OU Tehillim Wide

Parenting from the Parsha- Parshat Lech Lecha- Whats in a Name?

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Nov 2, 2022
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One theme that courses beneath the narratives of Sefer Bereishit is the theme of names. From the day of creation- when Hashem gives names to day, night, heaven and earth- to Adam HaRishon’s naming of all the animals on earth, to the names that parents give to their children across the generations- naming plays a prominent role throughout this Sefer and beyond…


Yet in this week’s parsha, names play an even more prominent role. For the first time, G-d changes a person’s name- as He changes Avram’s name to Avraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah. In addition, twice in our Parsha Hashem tells parents what to name their sons- Hagar is told to name her son Yishmael and Avraham is told to name his son Yitzchak. Why does G-d play a much more active role in the process of naming in this week’s parsha?


It would seem that G-d is relaying a message regarding the prominence and important of names. More than simply a social construct used for the purpose of communication, a person’s name has tremendous power and significance. It defines the way that everyone around him relates to him, and it also captures the essence of the person. When Avram and Sarai’s life roles changed fundamentally, therefore, that change had to be reflected in their names. And, as Yishmael and Yitzchak were about to be born, G-d apparently felt it crucial that particular messages be highlighted in their names, and He therefore relayed those messages to Hagar and Avraham.


The power and importance of a name is repeatedly emphasized by Chazal. Some meforshim point out that the two middle letters of neshama, the Hebrew word for “soul”, spell the Hebrew word “sheim”, which means “name”- because a person’s name is an expression of their inner soul, it captures the essence of who they are.  In Parshat Bereishit, before Chava is created, the Torah states that Hashem brings all the animals to Adam “to see what he would call them, as whatever Adam, a living being, calls for himself, that is its name”. At first glance, this passuk seems strange. -What is the relevance of Adam’s naming of the animals? Why is this process even recorded in the Torah, at all? The Midrash explains that Adam did not choose random names for the animals. Instead, Adam was divinely granted the unique ability to understand the true character of each animal, and thereby give it a name that truly expresses it essence and depth. In the same vein, Chazal say, parents are enabled to follow in Adam’s footsteps, as Hashem endows them with a small piece of prophecy in choosing the correct name for their child- one that expresses the essence of the child.


Taking these ideas a step further, Chazal maintain that the name given to a child can also have a concrete impact upon that child’s life path. The Gemara Brachot 7b states that “shma garim”, “the name of a person has an effect on who they become”- and it lists a number of examples in Tanach where a person’s name ultimately defined his future actions.


When Hashem blesses us with a child, as parents we are given the unique privilege to naming that child. This privilege is an important responsibility that should not be taken lightly.  We are charged with finding a name that builds upon our child’s rich familial history, while also expressing our hopes and dreams for who he or she will become. Yet thankfully, at that moment we are not alone. Although Hashem does not tell us directly what to name our children- as He did with Hagar and Avraham- Chazal maintain that He is there guiding us in our decision, enveloped in a small glimmer of prophecy. And from that moment on, we daven that our children should live up to the legacy, hopes and dreams, of their names- while we also do our best to parent in a way that will ensure that he does so.


Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!


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One theme that courses beneath the narratives of Sefer Bereishit is the theme of names. From the day of creation- when Hashem gives names to day, night, heaven and earth- to Adam HaRishon’s naming of all the animals on earth, to the names that parents give to their children across the generations- naming plays a prominent role throughout this Sefer and beyond… Yet in this week’s parsha, names play an even more prominent role. For the first time, G-d changes a person’s name- as He changes Avram’s name to Avraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah. In addition, twice in our Parsha Hashem tells parents what to name their sons- Hagar is told to name her son Yishmael and Avraham is told to name his son Yitzchak. Why does G-d play a much more active role in the process of naming in this week’s parsha?

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Learning on the Marcos and Adina Katz YUTorah site is sponsored today by Ruth Peyser Kestenbaum and Miriam & Alan Goldberg to mark the tenth yahrtzeit of their father, Irwin Peyser, Harav Yisroel Chaim ben R' Dovid V' Fraidah Raizel Peyser and by Esti Shulman in memory of her father R' Jacob Rabinowitz, who was Dean at YU for many years and by the Tirschwell, Albert, Abrams, Frankel, and Azar families as a zechus for a refuah shleimah for עקיבא אליהו בן נעמי