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Friday, August 6, 2010

See--What's in a Name?

This past Shabbat minchah saw the naming of my first grandchild, a girl, who had been born almost precisely a week earlier around Shabbat minchah. My son Ezra and his wife Dorin decided to call her Zoharia Yam which could be translated as "Splendor of God--Sea." The Zohar part of Zoharia more literally refers to beams of light and, yes, is the name of that well known work of Kabbalah.

I dedicate this blog to Zoharia :)

This week's parsha is called R'eh in Hebrew which translates as 'look' or 'see.' In the sense it is used in the verse it means 'understand' or 'comprehend,' so closely linked is our sense of sight to our ability to comprehend.

However, I want to focus more closely on a later passage, to wit:
דברים פרק יב (ב) אַבֵּד תְּאַבְּדוּן אֶת כָּל הַמְּקֹמוֹת אֲשֶׁר עָבְדוּ שָׁם הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם יֹרְשִׁים אֹתָם אֶת אֱלֹהֵיהֶם עַל הֶהָרִים הָרָמִים וְעַל הַגְּבָעוֹת וְתַחַת כָּל עֵץ רַעֲנָן:
(ג) וְנִתַּצְתֶּם אֶת מִזְבְּחֹתָם וְשִׁבַּרְתֶּם אֶת מַצֵּבֹתָם וַאֲשֵׁרֵיהֶם תִּשְׂרְפוּן בָּאֵשׁ וּפְסִילֵי אֱלֹהֵיהֶם תְּגַדֵּעוּן וְאִבַּדְתֶּם אֶת שְׁמָם מִן הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא:
(ד) לֹא תַעֲשׂוּן כֵּן לַיקֹוָק אֱלֹהֵיכֶם:

Deuteronomy 12 2 Ye shall surely destroy all the places, wherein the nations that ye are to dispossess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every leafy tree. 3 And ye shall break down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and burn their Asherim with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods; and ye shall destroy their name out of that place. 4 Ye shall not do so unto the LORD your God. 
 
Chazal learn out from verse four that it is forbidden to erase the written name of God. This is derived from the immediate context where in the end of verse 3 it says that ye shall destroy their name out of that place and right after it tells us not to do the same unto the Lord your God. 
 
Why should erasing God's name matter so much? 
 
 Consider this: What's in a name? Actually, if you've been paying attention from the beginning of the Torah, quite a lot! Adam's name is given for a reason, because he is derived from the earth (adamah). Adam is enjoined by God to give names to all the animals. This act is understood to mean that Adam took time to understand the nature of each animal and then to give it its appropriate name. 

Of course, we also have the renaming of Avram and Sarai to Avraham and Sarah, Yaakov to Yisrael, Hoshea to Yehoshua. Perhaps most significantly, God Him/Herself alludes to the nature of the Divine names at the beginning of parshat Va'era. From that passage we understand that the different names reflect different aspects of the Divine. 

My mother had asked me a few times during the week after her latest great-granddaughter's birth when they would name her. "She needs a name!" my mother declared. I laughed and said maybe it is we who need the name more than she does.

But, upon reflection, my mother was right. By naming their daughter, my son and daughter in law were revealing something about her true nature. 

So it is with any of the names of God. They each reflect something about the true nature of the Divine. While the Divine in its entirety is beyond comprehension, we are given to grasp various aspects in part through the different names. 

Since God is incorporeal, one of our main relationships to God is via language which is a reflection of our souls and our connection to the Divine. So we are told not to destroy God's name in this world, not even a graphic representation of that name, for that is, in the end, one of our very few direct connections with the Divine. 

Shabbat shalom!