Rosh Hodesh Tamuz Torah Essay: The Crown of a Good Name

This Dvar Torah is by Nechama Wells, who made aliya 7 years ago and has been learning in the Gemara programs at Matan Yerushalayim for the last 4 years. She is also a math teacher, a mother and a former Girl Scout leader.

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Matan Women's Institute for Torah Studies

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In memory of  Edythe Benjamin חיה בת שלמה, beloved mother of Barbara Hanus. And in memory of the writer's mother.

I hate to write, but when asked to contrive this essay right before my mother’s yahrtzeit -- in honor of Rosh Chodesh Tammuz which is Barbara's mother’s yahrtzeit -- I felt compelled to accede to the request.  But if so, on what could I enlarge -- for their merit,G-d’s honor and my readers’ (hopeful) enlightenment?  It’s summertime, the season of Tammuz whose sense is the sense of sight/vision; Pirke Avot accompanies us throughout the summer; the fast days (may they quickly be repurposed as feast days) begin this month; we accompany Bnei Yisroel through their journeying in the wilderness as we read the parshiyot of Korach, Chukat, Balak and Pinchas. With such a melange of topics, enlarging is no longer my concern, but rather tzimtzum -- narrowing the field enough that I can find something meaningful to say.

A chance observation by a fellow student at Matan -- “There are so many “Nechama’s” in the Beit Midrash these days” led me to think about what’s in a name?  I have inherited your testimonies forever for they are my heart’s joy!(Psalms 119:111) נחלתי עדותיך לעולם כי ששון ליבי המה

The prophet Micah entreats us to pay attention and learn repentance in the verse immediately following the Haftora for Parshat Balak. The voice [of Hashem calls out to the [people of the] city; the [person of] wisdom recognizes Y/your name: Listen to the rod [of punishment] and to the One Who has ordained it. (Micah 6:9). 

Depending on the reading of the verse, it could apply to recognizing G-d’s name in everyone and everything of this world and history or it could apply to recognizing one’s own purpose and place in the world.  Rashi parenthetically adds to his commentary on the verse that the wisdom is the Torah and that from here we learn that the Torah will save from Gehinnom anyone who says everyday a verse wherein the first word starts with the first letter of the name and the last word ends with the last letter of his/her name.

The Shl”ah Hakadosh is quoted as an additional source for this custom.  He writes (in the name of Sefer Hakavannot) that with respect to the punishment known as Hibout Hakever that evil-doers forget their names when they are buried, and so lay themselves open to punishment by the angels. Whoever will daily say a verse that begins and ends with the initials of his/her name has a potent charm against forgetting his name. 

Why would knowing your name save you from Gehinnom? Perhaps it is because your name is what you stand for, it represents the hopes your parents had for you when they named you, it attests to the uniqueness of your place in the world.  As you go to give an accounting of your days, you need to know your name -- who were you supposed to be? and did you live up to the challenge and the opportunity? 

It is noteworthy that (according to most siddurim) we say our verse immediately before the second recitation of May our words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart find favor before You, L-rd, my Rock and my Redeemer!  The Mishna Brura on Laws of Prayer in Orach Chaim 123 brings a note that it is very important to say this verse with a collected mind and with great intention for it starts with a “yud” and ends with a “yud” and it comprises 42 letters altogether.  The only Name that I know of that starts and ends with a “yud” and has 42 letters is one of the names of Hashem (literally The Name) -- in Sefardi siddurim the 4 letter Name is written with the pronounced Name in a smaller font tucked under the last “heh” so that in fact it does start and end with a “yud”.  Other times we abbreviate the Name and just write the two “yud’s”. Not being a kabbalist, my understanding of the importance of 42 is that it is the number of stops in the Wilderness which correspond to the number of way-stations in life that each person traverses. 

