Sacred namers and Humility

There is a well-known anecdote about a young tourist visiting the home of Ludwig Van Beethoven; it seems the pretentious young woman, upon seeing Beethoven’s piano, sat down and played one of the great composer’s pieces. When she was finished, she stood up looking quite pleased with herself. The horrified guide closed the keyboard cover and informed the group that the week before, the world renowned pianist, Arturo Toscanini was on the same tour. He too sat at the piano bench, but he would not play Beethoven’s piano. He felt he was unworthy.

The sacred name movement, spends a great deal of time making their case for people to use the Sacred Name of God, rather than the historical, acceptable circumlocutions for His NAME, citing that they are more accurate.  Is accuracy the issue, or is holiness?

There is a certain amount of arrogance involved when we assume we have the right to familiarity. One of my early mentors, Dr. Louis Goldberg, was the head of Jewish Studies at Moody Bible Institute. He was a humble man, yet he commanded great respect from the Messianic leaders he mentored. I remember, after I earned my doctoral degree, Dr. Goldberg told me I could call him “Lou.”. It may not seem like much to others, but to me, it was a big deal to call him by his first name.  When I told my wife, she asked what she had to call him. I said she had to call him Dr. Goldberg. That didn’t go over well, so she called him Lou as well.

Dr. Goldberg taught at a seminar we held, and it was attended by a brash, street-wise man from my congregation from New York. The man kept calling Dr. Goldberg, “Lou.” Dr Goldberg pulled me aside and asked me what was going on with this guy. I told him the man had terminal cancer and was quirky anyway, so Dr. G didn’t press the matter, even though it was clearly inappropriate and he was bothered by it.

What made using Dr. Goldberg’s first name inappropriate was this man’s assumption of being on the same level. When it comes to getting a plane ticket, we are all on the same level, providing we have the funds to purchase them. When it comes to spiritual knowledge, we are not all on the same level.

I have long been a proponent of titles as boundary markers, but only when they are earned. When I run across people with unearned doctorates, or who use the term “rabbi” when they have not properly studied, it turns my stomach. It’s no better than people telling everyone that they have black belts in martial arts and call themselves “sensei” when they clearly don’t deserve the title.

More than titles, addressing people with familiarity implies a level of disrespect, unless permission is given to address people by their first name. When people wish to show their dis-approval with what I write here, they address me by my first name.  When they use God’s name with familiarity, what are they really expressing?


5 thoughts on “Sacred namers and Humility

  1. There’s very little respect any more, for learned or accomplished people, or for God, or for tradition, or for much of anything. This is a screw you I’m first generation. I think most of the problems in this country and in the world can be traced back to lack of respect in one way or another
    BUT, as you well explained, there will be no respect that isn’t preceded by humility.


  2. In I Corinthians (and I am paraphrasing) Paul specifically states that each of us have knowledge and knowledge puffs up, but love builds. Sometimes we forget that Jesus walked with sinners and touched the unclean.

  3. I had the privilege of sitting under Dr. Goldberg for a long weekend of teaching just a couple of years before he died. What a lovely and kind man.

    I believe that titles are important as they are a sign of respect, and we have to be careful not to presume a level of relationship that we may not actually have.

    There is a wonderful man in my life who I call “uncle”. We are not blood relations, but he has always been my uncle. A few years ago he told me that I could simply call him by his first name. Occasionally, I do but only when referring to him in conversation with other people. My calling him “uncle” is an ongoing sign of of the deep love, respect and deference that I have for him.

    How much more of a place of honor HaShem rightly has. I cringe when I hear people use (or attempt to use) his name.

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