Unfinished Business by Rabbi Darren Blackstein

(2003/5764)

Upon the arrival of a newborn, parents face the responsibility of naming their child. There are many factors that people take into account when contemplating the name that they will give to this child. After all, the child will be known by this name for the rest of his life!

                Shall this child bear the name of a dearly departed loved-one? Will this child carry on a name presently used? Perhaps this child will acquire a name based upon the closest Chag or based upon simple phonetic tastes of the parents! The one common denominator that is shared by all of these expressions is a desire for the child to aspire to some values associated with the name or with people bearing that name. This notion may be expressed as a Tefillah by the parents that the child should have and carry on certain values and traditions somehow represented and embodied by the name. The quality of omniscience gives Hashem an advantage not enjoyed by man: Hashem knows us in some way even before we are born. Hence, when Hashem gives a name, it is a true reflection of the person as opposed to a hope as to who one might be. This intimate knowledge of us also gives Hashem the insight to change our name when He sees fit. The change may be warranted by a change in status, an accomplishment, or perhaps, the change is a challenge to be embraced. Either way, when it is Hashem making the change, we can be confident in its being a true reflection of some aspect of that person's essence.

                In our Parsha, towards the end of Perek 32, Yaakov struggles with some mysterious being and when the battle seems to be a stalemate, this being injures Yaakov.  When Yaakov demands that this being bless him, this being informs Yaakov that his name will no longer be Yaakov.  He will be known as Yisrael because he struggled with the Divine and with men and has overcome.  Yaakov then asked this person for his name and then upon expressing shock at the request, this being blesses Yaakov.  Then Yaakov proceeds to name the area where this event took place.  Rashi points out that the name Yaakov is based on the word for some type of deceit, alluding to the acquisition of the blessings from Yitzchak in what appeared to be an unorthodox manner. This implies that, now, Yaakov has developed to the point where he has arrived and has come into his own, disassociated from the previous act of deceit. This change in character is denoted by his struggle with the Divine and with man. Yaakov suffers a physical wound and files no complaint. Rather, he expresses curiosity as to the attacker's name, wanting to learn more as he embraces this bizarre event. Yaakov emerges physically wounded but spiritually intact. Only after such a challenge does he merit the alternate name that is symbolic of his character development.  Yaakov has dealt with challenges and has emerged from them all the better. To this end, we read of his naming the place where this challenge took place. He wants the name to reflect what that place stood for in his experience.

                Every discipline has its nomenclature. We use names, love to give them, and refer to them all the time. Ironically, the very names we go by are not given as a result of having witnessed our accomplishments, but are given to us by people who hope and pray that our character will rise to the challenge of the name. On the other hand, we believe that things are "meant to be" in this world. This lack of coincidence would then have us recognize a type of Divine involvement in the names we end up with. Under this circumstance, having Hashem involved at least indirectly would lead us to see that our names may also reflect our essence and that we have it within our grasps to aspire to the goals set out for us by our names. May we all, as Yaakov did, demonstrate to Hashem and to ourselves that we have it within ourselves to do this internal Kiddush Hashem, to act in a way that truly brings out the character of our names into the lives we lead.

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