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The Value of a Good Name

Flags at half-mast at Mt. Herzl Cemetery, May 1, 2017

Now Moses said to Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, “We are setting out for the place about which the LORD said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us and we will treat you well, for the LORD has promised good things to Israel.” — Numbers 10:29

The Torah portion for this week is Behaalotecha, which means “when you raise up,” from Numbers 8:1–12:16, and the Haftorah is from Zechariah 2:14–4:7.

Mount Herzl is a prominent place of burial for many of Israel’s greatest leaders as well as our fallen soldiers. The cemetery is named for Theodore Herzl, known as the father of modern day Zionism. In recognition of Herzl’s status and importance, his own personal burial site is on the apex of the mountain. His tombstone, an unadorned black granite stone, contains just one word: “Herzl.”

The man’s name says it all.

Such is the power of a person’s reputation. Think of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, or someone meaningful in your own personal life. Just the mention of these amazing people’s names is enough to conjure up images of greatness and sentiments of admiration. When our actions are honorable, our names, too, become honorable.

In this week’s Torah portion, the Bible makes reference to Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law. However, in this instance, the Bible calls Jethro Hobab, which means “beloved.” The Jewish sages explain that often biblical figures had more than one name during their lifetime. The name changes typically represented the person’s character development or their role in God’s plan. In this instance, Jethro was called “beloved” because he loved the Torah so much. Moses had asked Jethro to join the Israelites as they journeyed to the Promised Land, but Jethro loved the Torah so deeply that he felt called to return to his own people, where he had been the spiritual leader and share God’s Word with them as well.

Today, we don’t usually change our names although we may undergo many changes in our lives. However, the meaning of our names change. The way people think about our names changes. At birth, our parents give us names, and according to Judaism, our birth names are deeply meaningful. However, as we go through our lives, we have the opportunity to create a name for ourselves. We get to choose the significance of our name, what it will say about us, and how others will think about us. Most importantly, we get to determine what our personal name will mean to our Father in Heaven.

According to Jewish tradition, the first question that a person is asked after they pass away and enter the afterlife is, “What is your name?” The underlying meaning is: “What name did you make for yourself?” Were you known as a person who was generous and kind? Where you called a lover of God and His Word? Were you known as a person who could be counted on?

When we leave this world, all we take with us is our name. As Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, wrote, “A good name is better than fine perfume” (Ecclesiastes 7:1). Indeed, a good name is one of the most valuable things we own.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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