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Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

One Mission

 One thing you don’t want to read about in a Rabbi’s comments on the weekly Torah portion is commentary on the elections. However, I would like to make an observation about an interchange that took place between the two candidates during the last debate. It was quick and seemingly insignificant, but it caught my attention. It was about whether Joe Biden grow up in Claymont, DE or not. (He did live there for a few years; the question is how much of an impact that had on his life.) I am not interested in touching politics with a ten-foot pole, yet this exchange is, in and of itself, very enlightening. Is it important to remember our childhood home? What kind of an impression does it have, or should it have made, on us? 

In this week’s Torah portion, we see a small yet very important change occurring with Abraham and Sarah’s names.  

G-d told Abraham that his name would no longer be Avram; from that point on, it would be Avraham. To Sarah he said that from that point on her name would not be Sarai, it would be Sarah. (Pay particular attention to the change in the spelling.)

The significance of these name changes is that the new names broaden the influence that Abraham and Sarah have on society. They are being turned from ordinary citizens into leaders.

However, we see an interesting differentiation with the name changes. Abraham got an extra letter (in Hebrew), while Sarah exchanges one letter for another (in Hebrew). This may seem insignificant and we can just say that it is done for practical reasons. But on a deeper level, there must be a reason for this. 

AvRam, means the father of Ram, or the master over the city of Ram. That meant that Avram was a very popular man, a powerful and influential person, but only over a select, limited area. AvraHam refers to the word Hamon, meaning large, vast. This means that from that point on, Abraham’s influence should not be limited to Ram, but should spread out over a vast, large area.  He should reach an area so broad, that the whole world should hear and learn from him. G-d is teaching Abraham – and us – that while you are broadening your influence over the world, it is important to remember where you come from. That is why G-d keeps the “Ram” in the name but adds the “h.”   

Sarah, on the other hand, is given a new mission. From being Sarai, which means “master over myself,” to Sarah, “master over others,” G-d gave her a new mission to become a leader to all those around her. That is why she was given a “new” letter. Her childhood home did not matter as much. What mattered was that from that point onward she would become that leader who she was destined to become.

We see from this that Abraham and Sarah were two great leaders—they were a Power Couple. They were also not one and the same, though they did share one mission, but they came to it from different angles. There isn’t only “one way.”  

Perhaps even in our world of politics we can say that neither candidate is right or wrong. Each one brings their style of leadership to the fore.

A Lesson Is Worth Sharing

During this time leading up to the elections you see many people getting involved in politics. The simple reason is because people want to make a difference. Yet, some people choose to limit their influence to just their immediate friends and family, while others extend their influence beyond their tight circle of friends.  

Is one kind of person better than the next? What is in the DNA of the people who become activists?

This week’s Torah portion introduces us to Noah, a righteous man in his generation. Many

commentators point out that in his generation he was righteous, but if you compared him to other great leaders, he would not even come close. In what way was he great and in what way did he fail?  

Over the life span of the Jewish people there were three great leaders. In particular, we can learn from Abraham, our forefather, Moses, our teacher, and King David. By understanding their lives better, we will also have a better grasp on the life of Noah.  

Abraham: He didn’t sit back waiting to find G-d; instead he searched for meaning in the world around him. This active search helped him find and develop a deep faith in G-d and eventually, a drive to teach others about G-d. He, together with his wife, Sarah, were on a mission to teach everyone they met about G-d, the creator of the world.  

Moses: The giver of the laws of the Torah, he not only didn’t find the world to be a hindrance to G-d, he saw the world and everything inside it to be elevated in the service of G-d through the prism of how they can and should be used. Moses taught us that by us learning Torah and fulfilling the Mitzvot with physical objects, we are able to make a connection between ourselves and the divine.  

David: The concept of “kingdom” is not only that we have a king for the nation of Israel, but that we recognize that G-d is the king of the world. This idea we mention on the high holidays that “G-d is our King” is no longer just a string of words; now it becomes a relatable concept to us. From David’s time on and continuing on during his son’s, King Solomon, days, not only did the Jews recognize G-d, but the nations of the world as well came to see the role that G-d plays in our lives. The gift of the Jews became evident to all. 

  

On a microcosmic level, Noah lived these three levels, but he kept them to himself, but only during the time that he was in the Ark. Our lesson is to apply these teachings to our lives today. 

 

We, too, should have a strong foundation of faith in G-d. However, we should not rely on faith alone, but take that faith and turn it into action. When we behave in a way that is connected to

G-d's will, we are not only doing what He wants, we are transforming this world into a G-dly world. 

Finally, it is important that we spread the word, that we share this message with others, so that others too can enhance the world and make this world a more G-dly place. A place where all can see the beauty of G-d and how all creatures of this world can get along one with the other, not only in the “ark” but even outside, in the “real world.”  

What’s in a Name?

William Shakespeare wrote, “What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” This implies that there is more to love than just a name. Yet, we see that we have a need to give names to everything and anything. Where does this innate need come from? 

We find in this week’s Torah portion that one of the first tasks G-d gave to Adam was to name all of the living creatures! That’s right—he was given the task of naming the animals of the land, the birds of the sky, and even the small living creatures. Why was it necessary for Adam to give all of the animals and birds names? It’s not like he was going to be communicating with them.

Perhaps we can answer this question with another question. Did Adam name the fish as well? (It is not explicitly mentioned in the Torah one way or the other.)

On a most basic level, the reason why things in this world need names, be they objects or living beings, is to identify what they are. This basic appreciation of names is what Shakespeare was referring to. However, there is a more significant role that names play in Judaism, and that is that having a name benefits the object itself, as well.  

What kind of benefit does an object get from its name? The name reveals its essence and connects it to its source of life. However, fish are always in water and never separated from their source, so one may argue, they do not need to be named since they are always connected to their source of life. (Perhaps, though, one might want to name fish so that they can be identified, but not for the more meaningful reason of giving it life.)

We can take the power of a name even further. Names not only give a living being a connection to its source, a name reveals within it hidden resources that it might not even know it has. That is why even today we place so much emphasis on giving a Jewish name to a baby. Giving a baby a name is not only a way to identify the baby, it is a way for us to complete the process of creation, to strengthen the bond between creator and created. In a sense, G-d is giving us the opportunity to become a partner in creation, by giving us the ability to give a name.  

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