Could the Tetragrammaton YHWH be an onomatopoeia for the sound of breathing?
I suppose it could. At least one Jewish rabbi believes so.
For Jews, one of the most important verses in the entire Pentateuch is to be found in Deuteronomy 6:4. The verse states, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” In Hebrew: Shema Yisrael YHVH Elohaynu YHVH Echad.
This verse is said twice daily in Jewish communal prayer. It is to be said before going to bed at night and upon waking in the morning.
In most Jewish homes, a handwritten passage of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is found in a small decorative box (called a mezuzah) on the doorpost at the entrance to the home.
As a rabbi, I often recite this verse when visiting the sick. This verse is also said by those who are about to die, but if they cannot do so it is said before and then again right after death by a family member.
Why is this verse, which in Hebrew contains only six words, so important and why might it be relevant as a response to violence done in the name of religion?
The first Hebrew word, Shema, means more than “Hear;” it means “Listen!”
Two words in Hebrew indicate hearing. The first one comes from the same biblical root as the word for the “ear.” It most often means hearing something with our ears.
The word in this verse, Shema, implies a deeper type of hearing. It means we are to be quiet, to listen and absorb. This type of hearing is meant to influence our very souls.
The second word, Yisrael, means “the people of Israel.” The people of Israel are the descendants of Jacob who received the name Israel because he wrestled with God (Genesis 32:28).
It encourages all of us to become “God wrestlers,” people who engage and question God, not simply people who are motivated by blind faith.
The third word, YHVH, is commonly translated as “Lord.” Some biblical scholars pronounce this word Yahweh; others say Jehovah.
Without doubt, YHVH is the most important and holy of all of the names for God in the Hebrew Bible. But what is really behind this name?
If one tries to pronounce YHVH, one enunciates the sound of a human breath. YHVH is therefore a name that is an onomatopoeia for breath. It presents the Divine as the life-giving “Breath of the universe.”
Before ending I would like to explain what the Tetragrammaton means in a general sense.
The Tetragrammaton or the Tetragram, is the four-letter Hebrew theonym יהוה (transliterated as YHWH), the name of God in the Hebrew Bible. The four letters, written and read from right to left (in Hebrew), are yodh, he, waw, and he.;The name may be derived from a verb that means "to be", "to exist", "to cause to become", or "to come to pass". While there is no consensus about the structure and etymology of the name, the form Yahweh is now accepted almost universally, though the vocalization Jehovah continues to have wide usage.
The books of the Torah and the rest of the Hebrew Bible except Esther, Ecclesiastes, and (with a possible instance of the short form יה in verse 8:6) the Song of Songs contain this Hebrew name. Observant Jews and those who follow Talmudic Jewish traditions do not pronounce יהוה nor do they read aloud proposed transcription forms such as Yahweh or Yehovah; instead they replace it with a different term, whether in addressing or referring to the God of Israel. Common substitutions in Hebrew are Adonai ("My Lord") or Elohim (literally "gods" but treated as singular when meaning "God") in prayer, or HaShem ("The Name") in everyday speech.
The Tetragrammaton is not attested other than among the Israelites, and seems not to have any plausible etymology. The Hebrew Bible explains it by the formula Ehye ašer ehye("I Am that I Am"), the name of God revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14. This would frame Y-H-W-H as a derivation from the Hebrew triconsonantal root היה (h-y-h), "to be, become, come to pass", with a third person masculine y- prefix, equivalent to English "he", thereby affording translations as "he who causes to exist", "he who is", etc.; although this would elicit the form Y-H-Y-H (יהיה), not Y-H-W-H. To rectify this, some scholars proposed that the Tetragrammaton represents a substitution of the medial y for w, an occasionally attested practice in Biblical Hebrew as both letters represented matres lectionis; others proposed that the Tetragrammaton derived instead from the triconsonantal root הוה (h-w-h), "to be, constitute", with the final form eliciting similar translations as those derived from h-y-h.
Modern scholarly consensus, however, considers Ehye ašer ehye to be a folk etymology; a later theological gloss invented at a time when the original meaning of the Tetragrammaton had been forgotten.