Ask The Rabbi

One Creator, a Plural Name

The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Topic: Elohim

Stephen from Drexel University wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

I read Chayei Sara for my Bar Mitzva. Good memories...

Why is the word "Elohim", when it is used as a Name of Gd, written in the plural? I haven't read any convincing religious discourse about this subject.


Dear Stephen,

Note : For the purpose of this column, I will write the word elohim as Elokim when referring to G-d.

Grammatically, the root word of Elokim is "eleh" the demonstrative pronoun "these". In the plural, "these" connotes the binding unity between each of the individual items, e.g.: "These five buildings were all built by a famous architect." Therefore the plural of eleh, (elohim), represents the unity of many different things combined together.

When G-d's name Elokim is used in the Torah, it illustrates the concept that G-d is the "one through whom all the plurality, (by everything being related to him), becomes a unity." Simply said, since G-d is the creator of everything in the universe, everything in the universe is unified through G-d. Thus, the word Elokim as a name of G-d in the Torah, expresses that all the individual things in the world, that seem separate and autonomous, are all unified through the Source - G-d - Who is The Ruler of everything. By extension, the Torah also uses the word elohim to refer to human rulers, law-givers, and judges of the people, who each rule in their worldly domain.

In the ancient world, the Oneness of G-d, as supreme Ruler and Judge over everything, was unique to Judaism alone. All early civilizations were polytheistic, that is, they all believed in many gods who were each limited in power to their own domain. For a good harvest, one might invoke the god of rain, or the god of fertility, or even both, by worshipping in the prescribed (pagan) manner.

In the Torah understanding of the world, nothing presupposed Creation, except G-d Himself Who created the world and everything in it. Therefore it is not surprising that the first time G-d is referred to in the Torah, the name Elokim is used, teaching us that G-d is the unity of all these things that are created in the story of Creation.

Source:

  • Rabbi S.R. Hirsch - Parshat Bereshit ch. 1.


 
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