Monday, October 27, 2008

Jacob

Listen to Ya'ah'kov pronounced




The root letters of the name Jacob (Ya'akov) are ayin, kuf and vet. According to Genesis 25:26, Jacob was given his name, because he was born immediately after his brother Esau, and “his hand had hold on Esau’s heel.” (Heel in Hebrew is ah'kev.)

The ayin-kuf-vet root of the name Ya'akov is also the root of the word akov, crooked or insidious, and aikev, struggling.

From Esau’s point of view, Jacob was “crooked.” After discovering that Jacob had been blessed by Isaac in his stead, Esau called out: “Is not he rightly named Jacob? For he has supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright; and, behold, now he has taken away my blessing” (Genesis 27:36). Esau assumed no personal responsibility for the transfer of the birthright due to his decision to sell the birthright for a bowl of lentils and for stating that birthright has no purpose for him. Upon reading the Biblical narrative, one may conclude that Esau sold his birthright in desperation and then regretted the sale. But, the Torah specifically states that even after Esau had eaten and was no longer famished: “So Esau despised his birthright” (Genesis 25:34). As the new bearer of the birthright, the blessing of the firstborn was rightfully Jacob’s. Esau, however, can only see what he believes is his right.

From Jacob’s own perspective, his was a life of struggle (aikev). Even before Jacob and Esau were born, their mother, Rebecca, worried about the babies who were struggling in her womb. In his youth, he could not help but be aware that his father favored his brother. After Jacob received the blessing of the firstborn from Isaac, he had to flee to Haran in Mesopotamia for fear of Esau’s retribution. There he met Rachel and fell in love, only to be tricked into marrying her sister Leah first. He had to work for 14 years for his wily father-in-law, Laban, who stole from him whenever possible. Jacob’s daughter Dina was later abducted in Shechem, and two of his sons almost started a war in revenge. When he finally felt that his life was calming down, his beloved son Joseph disappeared, and Jacob began a 22 year period of mourning until they were reunited.

It is interesting to note that Jacob’s other name, Israel, which was Divinely given, means “He who struggles with God,” because, as filled with struggle as Jacob’s life was, he never lost faith.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Isabella/Elisheva



Listen to Elisheva pronounced


Isabella is actually the Italian version of Elizabeth, another name on the most popular names list. Elizabeth and Isabella are both derivatives of the Hebrew, Elisheva (pronounced Eh’lee’sheh’va).

Elisheva, Aaron’s wife, is described (Exodus 6:23) as the daughter of Aminadav and the sister of Nachshon, the prince of the tribe of Judah. Aaron and Elisheva had four sons. The sages note that at the inauguration of the Tabernacle, Elisheva had five reasons to rejoice: “her brother-in-law [Moses] was ‘king,’ her husband was high priest, her son [Eleazer] was assistant [to the High Priest], her grandson [Pinchas] was the priest anointed for war, and her brother [Nachshon] was prince of a tribe [Judah],” (Zevachim 102a). However, instead of rejoicing, she mourned her two sons, Nadav and Avihu, who, on that very day, died when they brought an unauthorized sacrifice (Leviticus 10).

Although Aaron was able to temporarily set aside his grieving at the time in order to continue the joyous celebration of the inauguration of the Tabernacle, Elisheva’s life was forever marred by the tragic loss of her sons. Elisheva is therefore described (rightly or wrongly) as one unable to appreciate all the gifts of her life (Leviticus Rabbah 20:2).

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Michael



Listen to Michael Pronounced


Michael is the name of one of the four heavenly archangels.


Although Judaism recognizes the significant role of angels in the metaphysical maintenance of our world, their presence is hidden in the Torah. Angels are first mentioned outright in the books of the Prophets. Ma'lachim, as angels are called in Hebrew, are completely spiritual beings who serve as God’s messengers. The archangels are a special breed of ma'lachim who have specific roles to fulfill in the world. The roles of the most famous of these archangels are reflected in their names:

Raphael - “God heals”
Gabriel - “The strength of God”
Uriel - “God is my light”
Michael - “Who is like God?”

Michael’s name does not shed much light on his role in the universe, but he is actually the primary advocate of the Nation of Israel. Thus in the Book of Daniel it is written: “At that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which stands for the children of your people” (Daniel 12:1).

Various Midrashim (ancient legends from the Oral Tradition) credit Michael with a wide array of life-saving acts. It was he who pulled Abraham from the fiery furnace, and walked with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego in a similar situation. He led Raphael and Gabriel to Abraham’s tent and there announced that Sarah would bear a son whom they should name Yitzchak (Isaac). He was sent by God to destroy the Assyrian army of Sannacherib. While Michael acts as Israel’s protector and God’s messenger of might on earth, in the heavenly court, he is an advocate for the Children of Israel. For example: “The more Haman accused Israel on earth, the more Michael defended Israel in heaven” (Esther Rabbah 3:8).

