Posts Tagged ‘Parshat Vayishlach’

What’s In a Name?

In this week’s Torah portion, Jacob wrestles with G-d and in the end, G-d blesses him saying, “Your name shall no more be Jacob, but Yisrael.”  Yisrael means one who struggles with G-d and, as I wrote in a previous D’var Torah, it is our struggle with and engagement in faith that truly makes us a part of Yisrael.  But I want to focus on something different and that is on the concepts of naming and renaming.
A name defines something, gives it a role.  Those who choose to be Jewish have the opportunity to select a Hebrew name for themselves.  Some choose to honor a deceased relative as their parents might have done.  Others honor a Biblical personality or a character trait that they admire.  In the Torah, adults often receive additional names.  But today, we change our names only through three mechanisms – marriage, the addition of nicknames (often given by family or friends with humor), or through the bestowing of titles or honorifics earned through schooling.  In changing Jacob’s name to Yisrael, G-d attaches Jacob’s struggle to his identity.  Our additional names are given to us by others, but they rarely say something truly deep about our own inner lives
If you could choose a new name, Hebrew or otherwise, what would you choose?  Who would you honor or remember?  What character traits would you want as a part of your name?  Are there other ways that you can express that identity, honor those loved ones, bring those names forward in your life?
The great Israeli poet, Zelda (1914-1984) wrote:
Each of us has a name
given by God
and given by our parents
Each of us has a name
given by our stature and our smile
and given by what we wear
Each of us has a name
given by the mountains
and given by our walls
Each of us has a name
given by the stars
and given by our neighbors
Each of us has a name
given by our sins
and given by our longing
Each of us has a name
given by our enemies
and given by our love
Each of us has a name
given by our celebrations
and given by our work
Each of us has a name
given by the seasons
and given by our blindness
Each of us has a name
given by the sea
and given by
our death.
What will be your name?
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