The Meaning of El Shaddai

An engraving of a scroll of the Penteteuch in ...
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The meanings of names and places have always fascinated me.  I am intrigued by the thought process of  the individual(s) doing the naming.  Questions run through my mind like, “I wonder why that name was chosen?”  “Does the name reflect  certain characteristics of the place or the person?”  “Is the name descriptive or does it merely suggest? ” ” Does the name point to the past, the present, or the future?”

El Shaddai is a name most are familiar with.  It is one of many names used to reference God.  But what else is known about this name?  In Judaism, there is one  proper name for God, YHWH.  It represents the divine nature, and the relationship of God to the Jewish people and to the world.  If YHWH is the proper name for God, then we can view the other names referencing God as titles which highlight different aspects of YHWH and the various roles which God portrays.  For example Elohim means god or authority, Elyon means most high, El means god or mighty one, Adonai means Lord, lord  or master.  These titles represent God as He is known as well as the divine aspects which are attributed to Him.

So, what does the word El Shaddai mean and how did it come to be associated with YHWH?  El is a name that is translated as “god”.  It Appears in Ugaritic, Phoenician, and other ancient text both as generic “god” and as the head of the divine pantheon. El can be used in conjunction with other words to designate various aspects of God’s character .  For example, El Roi means “God of Seeing” or “The God Who Opens our eyes (Gen 16:13) and  El Berith  means “God of the Covenant” (Judges 9:46).  In both cases, we have  God (El) plus a particular attribute  used to describe.

Shaddai, on the other hand, is more problematic.  Shaddai was an Amorite city located on the Euphrates river in Syria.  It was also a well-known name of a West Semitic deity that the Hebrews attached El to.    El Shaddai was therefore the “God of Shaddai.”  But let us take a closer look at the word Shaddai.  The root word “shadad”  means “to overpower” or “to destroy.” This would give Shaddai the meaning of “destroyer”, representing one of the aspects of God.  The Septuagint translates this into Almighty. In most English translations,  El Shaddai becomes God Almighty.  It is the name Shaddai whom  Abraham, Issac, and Jacob follow.

Shaddai might also be related to the word shadaim , the word for breasts in Hebrew. It may thus be connected to the notion of fertility. Two examples ( and there are more) where the name is connected with fruitfulness: “May God Almighty [El Shaddai] bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers…” (Gen. 28:3). “I am God Almighty [El Shaddai]: be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen. 35:11).

Some scholars believe the name may have come from the contraction of sha ( “who” or “she”) and dai (“enough, sufficient, sufficiency”) to indicate God’s complete sufficiency. The name then refers to the patriarchal understanding of deity as “God who is sufficient to supply all one’s needs.”  To this was later added the Mosaic conception of the Tetragrammaton YHWH, meaning a God who is sufficient in Himself.

The Talmud further explores the concept of  “enough” in the word Shaddai saying that “Shaddai” stands for “Mi she’Amar Dai L’olamo” – “He who said ‘Enough’ to His world.” When God was creating the world, He stopped the process at a certain point, holding back creation from reaching its full completion, and thus the name embodies God’s power to stop creation (Almighty).  The Velveteen Rabbi highlights the teachings of Kedushat Levi concerning this idea:   “God, he says, is known as “El Shaddai,” which is a name which offers two messages at once. The name El connotes strength, while the name Shaddai connotes divine flow (as in the Hebrew word shadayim, breasts.) The Holy Blessed One goes by the name “El Shaddai” in order to evoke both boundaried strength and limitless flow at the same time. When the Holy Blessed One first aspired to create, God was inclined to expand and spread without limit, but realized that in order for creation to take place, God had to say dai (enough!) and create limits.”  The Velveteen Rabbi offers this commentary regarding Kedushat Levi’s teachings,  “The Blesssed One had to behave in the world according to the strength of those who would receive God’s presence, rather than according to the strength of the Ein-Sof / God’s limitless transcendence. [In other words: God had to reveal God’s-self in a way which was mindful of our limits.] Because we can’t receive all of God’s greatness.”

El Shaddai points to the past, the present, and the future.  (S)HE is God Almighty, The Giver and Taker of Life, The One Who Is Sufficient, The Divine Milk of Mankind, A Land Flowing With Milk and Honey.  I am reminded of these lyrics by Singer/Song writer Amy Grant:

El Shaddai, El Shaddai,

El-Elyon na Adonai,
Age to age You’re still the same,
By the power of the name.
El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
Erkamka na Adonai,
I will praise and lift You high,
El Shaddai.


5 thoughts on “The Meaning of El Shaddai

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