What’s in a Name? (Sh’lach – 07/25/22)
What’s in a Name?
With Parshat Shlach, we just read one of the saddest episodes in the Torah. On the cusp of entering the Land of Canaan, we get cold feet. “Before we go in, let’s send spies. This way, we’ll know who we’re fighting and how to approach each city.”
Perhaps this makes sense if you or I are about to invade a foreign country. But these people witnessed God and Moses take down mighty Egypt and split the Red Sea. They heard God speak to them from atop Mt. Sinai. They should have had faith that Moses and God knew what they were doing.
Nonetheless, Moses acquiesces to their request and chooses 12 select leaders from among the people to spy the land. After a 40-day covert mission, they return with bad news. “The Canaanites are too powerful for us; it’s suicide.” The people cry in their tents considering whether or not to return to Egypt. God is frustrated with this group and decrees that they’re not ready to enter the land. Instead, they will die in the wilderness, and after 40 years, their children will inherit the land.
A component of this tragedy is that the spies, themselves, failed to recognize why they were chosen (Numbers 13): “So Moses, by God’s command, sent them out from the wilderness of Paran, all of them being men of prominence, leaders of the Israelites. And these were their names:
לְמַטֵּ֣ה יִשָּׂשכָ֔ר יִגְאָ֖ל בֶּן־יוֹסֵֽף
From the tribe of Issachar: Yigal. (Yigal means God will redeem.)
לְמַטֵּ֥ה אֶפְרָ֖יִם הוֹשֵׁ֥עַ בִּן־נֽוּן
From the tribe of Ephraim: Hoshea. (Hoshea means deliverance.)
לְמַטֵּ֣ה בִנְיָמִ֔ן פַּלְטִ֖י בֶּן־רָפֽוּא
From the tribe of Benjamin: Palti. (Palti means rescue.)
לְמַטֵּ֣ה זְבוּלֻ֔ן גַּדִּיאֵ֖ל בֶּן־סוֹדִֽי
From the tribe of Zebulun: Gadiel. (Gadiel means God is my luck.)
לְמַטֵּ֣ה גָ֔ד גְּאוּאֵ֖ל בֶּן־מָכִֽי
From the tribe of Gad, G’uel.” (G’uel means my deliverance is from God.)
Names are significant. We think long and deep before attaching a name to an infant. We hope that this boy or girl will follow in the ways of the people they’re named after or live up the essence of a particular name.
Yes, the inhabitants of Canaan were powerful. Yet, these slave people just emerged free from Egypt. All the spies’ names portended deliverance, success and fortune. These people were destined not only to leave Egypt but to successfully conquer and inherit the land God had intended for them. Yet, they failed to believe in their names.
It seems we’re having the same problem in America nowadays. We are the United States of America, but we act like the Divided States of America.
We can’t agree on abortion, gun control, vaccinations, or whether the last election was conducted fairly or not. In truth, how could we ever expect nearly 400 million people to concur on most topics? Yet we should expect the leaders of our United States to work for the benefit of our country as a whole with bipartisanship. We can do our part by separating ourselves from the rampant “cancel culture.” Being united means we don’t degrade the opinion of others. Furthermore, we don’t need others to agree with us. Our sense of respect is not based upon others’ consent. Nearly two thousand years ago, one of our great teachers, Ben Azzai, taught (Avot 4:3), “Do not despise any man, and do not deem anything unworthy of consideration, for there is no man that has not his hour, and there is no thing that has not its place.”
We could also extend the importance of a name to our own synagogue. We are Manetto Hill Jewish Center, a center for all expressions of Judaism. We learn together, celebrate and honor life cycle events, promote social justice, pray together, and just plain old socialize together. We are a Jewish Center because we recognize that being and living Jewish has many components, all of which we strive to address.
The spies failed to live up to their names. Can we strive to act as a unified country but with differing opinions? We also need to ensure MHJC is the best all-around Jewish Center? While we strive to create activities that people desire, perhaps at times, we should attend programs that don’t necessarily appeal to us. This way, we will help others find satisfaction.
Our names declare our destiny and mission. Living up to them as individuals, religions, or countries is not easy, but that’s our job.
Have a wonderful week,