Embracing a New Name

Yael Eckstein  |  June 16, 2022

Woman smiling at the camera while embracing her two children.

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

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Behaalotecha, which means “when you raise up,” from Numbers 8:1–12:16.

Have you ever thought about your name and how it influences who you are? Do you know what the meaning of your name is? Are you named after someone and if so, what do you know about that person? According to Jewish tradition, our names are divinely inspired and by understanding them, we can better understand who we are.

But if you don’t like the name you were given for one reason or another, don’t worry. We are allowed to change our names. The names we are given at birth are never our only identity.

That’s why we see name changes in the Bible. Abram became Abraham. Jacob was renamed Israel. A name is how people know us. It expresses who we are. And who we are often changes and develops as life goes on. In fact, according to Jewish tradition, every person has three names: one that they are called by their parents; one that they are called by others; and one by which they are remembered.

Embracing a New Name

This week’s Torah portion mentions someone who we already knew in the Bible by a different name. Did you catch it? We read, “Now Moses said to Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law…” Here Moses’ father in-law is called Hobab. But we already met him back in the Book of Exodus where his name was Jethro (Exodus 3:1).

The Jewish sages explained that Jethro was given the name Hobab, which in Hebrew means “beloved,” because of his deep love for God and Torah.

Jethro was not a young man. Moses himself was 80 years old, and Jethro was his father-in-law. But even though he had spent his life as a “priest of Midian” (Exodus 18:1), leading a community of idolators, he humbly embraced a new faith and a new name. He took on a new identity. He was now “beloved” by God.

Your Turn:

Have you gone through changes that are worthy of a new name? What name would you choose?