Compassionate Presence: YHWH and the Measure of Mercy

  • Hillel Ben-Sasson
Part of the Jewish Thought and Philosophy book series (JTP)


It was the rabbis’ challenge to expound YHWH’s biblical meaning. And so they did, by grounding that meaning in a broader hermeneutical approach to Scripture, as well as by articulating its halachic-legal significance. This chapter analyzes the rabbinic hermeneutical decision to identify the name YHWH with the divine measure of mercy (midat ha-rachamim, commonly yet erroneously translated as “attribute of mercy”). Here I trace the meticulous rabbinic effort to set YHWH aside as a privileged name for the divine, above all other biblical and rabbinic appellations. By securing YHWH’s special status, the descriptive choice to identify it with the measure of mercy became an assertion of God’s very nature. Examining the notion of mercy in rabbinic literature, the chapter argues that for the rabbis, God’s nature was understood in dialogical rather than metaphysical terms, and closely linked to divine concern and personhood. The midrash, I argue, fixed YHWH’s meaning as “He who can be addressed and would respond compassionately”.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hillel Ben-Sasson
    • 1
  1. 1.Jewish Theological SeminaryNew YorkUSA

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