What’s in a Name?May 4, 2020 - 12:00 am
The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: ‘A priest must not make himself ceremonially unclean for any of his people who die’” — Leviticus 21:1
Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. This week’s Torah portion is Emor, which means “speak,” from Leviticus 21:1–24:23, and the Haftorah is from Ezekiel 44:15–31.
When I was living in America, I was used to people referring to each other with terms of affection like “sweetheart” or “honey.” It was normal to see a parent calling his son “buddy” or “sport.” When I got to Israel, I had to readjust my language. Here, it is quite normal for a mother to call her son or daughter, tsaddik, which means “saint” or “righteous one.” Even a cab driver might call you tsaddik! Another common term of endearment is neshama, which means “soul.” Parents, teachers, and workers alike commonly refer to others as neshama.
It took some getting used to, but now I truly appreciate these terms that have become standard Israeli jargon. How beautiful to remind each other about who we really are! My guess is that a child who grows up being called tsaddik may be just a bit more likely to become one. A person who is called a neshama may remember that he or she is nothing less than a part of God, a divine soul.
This week’s Torah portion begins: “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them…” The verse could have more simply stated “Say to Aaron’s sons …” In Jewish teachings, redundant language, such as we find here, reveals that there were two messages for the priests. First, Moses was to say to the priests “you are the sons of Aaron.” Only then would he deliver God’s instructions to them.
It is so important for a person to know who they are so that they can fulfil their life’s mission. In the case of the priests, they had to be reminded that they were Aaron’s sons, the spiritual leaders of the nation. In our case, we need to remember that we are “all sons of the Most High” (Psalms 82:6). As we contemplate that we are children of God, we should stand a little taller and feel a bit more confident. Most importantly, we must know not only who we are and whose we are, but we must also behave accordingly.
Your turn: Today, remind someone how wonderful they are. Remind them of their unique talents, special character traits, and that they were wonderfully and fearfully made by God.