Our view of the Galile

Friday, November 19, 2010

Vayishlach -Changing Names

Parshat Vayishlach

Changing Names

So there I was, in a small shul in Yerushalayim one Shabbos morning relaxing and even slightly dozing off. Just enjoying the much missed pleasure of not having to prepare or worry about reading Torah for my shul. Not having to worry about preparing incredibly inspirational insights each Aliyah as I used to do each week for my former TLC Shabbos morning davening. Ahhhh, it's good for a Rabbi not to have to be a Rabbi every once in a while. It's good to be able to just sit back in the back of the Shul and space out and doze like those old days, before God in His ultimate sense of humor decided that I should be blessed with a job that would never allow me that delicious guilty luxury again .When suddenly I was shaken out of my wonderful reverie by the Gabbai (sexton.. don't now if that word is any better? the guy in the shul who calls people up to the Torah) ) calling up to the Torah what most certainly  one of the strangest names I believe I have ever heard. I knew Hashem was just not going to let me rest. Oh Well.

Yaamod” he boomed, Hachatan Avraham Nimrod ben Avner Shlishi
Please Rise to the Torah The Groom Abraham Nimrod son of  Avner for the third Aliya”. As I turned to look at this groom with the strange name I saw a tall lanky scraggly bearded young man. Certainly he did not look very Nimrod-like( Nimrod being the name of the biblically fierce and ruthless king who had thrown Avraham into the fiery furnace for daring to express his belief in one God …y’know that all old church and state thing.).After every one clapped and sang mazel tov to the young groom I approached him and asked him how he had such a strange name. I was aware that there were many secular Jews in Israel who named their children Nimrod. I had even seen a responsa as to the permissibility of a Mohel ( ritual cirumciser) being a party to giving the child that name. Yet this was the first Avraham Nimrod I had ever met.
His response to me in a soft unassuming voice was that his name was partially from his mother and partially from himself, though entirely from Hashem. When I asked him what he meant, he explained. He had been raised in a non- religious home. Yet over the past few years he had recognized the incredible beauty and authenticity of his Jewish heritage that he had been missing all his life. As he pursued his journey in Judaism, drawing closer and closer to the ways of his ancestors, he said that a few strange things began to happen to him.

He will always remember, he remarked, how he was walking down the street and he was approached by a man who asked him if he was Avraham. When he responded that he wasn’t the man apologized and walked away. The next day thoughonce again as he was on the bus a lady approached him and told him that he reminded her of her nephew Avraham. When he got back to his apartment later that evening his roommate also out of the blue just said “You know Nimrod, you look more like an Avi lately I think I’ll start calling you Avi”.

While thinking about all those strange occurrences, he attended a class by his Rabbi in the local Beit Midrash. Interestingly enough it was a class on name. The Rabbi began to explain that in Jewish mystical thought it is said that all the people in Israel that are named Nimrod are really meant to be Abrahams. There are what he referred to, as the revealed names of people- Shem Haniglah, and the hidden names the Shem Hanistar; the latent essence of the person . All Nimrods, he suggested are the revealed name of the hidden, as of yet unrevealed, Avrahams that  have yet to come forth. It was at that moment that our young groom form Yerushalyaim resolved to become the Avraham that he was now.
“But why did you then keep the Nimrod name?” I asked. “Why not just become Avraham?” His incredibly inspiring response was that Nimrod the rebel is also still very much a part of him. Yet now he has taken that power and essence and directed it to rebel against ignorance and those things that would bring him further away from the most precious relationship he has; the one with his loving Father in heaven. He wasn't running away from his past; rather he was building upon it. He was making it holy.
This weeks Torah portion tells us of someone else that has a name change. We are told of the battle of our forefather Yaakov with the strange man/angel of Esau, in which Yaakov comes out victorious. The aftermath of that battle finds Yaakov asking the losing angel for a blessing. The angel though rather than bless Yaakov instead declares that Yaakov’s name is to be changed.

“Lo Yaakov Ye’Omer Od Shimcha Ki Im Yisroel Ki Sarisah Im Elohim Va’Anashim Va’Toochal- Your name Yaakov will no longer be said rather Yisrael for you have battled with Elohim-god and with man and were capable”.

The Talmud tells us that although there were previously other individuals, Avraham or Sarah, which had name changes that reflected their achieving a higher and more encompassing level. Yaakov though is different. Unlike the others, he is still referred to by his original name. Avram is never called that again. It is always Avraham. Sarai is forever Sarah.Yisrael and Yackov though are continuously used interchangeably. Perhaps as the commentaries point out this is because Yaakov’s transformation was one not of just leaving his previous essence and name. Rather it was the incorporation and uplifting of that potentially negative trait of Ekev – coming from the heel which he utilized to trick to receive the birthright and to confront head-on the challenges and battles that lay before him. He had maintained his Yaakov, yet he had also now revealed the latent Yisrael that has the power to battle and uplift it to Hashem; the power to become holy.

We all have strengths and weaknesses. Some of us are naturally kind and generous, others are meticulous and put together. Some of us a strong propensity to learn and grow for others however their strengths lay in their resolve to do the right things. Yet with all of our strengths come challenges. Are we kind at the expense of disconnecting from our family? Are we too caught up with order that we do not allow ourselves to enjoy the simpler things? Does our connection and resolve to do what we believe is right prevent us from stepping back and examining things from another’s perspective?
There is a little Nimrod in all of us. Yet we are the descendants of a Yackov that became a Yisrael. We possess that blessing that was given to our forefather so long ago, to always be able to take our Yackov and turn him into a Yisrael. Not by denying the Yackov, for as Avraham Nimrod said both of our essences come from Hashem. Yet it is certainly not by giving in to our negative selves as well. Rather it is only by confronting our challenges, learning and working on uplifting our power and energy to the highest most spiritual level can we then become the true chosen people- the Bnei Yisrael the Children of Israel. Perhaps than we may become as holy as those simple Chatanim -grooms that you some times bump into in the back of the shul on Shabbos in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


The Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (known as the Ari HaKadosh) writes,-
"When a person is born and his father and mother give him his name...the Holy One puts into their mouth the particular name required for that soul."
If Jesus was a Jew, how come he has a Mexican first name?
Billy Connolly

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