Perhaps this is why we choose a verse that starts and ends with the same letter of our name -- but the verse itself is not prescribed and there may be many such verses for a given name.  We are all born and we all die corresponding to the first and last stops in the journey, but what we make of the intervening time is what our name will ultimately be remembered for.

A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth Ecclesiastes 7:1  Rabbi Shimon says: There are three crowns: the crown of Torah, and the crown of priesthood and the crown of royalty; and the crown of a good name is better than all of them. Pirke Avot 4:17 

Will I merit the crown of a good name as my mother and grandmother did? What inspired me to take on this custom was not fear of punishment after death (my imagination is not so vivid nor my need to borrow future trouble so great) but rather the difficulty that I had separating from saying Tehillim for my mother after she passed away.  She had been sick for so long -- and I had been saying her chapter (like birthday candles = the number of years and one to grow on) for so many years. I needed to keep connecting to her in my prayers.  With three young children, I had a hard time making it to a minyan for kaddish on a regular basis, but a friend/mentor suggested that I add the verse for her name at the end of shmoneh-esray (the silent Amidah prayer) along with my own. Later when her mother, my grandmother, passed away I added her verse as well. 

So let me introduce you a bit to my mother:  Her Hebrew name was Batsheva.  The verse that I use for her is : With loving-kindness and truth shall the sin be atoned, with awe (or vision) of G-d turn away from evil (Proverbs 16:6).  בחסד ואמת יכופר עון וביראת ד’ סור מרע  I see in this verse the continuation of the generations -- each of the forefathers is mentioned by their major attribute (Kindness for Avraham, Truth for Jacob and Awe for Isaac) and indeed my mother bequeathed me a love of Judaism and a pride in being Jewish that is priceless. And she taught me the art of hospitality which I am grateful to see my children shiningly practice. 

Who is wise? one who learns from everyone. . . Who is honored? one who honors others. Pirkei Avot 4:1 I had excellent role models -- my love of learning comes not only from the name that I was given but also from the mother who gave me life.  And would that I could learn to see the image of G-d in each person that I meet as she did, that I could subsume my need to shine or to control in the greater need of the moment. 

In preparation for this essay, I found some additional lessons to be learned from the verse of her life -- and now the verse embodies her more fully in my consciousness.  The Chofetz Chaim  exhorts us to split our investment of time and resources evenly between chessed (good deeds, hospitality, visiting the sick, bereaved and lonely, etc) and emet (=Torah learning). And indeed she did. Another short shiur Erel Segal haLevi based on the verse explains it in its context -- the sin spoken of is arrogance and all its attendant evils.  So people who invest themselves in good deeds focussed on the recipient and in a search for truth, not to bolster some pre-conceived notion, will repair the damage caused by pride while seeing G-d in the world and standing of awe of that will prevent a recurrence. 

Mom’s last lesson to us was about the importance of interdependence -- not to be only a giver, but to be able to be a gracious taker as well.  Allow others the gift of giving and allow/acknowledge yourself to be in need. My sister went to a minyan last week -- and there were many people there who still remember Mom -- 24 years later -- as a gentle person, genuine, always helpful and always interested/interesting, kind and competent.

I think of the “men of name” - the 250 leaders who joined themselves to Korach’s rebellion, of the Generation of the Wilderness who all died but whose names lived on when the Land of Israel was apportioned according to the numbers of their names, and the generations since then whose personal stories I’ve never heard and which may no longer be accessible for us to know.  Of Zimri ben Salu who started life as Shlumiel ben Tzurishaddai. Did his name change presage his sin or merely reflect it? All these names are bound in the tapestry which is the ongoing Name. 

I challenge you to find out who you are meant to be, how you can contribute to that Name, how to see your loved ones in a deeper light.  Find your verse and live it.

Arutz Sheva's way of noting that Rosh Chodesh is traditionally a holiday for women is by having a Torah essay from a women's medrasha each month. It is unfortunate that the WoW celebrate Jewish women's special day by causing unhappiness and ill-feeling at the Western Wall.



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