‘What Is Your Name?’
Yael Eckstein | June 9, 2020
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.
My father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, grew up in Ottawa, Canada, where his father, Rabbi Simon Eckstein, served as the Chief Rabbi of Canada’s capital city. My grandfather was a distinguished man, a noted psychologist, a spiritual leader, and a respected teacher.
However, the title that my grandfather was most proud of was the nickname given to him by his longtime congregants. They called him “the hugger rabbi,” which reflected my grandfather’s warmth, empathy, and penchant for embracing all types of people, both figuratively and literally, in a heartfelt hug. He actually gave out “hug coupons,” redeemable for one free hug!
In this week’s Torah portion, Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, is referred to by the name “Hobab,” which means “beloved.” Often, biblical figures had more than one name throughout their lives reflecting different aspects of their character. In this instance, Jethro was called “Beloved” because of his deep love and commitment to the Word of God.
We are each given a name at birth, which according to Judaism, is divinely inspired and deeply significant. However, as we go through our lives, we have the opportunity to create a name for ourselves. We get to choose, by way of our character and deeds, how others will think about us when they hear our name. Sometimes, like my grandfather, we might even earn an affectionate nickname. Most importantly, we determine the significance of our name to our Father in Heaven.
According to Jewish tradition, the first question a person is asked after they pass from this earth and enter the afterlife is, “What is your name?” In other words, what name did you make for yourself? Were you known as a person who was generous and kind? Were you called a lover of God and His Word? Were you known as a person to be counted on?
Ecclesiastes 7:1 tells us that, “A good name is better than fine perfume.” Ultimately, all we take with us when we leave this world is our name – we had better choose it wisely and earn it daily.
Your turn: If you could choose your name as a reflection of the person you aspire to be, what name would you choose and why? Share it with us in the comments below.