Genesis 28:10 – 32:3
In Jewish thought, a person’s name is more than a means of identification. Jews believe that when parents name their child, they tap into the neshama; that is, the spiritual essence of their newborn. To say it another way, one’s name is directly connected to one’s destiny and calling in life whether or not the parents truly realized it at the time.
This week’s Torah portion describes the births of the twelve sons of Jacob who eventually become the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel. A great deal of space in the text is devoted to explaining the origin of their names. Even the most casual reading reveals that they were all named by their mothers, not their father, Jacob.
In addition, as we follow the story we being to realize that the names of the twelve sons relate to the relationship between their father and his wives, Rachel and Leah.
How can the names of these twelve boys reflect the spiritual essence of the tribes they would father in the future?
Let’s start with one example: Leah named her third son “Levi” which means “attached to”.
“Again she conceived and bore a son and declared, ‘This time my husband will become attached to me for I have born him three sons.’ Therefore He called his name Levi.” (Genesis 29:34)
Interestingly enough, this very child, Levi grew up to be the progenitor of the tribe that attaches Israel to God – the Levites! Levi’s descendants consisted of the priestly class who officiated at the sacrifices in the Temple. They also accompanied these sacrifices with song and were in charge of the general maintenance of all the sacred property.
Thus Leah was correct in her perception that if this child strengthened the husband-wife bond between Jacob and herself through his birth, it was coincidence; it was in fact because of the spiritual essence inherent in the soul of her third born son.
Leah hit the mark perfectly again when she named her fourth son Judah, which means “praise.” The Torah relates:
“She conceived again, and bore a son and declared, ‘This time let me gratefully praise God.’ Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she stopped giving birth.” (Genesis 29:35)
Judah became the progenitor of Jewish royalty. Of the first two Jewish kings descended from Judah, King David authored the Psalms, the universally adopted book of praise and thanksgiving to God; while David’s son, Solomon, authored the Song of Songs, regarded by many as the most sublime outpouring of Divine praise ever written.
The name Judah links Jewish royalty with the extraordinary ability in singing God’s praises is not coincidental. It is no surprise then that the comin Messiah King is of the tribe of Judah.
In Tune with Torah this week = Do you know what your name means? Or its etymological origins? Are you living up to the calling and destiny that is encoded in the name your parents gave you?