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Call Me Ishmael… or Better Yet, Call Me Moon Fizz…Vaetchanan 5777

After a raging debate, the Swedish authorities finally agreed to abandon the antiquated rules that had long been causing deep emotional pain to their constituents. The new law gives Swedish parents the rights and freedoms which are granted to almost every parent in the world, but had been denied to them until now – the right to name their child after fast food chains, rock bands, or their favorite brand of beer. As Lars Tegenfeldt, a government spokesman, explained, “There is nothing negative about a name like Coca-Cola or McDonald’s today. In the 1970s, maybe there was.” Now that the floodgates have been opened, all those repressed parents are sure to burst through with a generation of young Budweisers, Metallicas, and White Castles.

It seems like today, with our constant clamoring to show our individuality and uniqueness, we use our children as platforms to display to the world just how different we are. The charge toward crazy-naming (the alternative to baby-naming) is being led by our erstwhile celebrities, people known for leading stable lives and consistently making rational choices. They seem to forget that person, place, and thing, are the definition of a noun, not the options of what to name a baby. Here is a sampling of the individualistic and revolutionary names that celebrities have pasted on their children: Ireland, Satchel, Audio Science, Pilot Inspektor, Blue Angel, Camera, Fifi Trixibell, Jazz Domino, Ocean, Kyd, Memphis Eve, Lark Song, Jermajesty, and Moxie Crime Fighter.

There is also a tendency to create specialized spellings for names that would never make it past the first round of a spelling bee. “My name is Rachel but I spell it with a silent Q at the front, a y in the middle, and a double L with an e at the end.” OK, QRaychelle, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Some of these names get so confusing that you can’t figure out how to pronounce them. A recent baby on the celebrity scene was named Princess Tiaamii (“No, she is not a real princess, but to us she is”). I know how to pronounce Princess, but I get a little stuckkkkk on Tiaamii. Do I have to hold the sound for a number of seconds until I use up all the repetitive vowels, or is there an express way to pronounce this? For this phenomenon we have the following sampler: Aimée, Edeann, Louwerens, Jehsikkaa, Saihraah, and Kyd. What is so bad about Amy, Eden, Lawrence, Jessica, Sarah and Kid?

I can only imagine a children’s book of the future:

Harpoon went to go visit his friend, Friend, in Friend’s new tree house. They decided to invite their friends Poppy Honey, London, and Moon Unit for some yoga, followed with Peruvian chai and whole-grain muffins… 

It is infinitely clear that anyone who names their child Lark Song is not doing it for their child, but for themselves. Imagine what Lark Song is going to go through from kindergarten through twelfth grade. The only way I can see her making it through the day with her lunch money intact is if she goes to school with Kyd, Jermajesty and Fifi Trixibell. These parents are irresponsibly setting their children apart from the world of normal people, the world of Julie, John, Josh, and Jennifer.

What is the Jewish view on naming children?

In Judaism we believe the selection of a child’s name to be one of the most important decisions we make, as a person’s name defines their essence. In Hebrew, the word for name is shem, which has the same letters as the word sham which means “there.” the word we use to describe where something is. A Jewish name describes where a person is, expresses his fundamental nature. For this reason, we see in the Torah that the matriarchs and patriarchs were careful to name their children with names that described relationships with G-d. That was their way of setting them up to be people who developed deep relationships with G-d.

We should be very careful that the names we give our children describe the people we want them to become. The Talmud brings a Biblical source which demonstrates that people’s names have an effect on their personality (Berachot 7B). (For years my favorite blessing in the Amidah was Modim, the blessing where we give thanks to G-d for everything He gives us. It was only recently that I realized that this is tied to my name, Yehuda, which comes from the root lehodot, to give thanks.) The letters in the word for name, shem, are found in the middle of the word neshama, soul. This indicates that someone’s name is linked to the core of their soul. The Sages even tell us that when parents name their child, they experience a level of prophecy, to help them with this elemental decision.

Another way a person can tap into extra powers for their child is by naming the child after a great person. The Noam Elimelech, a great Hasidic master, writes that there is a deep connection between the soul of a person and the soul of the person they are named after. When a child is named after a deceased person, that person’s soul is elevated in heaven, and a spiritual bond is formed between the two souls. That powerful bond can have a strong influence on the baby’s soul.

Children will have many challenges navigating this chaotic world, but with the right name, we can give them a lantern to illuminate the pathway to success.

 

Parsha Dvar Torah

This week’s Parsha contains one of my favorite verses. In Deuteronomy 8:3 it states: “For not by bread alone does man live, rather by everything that emanates from the mouth of G-d does man live.” This seems to be telling us clearly that in order to live fully one has to be connected to something greater than simple physical material. One has to be connected to spirituality, the emanations of the mouth of G-d. What does this mean, and how exactly does being connected spiritually help me live? I see many people who live long lives and are not at all connected to any form of spirituality?

