Still asking, ‘Why?’

In the end, I did speak to a few clergy from the area where the horrific accident happened on the Taconic.

When I called Rev. Paul Egensteiner, pastor of Emanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church in Pleasantville, I had no idea that he had been at the scene, serving as a fire department chaplain.

He was reluctant to talk about it, but took his best shot during what must have been a very difficult day for him.

He told me that he prayed over each of the victims at the scene.

As I wrote on, he told me: “Being there, there is just no way to make sense of it. You can’t. It was an accident. If the question becomes ‘How could God let this happen,’ I say ‘It happened.’ I prayed with each of the victims. I felt God’s presence with them. That was never a question for me.”

I was also able to reach Rabbi Mark Sameth of Pleasantville Community Synagogue, who told me that “Tragedy is no time for theology.”

He said: “One needn’t – I would go so far as to say, shouldn’t – look for meaning in horrific and violent death. This is when we need to reach out and to comfort, to be, so to speak, God’s presence in the world.”

I also got this comment on my blog from a Rev. Patt Kauffman, who I don’t know but apparently served locally at some point:

“I have been asked also how this could happen; is it God’s will that these lives be taken so tragically?  I confess a God that always loves, and that never desires ill for creation. When I was serving a congregation in Yorktown Heights, I remember the confusing, entrances and exits, the winding and narrow roadway, and the traffic that travelled much too fast that is the Taconic.  In my short tenure, I saw many close calls, and cars off the roadway.  This was an accident bound to happen.

“Our task as people of faith is to assure the survivors of God’s love and mercy, even as they (and we) struggle with the horror and the doubt.  Healing will come, through the work of a loving and caring community of skilled professionals, thoughtful and insightful clergy, and family and friends, all of whom God can and does work.”

More on the androgynous name of God

Last summer, I wrote an article about Rabbi Mark Sameth from Pleasantville Community Synagogue, who was about to publish a provocative scholarly piece about the Hebrew name of God that is known as the Tetragrammaton.

It is the four letters Yud-Hay-Vov-Hay and it appears 6,823 times in the Hebrew Bible.

Sameth developed a “theory” that the four letters should actually be read in reverse. When they are, he said, the new name makes the sounds of the Hebrew words for “he” and “she.”

As I wrote at the time: “God thus becomes a dual-gendered deity, bringing together all the male and female energy in the universe, the yin and the yang that have divided the sexes from Adam and Eve to Homer and Marge.”

I got a huge reaction to my article about Sameth’s article. People from many, many religious traditions found meaning in Sameth’s ideas.

I mention this now because Sameth has written an article in the Spring 2009 edition of Reform Judaism magazine, further explaining his theory.

He writes:


He-She, I believe, is the long-unpronounceable Name of God! This secret has been hiding in plain sight for all these years, for it explicitly states in the Torah: God created the earth-creature in God’s own image, male and female.

Needless to say, the notion of an androgynous God creating essentially androgynous human beings has profound implications. Long ago the Zohar, the book of Jewish mysticism par excellence, declared, “It is incumbent on a man to ever be male and female”—a strange statement especially in the 13th century. But recently our society has begun to show signs of being able to understand, and willing to accept, this message.


He later writes:


It is time for us to consider changing our most sacred prayers, in particular those which refer to God as Lord. The early rabbis employed the word “Lord” (Adonai in Hebrew) as a respectful substitute for the unpronounceable Tetragrammaton, and recently some Reform Jews—including the editors of The Torah: A Women’s Commentary—have chosen not to use it. With this new cognition of the Tetragrammaton, we can confidently revisit our faithful declaration: “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Echad—Hear O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4) and affirm instead: “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Echad—Hear O Israel: He-She is Our God, He-She is One.”

It is time for us to affirm that Reform Judaism’s tradition of gender equality—which has empowered women to become rabbis, cantors, and congregational lay leaders—is not a modern and somehow less authentic invention, but emblematic of Judaism’s most ancient conception of God.

About God’s name

I’ve gotten quite a lot of reaction to an article in yesterday’s Journal News/LoHud about a Westchester rabbi who believes he has some insight into the meaning of God’s name.

More than a decade ago, Rabbi Mark Sameth hit on this theory: that the Tetragrammaton — the Hebrew, four-letter name of God in the Hebrew Bible — has something of a secret meaning. If you take the four Hebrew letters (Yud-Hay-Vov-Hay) and reverse them, the new word makes the sounds of the Hebrew words for “he” and “she.”

Based on his study of Jewish mysticism, Sameth concluded that this hidden name of God shows that God has a dual-gendered nature. In other words, God is not masculine.

tjndc5-5ktvfmic5gpmfkkyeqx_layout.jpgSameth, the spiritual leader of Pleasantville Community Synagogue, spent the last decade researching commentaries on the Torah and Talmud — particularly those with a mystical bent — to build a case for his theory.

The result will be an article in the upcoming issue of the CCAR Journal (the journal of Reform rabbis) called: “Who is He? He is She: The Secret Four-Letter Name of God.”

By the way, the four-letter, Hebrew name of God is held by Jewish tradition to be unpronounceable (although others have pronounced it as Yahweh or Jehovah). Sameth does not intend to speak the reversed name or have others speak it.

The reaction I’ve gotten has been tremendously positive (not always the case, believe me). People from all sorts of religious backgrounds seem to be finding some appeal — meaning, solace, the oddness of it all — in Sameth’s ideas. It’s hard to tell from emails, but many of these folks seem to be on spiritual quests of various types.

And what of those who disagree with Sameth’s conclusions?

Someone asked me why I didn’t include any comments from a religious authority who thinks it’s all nuts. The answer is simple: Because few people have actually seen Sameth’s article, which will be published over the next few weeks. I wasn’t going to ask someone to respond my brief summary of the article (yes, something that journalists do all the time with courts decisions, etc.).

But if anyone reads it and wants to offer a critique, I would ask the editorial board to print it. And I would certainly put it on my blog.