Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Noah - What's in a Name?

Boy, Parshat Noah is packed with names. Well, there were ten generations of folks born from Noah to Abraham. And there were 70 nations worth of people within those ten generations. So, there are a lot of names! And almost all (except for two) of the names were quite unique.
In fact, Me'am Lo'ez says that "In those times, people used to give their children original names, rather than naming them after their grandparents as people do today." (That may be changing too, but that's another story.)
In the past several generations, parents often named their children after their grandparents or great-grandparents to continue the family line, and keep those names alive. During the time of Noah, their great great grandparents were still alive, because their centuries-long life spans.
Me'am Lo'ez added that people in early generations were guided by divine inspiration (Ruach HaKodesh). They could therefore taken into account future events when naming their children.
It is quite possible that parents are still blessed with Ruach HaKodesh while naming their child. The Aish HaTorah website explains: A tradition that traces back to the Ari, the great Kabbalist and medieval sage, presents a startling theory about people's names. We are accustomed to think that a name is merely an arbitrary tag that we attach to a person for the purpose of identification. Every person could theoretically bear any name as there is no inherent connection between an individual and his or her label. But the Ari taught that Jewish parents are imbued with Ruach Hakodesh, a spark of the "Holy Spirit," when they name their children. The name they select is invariably the true description of the neshama, or spiritual essence of their child.
The Talmud expresses this same concept in terms of character (Yuma, 83b); a Jew's name accurately reflects his or her essential character. The clear implication; when parents name their child, they are given a prophetic glimpse of their child's neshama, or "spiritual essence".
Because in G-d's world, the past, present and future intertwine, I also believe that the name a parent gives a child not only reflects his character (does a parent really know a child's character at a week old), but the name creates his character and influences both his character and the events of his life.
Take the name Noah - Nun Chet, which means rest or comfort, in Hebrew. In Bereishit 5:29, Noah's father Lamech names him "Noah" and says, "This one will bring us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands, from the ground which Hashem had cursed."
Artscroll's Torah Treasury also states, "The Zohar teaches that the name Noah alludes to the Sabbath, which is a day of Menucha (spiritual rest). Just as Noah was the one who saved the world from being totally destroyed by the Flood, so the Sabbath saves a Jew from being overwhelmed by the mundane spirit that accompanies his weekday pursuits."
Yes, Noah's name was right on target. His birth did bring blessing to the ground, but perhaps he himself was influenced to live a righteous life because of his name.
Noah's great-grandson Ever had two sons, Peleg (divide) and Yaktan (small). In the year that Peleg died, the world was divided (after the tower of Bavel). Was Peleg's name a prophecy or did it somehow influence the events?
Yaktan was a very humble person. Did Ever see humility in the new baby that he named, or did the name Yaktan influence him to be humble.
Yaktan had a son name Chatzarmavet (which ...shudder shudder .. means courtyard of death). His descendants were a sect of men who "went about naked like Dervishes, and were interested only in death." Did Yaktan prophecy these morbid descendants, or did the name he gave his son influence him to act in that manner? If Yaktan called his son Chaim, would the child and his descendants be dedicated to life!?
Later in Parshat Noah, Avram is born. Rashi tell us that creation truly began anew with Avram's birth. Artscroll explains, "It was Abraham who would bear the burden of holiness in the world. His name signified this. At first he was Avram, a contraction of Av Aram (teacher of Aram) for he began as a leader of only his own nation, but ultimately he became a father of the whole world. Did Terach see Avraham's role in the future, or did the young Avram carry his name with pride and do all he could to fulfill his destiny?
Lastly, we meet our matriarch Sara, whom  we know is also called Yiscka. Me'am Lo'ez says, "This was because she was so beautiful that everyone would gaze (Sacha in Hebrew) at her beauty." Well, all babies are beautiful, delicious, adorable. Did Yiscka (Sara) become so magnificently beautiful because with a name like Yiscka, she felt beautiful, held herself regally and tried to deserve her name?
Me'am Lo'ez also says there was another reason for Yiscka's name. "She was a prophetess, and with Divine Inspiration, could gaze (Sacha) into the future."
Did Yiska's father Haran look at his newborn baby and know she would be a prophetess, or did her name cause her to develop Divine Inspiration?
Let's think about it together.
When Yosef was in prison, he listened to the dreams of the butler and the baker. The Torah tells us that "He restored the Chamberlain of the Cupbearers to his cupbearing and ...the Chamberlain of the Bakers he hung..." Who did this? The Sforno (as quoted in the Artscroll Chumash) states that "the fates of the chamberlains were not because justice dictated them, but because events followed Joseph's interpretations."
Jewish tradition holds that "dreams follow the interpretation", meaning the way we interpret a dream is the way its meaning comes to a fruition. That is why we are always encouraged to put a positive spin on a dream that someone tells us. Because the way we interpret the dream, that is the way it will conclude!
I believe it is the same as a name. The name a person gives a child doesn't only reflect the character (of the week old baby), but determines the character of the child and even his future.
May we always bless our children with names of beauty, holiness and faith in a positive future.

For our next generation, please share Savta's Torah memories:

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