In order to understand this, let us take a micro-mini class called Self- Awareness 101. Who are we? We are a combination of a soul and a body. My body comes from the earth and its primary goal is to transport my soul to wherever it needs to go in order to accomplish its goals. My soul comes from a purely spiritual world and all it is interested in is spirituality, yet it is quite immobile, so it needs the body to accomplish its takes. It tries to control the body and direct it to squeeze spirituality out of physicality (e.g. using the physical, such as wooden boards, to make a spiritual place, a Succah.)

A good analogy would be to compare the relationship to you and your car. Obviously the primary object is you (although if you see the way some people treat their cars, you begin to wonder who is there to serve who), but you can’t get far without a car. Car is to Human, as Body is to Soul. One needs to take good care of their body in order for it to continue to function well, and therefore we eat. But the minute we only feed the body we are forgetting about the primary object. This would be analogous to going on a road trip and filling up the car with gas, but not feeding the humans in the car. The car may continue running, but soon it will be running on empty (empty of inner life not gas).

If we feed only our body, giving it every gastronomical delight it desires, feeding it with eye-candy by looking at whatever it wishes, and taking it all over the world to pamper it, then the soul inside, the primary object, starts to slowly waste away. The first sign of this wasting is usually mild depression and a sense of emptiness. This is what the verse means when it days that man doesn’t subsist on bread alone. We need to feed the body, but it is much more important to feed our soul, which needs a different diet, one consisting of that which emanates from the mouth of G-d.

 

Parsha Summary

This parsha starts off with a great deal for the Jews. G-d tells them – you keep my mitzvot (even the little ones that people think are insignificant), and I will keep you healthy, wealthy, and wise. In addition G-d reassures them, and tells them not to fear the numerous strong nations that live in Israel as G-d will go before them in battle and help them win, just as He destroyed the Egyptians who oppressed them. As a matter of fact, the Jews had miraculous help from a special hornet called a tzirah which would seek out enemies and shoot poison into their eyes. (If only we could order a couple thousand of those for the IDF!)

G-d also tells the Jews to remember the miracles they experienced as part of daily life in the dessert, how they had spiritual food (manna) delivered to them daily, their feet never blistered, they never had to wash their clothes (the Clouds of Glory acted as a cleansing agent and kept everyone’s clothing fresh and pressed), and their clothing and shoes never wore out. Even though they are about to enter a land in which all these miracles will cease, G-d promises them that it is a land lacking nothing. It is filled with streams and underground springs that wind through the mountains and the valleys. It has seven fruits for which it is particularly blessed: wheat, barley, grapes, pomegranates, figs, olives (and their oil), and dates (and their honey).

However ,G-d warns the people of the pitfall of becoming too accustomed to material success, forgetting about G-d, and claiming that it is you who earned everything you have. G-d warns us that when that happens, we will lose all the wealth we have become accustomed to, as it has become the source of our forgetting G-d. (Analogy: Parents buy child video game console, kid forgets about parents and plays game all day long, parents take away gaming console.) G-d even applies this concept to the spiritual affluence the Jews experienced in the desert. He tells the Jews, “Don’t think that it is due to your righteousness that you merited living with such spiritual greatness, because you rebelled against me many times, but rather because you are the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and because G-d has chosen you as his nation.”

Here, Moshe reminds the Jews of the Golden Calf, about how he had to break the first tablets, and ascend to heaven for forty days to beg forgiveness, and then another forty days in order to receive the second set of tablets. Moshe reminds the people that they saw with their own eyes the miracles G-d performed in Egypt and in the desert, and that those miracles should propel them toward proper service of G-d. This will enable them to live on the land of Israel which, besides for being a wonderful place to live, has the added benefit that G-d’s eyes are always upon it, and it will only support a G-dly existence.

The Parsha ends with the second portion of the Shema, V’haya im shamoa. This portion has two main ideas, reward and punishment, and our obligation to fulfill the mitzvot. The interesting thing to note is that the Torah, unlike any other religious book, only promises rewards in this world, it never mentions the world to come. Other books are filled with glorious promises of reward in the Kingdom of Heaven, promises easy to make because people don’t come back from there to report if it’s true or not. However, the Torah promises that in this world it will be better, a promise that could only be made by a G-d Who can back up what He says. So I guess we have our H.W. cut out for us – we have to get out there, behave well, and then reap the benefits G-d promises us throughout this parsha! That’s all Folks!

 

Quote of the Week: You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one. – Henry David Thoreau

Random Fact of the Week: The bark of the giant sequoia can be as much as two feet thick.

Funnyl Line of the Week: Have you ever imagined a world without hypothetical situations?

Have a Jubilant Shabbos,

R’ Leiby Burnham

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