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Abigail


Abigail was not only one of “four exceptionally beautiful women in the world” (Megillah 15a), but was also one of seven women considered by tradition to be a prophetess (Megillah 14a). It is strange then that most people would not even recognize the name’s biblical origin.

Abigail is introduced in the the First Book of Samuel, immediately after King Saul had been buried. David had already been privately anointed as Saul’s successor but had yet to claim the throne. While remaining in the wilderness, David and his men helped to protect the flocks of the Israelite shepherds. One day, David heard that one particularly wealthy man was arranging a sheep shearing (which was, in those days, a great feast). This man was “...Nabal; and the name of his wife Abigail; and the woman was of good understanding, and of a beautiful form; but the man was churlish and evil in his doings” (I Samuel 25:3).

David sent a representative to ask Nabal for remuneration for guarding his flocks in the wilderness. Not only did Nabal refuse, he insulted David by insinuating that he was a runaway servant. Greatly angered, David set forth to punish Nabal, but Abigail interceded. With gifts in hand she ran out to meet David on the way and begged him to forget about Nabal, pleading with him that when God would appoint him prince over Israel he should not have “shed blood without cause.” Abigail concluded: “...when God will have dealt well with my lord, then remember your handmaid” (ibid).

David withheld vengeance (despite the fact that insulting a king is a capital offense). Nabal, however, suffered a heart attack shortly thereafter and died. David did indeed remember Abigail. She became one of his wives and bore him a son named Kilav.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ethan


Click here to hear Eitan pronounced

Ethan is the anglicized form of the Hebrew name Eitan. It means strong and steadfast and also refers to a stream whose water flows throughout the year. Although Ethan is a biblical name, it is not the name of any major character.

There appear to be three different Ethans in the Bible. The first is mentioned in I Kings: “Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east...For he was wiser than all men: than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol” (I Kings 5:10-11). Although I Kings does not identify these men further, one can assume that Mahol was an alternate name for Judah’s son Zerah, as I Chronicles 2:6 lists Zerah’s sons as “Zimri and Ethan and Heman and Calcol and Dara.”

The second Ethan is listed in I Chronicles 6:25, 27, as an ancestor of Asaph the son of Berechiah. This Ethan was the great, great grandson of Gershom the son of Levi.

The third Ethan is also connected to Asaph the son of Berechiah. Both were musicians in the court of David: “David spoke to the chief of the Levites to appoint their brethren the singers...So the Levites appointed Heman the son of Joel; and of his brethren, Asaph the son of Berechiah; and of the sons of Merari their brethren, Ethan the son of Kushaiah” (I Chronicles 15:16-17). This is the second mention in Chronicles of this Ethan as he is listed earlier “On the left hand, their brethren, the sons of Merari: Ethan the son of Kishi” (I Chronicles 6:29).

The musical Ethan is quite probably the composer of Psalm 89. Although the opening citation is “A maskil of Ethan the Ezrahite,” the psalm refers directly to King David, in whose time Ezra the Merari musician lived.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hannah



Click here to hear Channah pronounced


Hannah’s story opens the First Book of Samuel. The beloved wife of Elkanah, Hannah longed to have a child. After ten years of childlessness, she told her husband to marry another woman so that he might have children. Over the next eight years, according to the Midrash Pesikta Rabbati, Penina, Elkanah’s second wife, bore him ten sons. Watching her husband’s family grow was a painful challenge for Hannah, especially since Elkanah believed that the extreme love he had for Hannah should have been sufficient to make her happy.

Finally, after 18 years of barrenness, when the family made one of its regular pilgrimages to Shilo (where the Tabernacle stood, before the Temple was built in Jerusalem), Hannah made her way to the sanctuary and poured out her soul to God. The prayer, as described by the Midrash, was a heart-wrenching plea questioning the purpose of her own existence (ex: "Master of the Universe...nothing which You created in woman is superfluous. For what are these breasts that You placed on my chest if not to nurse with?"–Berachot 31b). Indeed, it is noted that “Hannah spoke demandingly toward God” (ibid), even chastising Him (ex: “Of all the hosts that You created in Your world, is it hard for You to give me one son?").

Since her prayer was recited quietly so that only she could hear, Eli, the High Priest, assumed that Hannah was drunk.

“How long will you be drunk?” he demanded. However, when Eli was informed that she was praying for a child, he bestowed a blessing on her that her prayers should be answered. Within a year, Hannah bore a son, whom she named Shmuel (Samuel the Prophet), for God had heard her prayers (the root of Shmuel is lish'moa to hear).

The sages understood from Hannah’s prayers that quiet prayer is truly powerful. It is for this reason that the silent Amidah (central prayer) is recited just loud enough for the praying person to hear. Additionally, because Hannah revealed the proper way of communicating with God, she is one of seven women identified as a prophetesses (Megillah 14a).

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Joshua

Click here to hear Ye'ho'shoo'ah pronounced

Joshua is the anglicized form of the Hebrew name Ye’ho’shua.

The only real biographical information given about Joshua in the Torah is that he was from the tribe of Ephraim and was originally named Hoshea. According to the Midrash, a yud was added to the beginning of his name by Moses before he went to scout out the land of Israel in order to give him Divine protection from the nefarious plans of the 10 rebellious spies (Numbers 13:16).

One can deduce from the text, that Joshua was around 42 years old when the Israelites left Egypt. (The Israelites were in the wilderness for 40 years, then Joshua them for 28 years. He was 110 when he died.)

Joshua was a proven military leader who had led the Israelites in their successful defense when they were attacked by Amalek (Exodus 17:8-14), and could thus be relied upon to successfully lead the conquest of Canaan.

He was also Moses’ most devoted disciple. He learned the entire Torah from Moses and, more importantly, he learned how to understand the laws in the same way his teacher did. “Even in matters that he had not heard from Moses, his own reasoning corresponded with what had been told to Moses at Sinai” (Jerusalem Talmud, Pe’ah 1:1).

According to the Midrash, however, Joshua was more than a scholar and a military leader. Numbers Rabbah (21:14) reports that God said to Moses: “Joshua constantly served you and accorded you much honor. He came early to your house of assembly to arrange the benches and spread the mats. Since he served you with all his might, he is worthy of serving Israel.”

According to tradition, Joshua married Rahab, the heroic woman from the city of Jericho, after the conquest of that city and, according to Megillah 14b, had only daughters and no sons.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ava

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Listen to Cha'vah Pronounced




The name Ava is the German iteration of Eve, a name that is itself a derivative of the Hebrew Chava (the initial guttural chet sound evolved into a flat letter). Jewish Treats will use the name Eve.

If there is one Biblical story that most everyone in Western society knows, it is that of Adam and Eve. The story of Adam and Eve is truly fascinating. In addition, there are many details that are fleshed out in the Oral Tradition. However, the basics are: God tells Adam not to eat from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. The serpent seduces Eve into taking a fruit, and Eve gives Adam a bite. As a result, God banishes humans from the Garden of Eden. Quite often, and mistakenly, Eve is portrayed as the “antagonist.” God must punish Adam and Eve for transgressing the one rule that he has given them. He exiles them from the Garden of Eden, and mortality becomes part of the human destiny.

Throughout the entire incident, the “helpmate” of Adam remains without a name. Upon her creation, “Adam said, 'This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman (eesha), because she was taken out of Man (eesh)'” (Genesis 2:23).

When God announced their punishments, He said to the woman: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in sorrow you shall bring forth children..." (Genesis 3:16). The curse did more than just punish Adam and Eve, it defined them in their own eyes as well. Adam, the man, is the one who “by the sweat of your brow you [all] shall eat bread,” while the woman is the one who bears (and raises) the children.

Once Adam recognized that Eve was far more than an extension of himself, that she had a different role in the world, he named her (as he had all other living creatures): “Adam called his wife's name 'Eve' (Chava comes from the root of the Hebrew word chaya, meaning life), because she was the mother of all living creatures” (Genesis 3:29).

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Daniel

(Are you looking for our Twebrew School Treats about the Hebrew alphabet or our Hebrew Instructional videos? Click here for a directory!)



Click here to hear Dah'nee'el pronounced

Daniel, whose name means “Justice from God,” served in the court of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II, where he glorified the name of God and strengthened the faith of his fellow Jews. Although the last chapters of the Book of Daniel are visionary, Daniel himself is not counted among the prophets, and the Book of Daniel is categorized among the “Writings.”

The Book of Daniel introduces Daniel thus:

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God; and he carried them into the land of Shinar to the house of his god, and the vessels he brought into the treasure-house of his god (Daniel 1:1-2). Nebuchadnezzar instructed his chief officer to select several handsome and intelligent Jewish youth of royal blood to be brought to the Babylonian court and taught the language of the Chaldeans (Babylonians). These youths were also given new names: Daniel became Belteshazzar, Hananiah became Shadrach, Mishael became Meshach, and Azariah became Abed-nego (Daniel 1:3-7).

Daniel’s life at court was anything but mundane. He first came to the notice of the king after the king ordered the death of all the wise men of Babylon for failing to interpret his dream. Daniel was brave enough to interpret a dream, after which the king told Daniel “...your God is the God of gods, and the Lord of kings, and a Revealer of secrets, since you have been able to reveal this secret. Then the king made Daniel great...” (Daniel 2:47-48).

Daniel’s role in the court continued into the next generation. In his most famous interaction with Nebuchadnezzar’s heir, Belshazzar, he predicted the destruction of the Babylonian kingdom when mysterious writing appeared on the wall of the palace. Belshazzar died and the Babylonian empire was taken over by Darius the Mede, who trusted Daniel implicitly but was trapped by his officers into throwing Daniel into the lions’ den. (Fortunately, Daniel survived.)

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sarah

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Click here to hear Sah'rah pronounced
Few Biblical names are as common, popular and unchanged through time as Sarah. While most people could probably identify Sarah as the matriarch of the Jewish people, the fact is that this was not her given name. For the vast majority of her life, Sarah’s name was Sarai. One might think: Sarah, Sarai, no big difference--no big deal. But, in Sarah’s life this made a tremendous difference.

Sarai bat (the daughter of) Haran was not destined to have a child. The course set out for Sarai on the Divine map did not include motherhood. When Sarai and her husband, Abram, chose to dedicate their lives to sharing God with a world that had fallen into idolatry, the Divine map of her life was given the opportunity to be rewritten. And so God changed the name of both Sarai and Abram. At age 89, Sarai became Sarah. Abram, age 99, became Abraham. Shortly thereafter their son Isaac (Yitzchak) was conceived.

There are numerous discussions among the sages regarding the significance of the name changes. Most commonly, it is pointed out that they both received an additional Hebrew letter hey in their names. “Hey” is one of the letters of God’s name. In the construct of Hebrew grammar, possessive form is often indicated by a suffix. A yud suffix is the possessive ending for first person singular. The hey suffix is the possessive ending for the third person singular ending. In becoming a mother, and fulfilling God’s announcement that Abraham (and Sarah) would be the ancestors of a great nation, Sarah gave herself to the future generations whom she knew would follow in her (and her husband’s) ways.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Benjamin

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Click here to hear Bin’yah’min pronounced

The youngest of twelve brothers and one sister, Benjamin, the son of Jacob, appears in the Biblical narrative to be a passive personality whose life is seemingly dictated by the fate of those around him. His mother, Rachel, died while giving birth to him. Knowing that she would not survive, with her last breath she called him Ben-Oh'nee, the son of my mourning. His father, however, called him Binyamin (Benjamin), which means son of my right hand.

Eight years younger than his charismatic brother Joseph, Benjamin was only nine when their father was informed that Joseph had been killed. The sole surviving son of Rachel, Benjamin took Joseph’s place as his father’s beloved child.

After their first trip to Egypt to buy grain because of the famine in Canaan, Jacob’s 10 eldest sons were afraid to return to Egypt for more food, since the Viceroy (really Joseph incognito) had commanded that they not appear before him again without their brother Benjamin. But when the grain ran out, and with great reluctance--only after Judah vowed to protect Benjamin--Jacob allowed his young Benjamin to leave.

When the brothers arrived in Egypt with Benjamin, they were greeted with a feast at which “Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of them” (Genesis 43:34). Afterward, however, Joseph planted a cup in Benjamin’s sack and, upon their leaving Egypt to return to Jacob, had Benjamin arrested for theft. Horrified, the brothers returned to Joseph, pleading Benjamin’s innocence. Judah even offered to serve as a slave for life in Benjamin’s stead. Seeing the brothers’ strong commitment to protect Benjamin spurred Joseph to reveal himself.

Oddly, throughout all this action, nothing is actually heard from Benjamin himself. Benjamin is an enigmatic character. Passive as he may seem, the Midrash reveals that Benjamin was one of the few completely righteous individuals to ever live.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Jessica

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Click here to hear Yis’kah pronounced

Many people are surprised to learn that Jessica, which is the transliteration of Yiska, is actually a Biblical name. Perhaps that is because it appears only once in the Bible, in Genesis 11:19: “Abram and Nachor took to themselves wives, the name of Abram's wife being Sarai and that of Nachor's wife Milka, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milka and Yiska.”

