Saturday, November 08, 2008

749. Names

Yes, this blog is still about chanting, a little of which I did today. Just 6 verses from Lekh Lekha, but nothing is ever as easy as it seems. Gen. 15:2 contained this phrase:

Vayomer Avram Adonay Elohim...
Abram said, "O Lord, God,..

Seems straightforward--except that Elohim is spelled YHVH, the tetragrammaton often used in place of the name of God. YHVH is usually pronounced "Adonai," and is pointed below the letters with the vowels of that pronunciation. But in this case YHVH had the vowels of "Elohim," and the transliteration I just cited (from my favorite Internet Cantor), also pronounces it that way.

But I was taught that in haftarah trop--ONLY haftarah trop, not Torah--two instances of "Adonai" next to each other, no matter what their vowels, meant that the second is pronounced "Elohim." Unless you happen to notice those different tiny little vowels in the Torah (a question that wouldn't be of concern elsewhere in the Tanakh), "Adonai" seems the logical pronunciation.

I didn't notice until I practiced the verses from Tikkun Simanim. There it was in parentheses: "Qere Elohim" ("chanted Elohim"). There was no note to this effect in my other tikkun or humash.

I was proud of myself for figuring it out. So I was a bit shaken when stopped by the rabbi as I chanted "Elohim" ("Only in haftarah," she whispered. "No..." I replied, unaware that the microphone picked up my protest), and after a moment of racing thoughts as I realized I couldn't really have a debate at the bima in the middle of K'riat haTorah, sang "Adonai, Adonai" and offered a silent apology to God. (Who, I guess, heard it correctly the first time.) I got right back on track and read the remaining verses just fine, which might not have happened in the past--so, in all, it was a good learning experience. I found the rabbi afterwards and told her of my discovery, and she apologized--and said she had been equally surprised to see the same word and vowels just a few verses later. Curious, I did some mad Googling last night and learned the following:

--Gen 15:2 is the first appearance in the Torah of the word "Adonai." When spelled out completely, my understanding is that it's an honorific rather than a name of God. So maybe the Masoretes, the guys who standardized the writing of the Torah, decided that the next word had to be explicitly "Elohim" (vs. a YHVH that could be mispronounced as "Adonai") to make sure the name of God was clearly distinguished?

--The exact same phrase appears in Gen. 15:8.

--There are many other instances of this spelling in the Tanakh, but I found reference to only four in the Torah (the other two: Deut. 3:24; 9:26). One day when I have lots of time I'll think about the connection between those passages...

--This type of "qere/ketiv," an instance where the written word is not pronounced as you'd expect, is called a "Qere perpetuum" and is traditionally not notated. (Other discrepancies merit little explanations in the humash or tikkun.) People just sort of knew, for a thousand years or so, how to do it. It was very considerate of Tikkum Simanim to acknowledge that times have changed.

I love all these details, which remind me of noticing shiny bits of rock embedded in the sidewalk that only sparkle when the sun hits in a particular way. Onward to 12 verses of Vayera next Shabbat, which I hope will be equally interesting, but debate-free.

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