Unfinished Business by Rabbi Darren Blackstein


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!

Will 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 the 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 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 whom he might be.  This intimate knowledge also gives Hashem the insight to change a name when He sees fit.  The change may be warranted by a transformation in status, an accomplishment, or a challenge to be embraced.  Either way, when Hashem makes the change, we can be confident that it is a true reflection of some aspect of that person's essence.

In Parashat VaYishlach, Yaakov struggles with an angel, and when the battle seems to reach a stalemate, the angel injures Yaakov.  When Yaakov demands that the angel bless him, it informs Yaakov that his name no longer will be Yaakov.  Instead, he will be known as Yisrael, because he “struggled with the Divine and with men and has overcome” (Bereishit 32:29).  Yaakov then asks the angel for its name and it blesses Yaakov.  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, which alludes 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 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 his 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 love to give names, and we 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 are given.  Having Hashem involved, at least indirectly, would lead us to see that our names also may reflect our essence and that we can 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 are able to perform this internal Kiddush Hashem, to act in a way that truly brings the character of our names into the lives that we lead.

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