El Shaddai: God’s maiden name

I think of El Shaddai as God’s maiden name i.e. the name used by the generations prior to the generation that would enter into the marriage/partnership covenant with God at Sinai.

That early name has several meanings as you can see below. It is interesting that while Shaddai is still used on the small box that encases a Mezuzah on Jewish doorposts throughout the world, El Shaddai is not used in Jewish prayer services anywhere in the world.

“God declared to Moses: I am Adonai-YHVH. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as El Shaddai, but My name Adonai-YHVH I didn’t make known to them.” Exodus 6:3 The following are some of the meanings of this special name.

Literal: El is the generic name for a Divinity in Semitic languages. The plural is Elim or Elohim. Specific Deities are El Elyon (High God) and El Olam (Eternal God). In Islamic Arabic Allah is the one and only El.

Psychology; El Shaddai means the God (El) who (sheh) is sufficient (dai) for you i.e. you do not need any other God or magical power even if other nations do. (Kimhi)

El Shaddai means a God whose promises should be sufficient for you i.e. the trustworthy and reliable One. (Rashi)

Philosophy; El Shaddai means the God who is Self- sufficient i.e. the uncaused and unconditioned One (Rabbi Isaac Abrabanel) or El Shaddai means the God who is sufficient to rule the universe alone i.e. monotheism (Avot d’Rabbi Nathan)

El Shaddai as a name for God is rarely used after Sinai. It’s only use in Jewish ritual is on the back of the parchment in a Mezuzah. There it stands for the phrase “A Guardian at the Doors of the Jewish People” i.e. a protective relationship.

Feminism; El Shaddai means the God who nurtures because Shaddai comes from Shaddaim, which means a pair of breasts. Thus El Shaddai is a nurturing God i.e. Mother Nature or more mystically the feminine presence of God: Shekinah.

El Shaddai is a God of blessings promised and received (Genesis 17:1-2, 28:3, 35:11-12 and 49:25) i.e. a nurturing God. With the advent of female Rabbis we should revive this name, and this feminine image in our liturgy.

El Shaddai is a feminine image because a mother gives unearned love naturally. “The Torah of kindness is on her tongue.” (Proverbs 31:26) Adonai is a masculine image because the Book of the Covenant is filled with Mitsvot. (Exodus 20:1-24:12) We have long tilted toward the strict rule of law. We should be more in the middle as scripture says, “Lodge between my breasts.” (Song of Songs 1:13)

Historical; El Shaddai is the spiritual power in Pagan religions, which in the past helped people worship the forces of nature. Now a higher aspect of God will be publicly revealed at Sinai-a God who demands ethical behavior.

Prior to the 20th century every child had to be nourished by a woman’s breasts in order to live. God too provided spiritual nourishment to humans at first without making specific ethical demands on them. Pagan and tribal religions do not make improvement of society central.

Now God will enter a collective covenant with Israel that will demand Mitsvot to improve society. Adonai is the God of mutual relationships, and reciprocal responsibilities. God is a partner more than a parent.

“My name Adonai I didn’t make known to them.”

Why not? There were ethical individuals in earlier generations but they were not numerous enough to be a society. They knew God as YHVH (Genesis 4:26) only as individuals. The Mitsvot are for an organic collective, and not for a self-selected aggregate of true believers: for Kol Yisrael; a whole people from top to bottom. (Deuteronomy 29:9-12)

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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