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A Name by Any Other Name Also Has Meaning
SHEMOT Exodus 1:1-61
Gertrude Stein, commenting on Shakespeare's line that "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," opined: "A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose." Well, not when it's a daisy. Bear with me, and my point will become a tad clearer.
"These are the names of the children of Israel who descended to Egypt … The original number of Jacob's descendants, including Joseph, who came to Egypt, was 70." Actually, if you do the count, there were 69. Our tradition suggests that as Israel was entering Egypt, a Jewish daughter was born, rounding out the count and rounding out, as it were, the rough edge of this enumeration.
I, too, would like to share with you of the birth of a Jewish daughter, and of how the act of naming becomes a recipe for not just nostalgia and tears, but of hope and redemption.
The journey of the Jewish people continues with a new book this week. We begin the Book of Shemot, literally, the Book of Names. It's Greek name, Exodus, is more familiar.
Though we encounter in our book the events of our entrapment and enslavement, ultimately - like Jewish history and life itself - it will lead to exodus and redemption. In the rabbinic literature, this book is called safra d'g'alta, or the Book of Redemption. Yet, we still call it Shemot, the Book of Names. Is there a connection between names and redemption, dare I ask?
Are you aware that the name of the British royal family is fictitious? The original family name was Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and it was King George V, who in 1917, convened his advisors and royal courtiers and changed the name to Windsor. Why? Because names matter; they mean something externally and internally.
In 1917, when the Germans were bent on destroying the civilized world, King George realized that his Germanic name - indeed, his Germanic patrimony - wouldn't play well in Peoria (or whatever the British equivalent might be). He thus named his family after an enduring landmark of Britain. He, in fact, took the name of Windsor Castle as the family surname.
Listen to a remarkable rabbinic tradition from our sages in the Midrash: "Through the merit of three things did the Jewish people merit redemption. They did not change their language, their clothing or their names."
This past Shabbat, I had the nostalgic, tearful, hopeful and redemptive experience of giving a Jewish name to our first grandchild. I recall with emotion the powerful line of one of the Jewish intellectual giants of the 20th century, Professor Eliezer Berkovits. "Who is a Jew?" he asked. "He (she) who has Jewish grandchildren." How true.
And so this past week, my granddaughter, Ariel Daizy, officially joined the Jewish people. With all due respect to Gertrude Stein, I won't comment on the name Daizy (and, yes, I'm spelling it correctly). That's the part of the name that's nostalgic.
But allow me to share the significance of the name Ariel, because that's the name that's laden with Jewish meaning.
The rabbis suggest that Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people has several names. One of them is ariel.
What is a name, you ask? It's our way of identifying the person now, spatially, but it's also our way of identifying with a people and their narrative temporally - yesterday, today and tomorrow.
It is our prayerful yearning and hope that even as the name Ariel bespeaks the values of Jerusalem - "and from Zion shall go forth Torah and the word of Hashem from those values live in the child that bears this name.
May Ariel Daizy grow to become a faithful daughter of Israel, loving the Torah, the land and the people - in all of their resplendent beauty.
Rabbi David Gutterman is executive director of the Vaad: Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia.