Monday, November 19, 2012

What’s in a Name?

Shabbat VaYetzeh
Bereishit 28:10 – 32:3
10 Kislev 5773 / Nov. 23 – 24, 2012

What’s in a Name?
by Rebecca Karp, East Coast Regional Director

Oftentimes, in my conversations about Moishe House, someone will ask me, “Why Moishe?” People come up with all kinds of explanations as to why our organization has its name, and in part, each of those explanations has some truth. The story that I have always heard, however, is that the parents of one of the original funders of Moishe House called him “Moishe” when he was little. Simple as that. Or is it?

For me, the labels we prescribe to something add context and meaning for each of us in a way that is unique to our experience. Not only that, but no two explanations of a particular event will ever be identical, nor should they be. We each bring our unique perspectives of the way we see the world to our experiences.

Much in the way that this funder named our organization, evoking a sense or a feeling or perhaps even a prescription for how Moishe House would look, feel and interact with the world, this parsha is full of people naming things – inanimate objects, children, land, etc.

Ya’akov, after falling asleep and dreaming of the angels going up and down a ladder and G~d declaring the prophecy of his descendants, wakes up and names the place Beit El, literally the Abode of G~d.

Once Ya’akov’s wives start having children, the naming abounds. Leah’s first son, Reuven, comes from Re’u Vein, meaning to see the difference. This works as prophecy and contrast to Ya’akov’s own relationship to his brother Esau and Reuven’s relationship to his brother Yosef.

Yehuda’s name means to be thankful or grateful to G~d – showing hoda’a, or gratitude. Dan comes from the root word meaning judgment; din. Issachar has the root for reward, sachar, and so on. Yosef, the firstborn son between Rachel and Ya’akov, comes from assaf, to add on, adding the number of sons Ya’akov had and adding a firstborn for Rachel.

After Laban and Ya’akov part ways, they meet again and make a pact. To call this pact into existence, they each gather stones into a mound and name the place Gal-eid. Gal means mound, while eid means witness. This mound, which serves as a witness between Laban and Ya’akov, is named just that.

The final naming of the parsha occurs after Laban and Ya’akov have parted and Ya’akov and his family go on their way. It is said that angels of G~d encountered them and when he sees the angels, Ya’akov says, “this is G~d’s camp”, or, in Hebrew, “machane elokim” and he names the place machana’im, G~d’s camp.

Not only do the names of Rachel and Leah’s sons provide insights into the minds and emotions of the mothers naming them, they also serve as prescriptions for how these men will/should behave throughout their lives. Names or labels have weight, carrying with them expectations and history.

If we look at the stories of our patriarchs and matriarchs as the lifecycle of the birth of a nation, Israel, then this is about the time when “we” are learning to speak – we’re toddlers, if you will. Toddlers walk around, point to things and evoke them into being by pointing and calling out their title. “Tree” as they point excitedly to an oak. “Cup” as they take a sip from a vessel their mother handed them. “Sun” as they look up into the sky at the big round ball of light. “Hungry” as they rub their belly and look for something to eat. “Home” as they point to the house where they know they sleep, and their parents sleep as well. It is as if, only after uttering its title, do these things, emotions and places truly step into existence.

The beauty of this naming is that it can be unique for every individual. Moishe House can mean a place of strong social justice work, canvassing for human rights issues and educating about policy reform. Moishe House can mean a home where everyone is always welcome; there are cold drinks in the fridge and something to snack on in the pantry. Moishe House can mean weekly Torah study and the glow of the Shabbat candles every Friday night. And it can also mean various combinations of all of those things. We have the opportunity to call into being our own unique experiences with the “name” Moishe House.

As we go through our lives, may we feel both the responsibility of the prescription of things that are named for us and the freedom and power to create a name for ourselves. You may have been given a name, but it’s what you do with it that really matters.



Post a Comment