A German non – Jewish reader asked me why we Jews don’t pronounce the Shem HaMeforash (Yud – Heh – Vav – Heh) ? Shouldn’t we know the pronunciation because many of us speak Hebrew ?
The truth is that I heard many Christians saying all kinds of G – d’s Names while walking through the Old City of Jerusalem. They don’t seem to be ashamed or worried but just say all the Names without thinking. Maybe this is their way of worship but even for Gentiles it is prohibited to pronounce the four – letter Name.
During Temple times, only the Cohen HaGadol (High Priest) was allowed to pronounce the Shem HaMeforash, and the only location where he was allowed to do so was inside the Temple walls. As soon as the last Temple was destroyed, no one was allowed to pronounce the highest Name of G – d. Moreover, the correct pronunciation got lost and until today, we don’t know this pronunciation.
A Mishna in Sanhedrin 90a teaches that, whoever pronounced the Shem HaMeforash, has no place in the World to Come (Olam HaBah). This prohibition also applies to Gentiles !
Rabbi Akiva Eiger states: We may write the Name but not pronounce it.
In Talmud Pesachim 50 it states:
Rabbi Nachman bar Yitzchak said: The World to Come is unlike this world. In this world, G – d’s Name is written with the letters YUD HEH etc. whereas it is pronounced ALEPH DALED, etc. – but in the World to Come it will be all one. It will be written and pronounced with Yud Heh etc.
Rabbi Hutner provides a beautiful commentary:
The Name we pronounce today refers to a Creator who is partially hidden from this world. We do not perceive things the way they really are. G – d’s presence is not recognizable.
In the World to Come we will be aware of His presence and His essence. G – d will be fully revealed.
The Maharal of Prague writes:
“Yud Heh Vav Heh” stands for “He will be and He is”.
The ultimate and final purpose of the Exodus, which always remains in a hidden state, since it is always in the future.
Yud Heh Vav Heh is the basic Name for continued and ultimate existence.
In kabbalistic literature, each letter of the four – letter Name stands for one of the upper worlds, as well as for the Creation process. To me it makes sense that we are not allowed to pronounce the Name because, so far, we are unable to pronounce it correctly nor has the actual redemption process started.