inanimate body.

The bones, blood vessels, flesh, and skin correspond to the four letters of the Divine Name, with the tip of the yud corresponding to the fifth transcendent (and categorically different) level of the spirit as follows:

letter of Havayahletter's namesefirahpart of body
קוצו של יtip of yudcrownspirit of life
וvavloving-kindness thru foundationflesh

Havayah and Elokim

Using the atbash letter transformation, the Name Havayah transforms to the letters מצפץ whose gematria is 300, the value of the letter shin (ש).

300 is also the value of the largest filling of God’s Name, Elokim (אלף למד הי יוד מם). This equality implies the absolute unity of supernatural revelation (represented by Havayah) and His revelation in the natural order of things (represented by Elokim).

On the Tefilin of the head there are two embossed shins, one with three heads and one with four heads. The three headed shin, the form of the shin in our reality, represents the filling of Elokim. The four headed shin, the form of the shin in the World to Come, represents the Atbash transformation of Havayah.

Havayah and One

The gematria of Havayah is 26 = 2 • 13, where 13 is the gematria of “one” (אֶחָד). Thus, when we recite the Shema, "Hear O Israel, Havayah is our God, Havayah is One," we are also expressing the relationship between these two words. Their ratio of 2:1 symbolizes the absolute unity of God and creation, in accordance with the principle of unification called a whole and a half.

Permutations of Havayah

Havayah has four letters so theoretically its letters should be permutable in 24 distinct ways. But, because the 2 hei's are identical, in practice only 12 of the 24 permutations can be distinguished in our reality. One way to explain the lack of expression of 12 of the permutations is that they are spiritually too lofty to manifest in our physical time-bound reality<ref name=tanya>Tanya Betzeiruf Mar’ei Mekomot, p. 868</ref>.

These 12 permutations are corresponded with various other 12-part models, for instance the 12 months of the Hebrew calendar and the 12 Tribes of Israel, etc.

However, when written in a Torah scroll, or in a tefilin parchment<ref name=levarmegufa>See Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 36:2 ot hei; see also references there, especially Mishnat Chasidim, Masechet tikun tefilin 2:4-6 and Otiyot Harav, p. 110.</ref>, following the teachings of the Zohar, it is customary to draw the two hei's differently: the first hei has a very small projection that projects our of the base of its left foot and towards the letter vav. This projection is known as the "levar megufa" and in the Zohar refers to the 6 sefirot from loving-kindness to foundation, that are still pregnant within the womb of the hei.

In such cases, it can be stated that all of Havayah's 24 theoretical permutations can be revealed in our reality.

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