I think of El Shaddai as God’s pre-Sinai name; the name used by the generations prior to the generation that would enter into the marriage partnership covenant with God at Sinai. El Shaddai is a very early name which has several meanings as you can see below.
It is interesting that while Shaddai by itself is often placed 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)
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 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.
Also 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. This name was rarely used after Sinai. 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 also 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. After Sinai 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; an ezer k’negdo more than a king.
Genesis 2:18 says God made for Adam an ezer k’negdo (an phrase which means a helpmate opposite or against him); but the word ezer connotes strength and is usually used in reference to God’s power to help, (Psalms 33:20, 70:6, 115:9 and 146:5) so a better understanding of the term is that woman was created to be a strength equal to man. The Syriac translation is “a helper similar to him”.
The rabbis taught: woman was created from man’s side to underscore that she was not meant to walk ahead of him in mastery, nor was she meant to walk behind in a subservient manner. She was meant to walk at his side as his equal.
The rabbis further taught that the term ezer k’negdo was used to teach that when her husband was right, his wife would be there to support him with her strength…. and when her husband was wrong she would be there with her strength to restrain him.
“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)