According to the Midrash, “Yiska is actually another name for Sarah. Why then was she called Yiska? Because she could see (sachta--same root) [the future] through Divine Inspiration, and because everyone gazes (socheen--same root) at her beauty” (Megillah 14a).

While other Biblically derived names such as Rebecca, Elizabeth and Hannah (Rivkah, Elisheva and Chana appear throughout history, Jessica is not a name that one finds attached to many historical figures. In fact, the first English rendering of Yiska into the form Jessica appears to have been by William Shakespeare when he created Shylock’s daughter. The literary character Jessica betrays her father and elopes with one of the Christian men who seek to humiliate her father. Sadly, for the next three hundred years (until Sir Walter Scott wrote Ivanhoe), The Merchant of Venice’s Jessica was the prototype Jewess in English literature--the exotic beauty who turns her back on her heritage to marry a Christian.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

David

(Are you looking for our Twebrew School Treats about the Hebrew alphabet or our Hebrew Instructional videos? Click here for a directory!)Click here to hear Dah’veed pronounced

Although King David was not the first king of Israel (King Saul was the first), he is the most famous. In fact, he is considered to be the ideal Jewish king--pious, scholarly, philosophical, poetic and a victorious warrior.

There are far too many episodes in David’s life to fit into any one Jewish Treat, so let us begin with the origins of King David:

The eighth son of Jesse (Yishai) and Nitzevet, David could almost be called an after-thought to the family. According to the Midrash Yalkut Hamechiri, he was conceived after his parents had separated, when his mother disguised herself in order to be with her estranged husband. Her pregnancy was thus looked upon with great (but unfounded) suspicion.

After King Saul lost his right to the throne by disobeying a direct commandment from God, the Prophet Samuel was led to Bethlehem in the territory of Judah to find the next king. Since God had instructed him that the next king would be a son of Jesse, Samuel invited the family to an offering ceremony. David was not even called in from the field. Jesse’s seven elder sons were all tall and robust, but God rejected each of them. Only when Samuel inquired about any other children, did they call David from the field. When David appeared, “ruddy, with fine eyes, and good looking” (I Samuel 16:12), God instructed Samuel to anoint him.

This first anointing of David as king was not public, and David would not be recognized as king until Saul died several years later.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Rachel

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Click here to hear Rah’chayl pronounced
While Rachel is a name of Biblical origin, it is not a name that reflects religious devotion (such as Elisheva...”God is my Vow”) or even appears to be prophetically based (such as Joseph...”He will add”). In fact, Rachel translates as ewe, a female sheep. This seems a strange choice of name, until researching a bit further and reveals that the name of her sister, Leah, is linked to the Akkadian word for cow.

Rachel (and Leah) were raised in the home of their father Laban. From his very first appearance in the biblical narrative, at the time of Eliezer’s proposal in Isaac’s name to Rebecca (Laban’s sister), Laban’s greed and focus on material wealth is readily apparent. In his eyes, Rachel and Leah were “valuable” in the same way prize herds are valuable--for what they can bring him. It is no wonder, then, that Laban does not hesitate to switch Leah for Rachel. His duplicity gained Laban 14 years of hard, honest (and Divinely blessed) labor from Jacob.

Given her name, it is interesting to note that in Rachel’s first appearance in the Torah, Genesis 29:9, she is the shepherdess for Laban’s flock. One might find it odd that Laban, who was a man of some import in his community, had his daughter minding the flocks. Perhaps this tells us that he did not wish to hire extra help and put his daughter to work because “until the patriarch Jacob went down there [to Aram, Laban] was not granted sons” (Genesis Rabbah 73:12).

A mini-bio: Rachel was beautiful, and is even so described by the Torah: “Rachel was of beautiful form and fair to look upon” (Genesis 29:17). While Jacob loved her and perceived her always as his beloved wife, most of Rachel’s life was marked by her barrenness. Although she eventually had children, there was an 8 year wait between her two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. Sadly, Rachel does not survive the birth of her second son.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Joseph

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Click here to hear Yo'sef pronounced
Joseph, whose name means “He will add,” was the first son of Rachel and Jacob. The idea of “adding on” is prominent throughout Joseph’s life. Whatever occurs to him, seems to occur in superlatives. Not only did his brothers dislike him, they came to hate him. They hated him enough to want to kill him, although they settled for selling him to be a slave in a foreign country. And being a slave wasn’t the end of his spiral to the bottom, he was later falsely accused and convicted of rape and imprisoned.

But just as Joseph’s downward spiral went as far as it could go, when the circle turned, blessings rained upon him one after another. He was released from jail, employed by Pharaoh, and appointed Viceroy of Egypt.

One might expect that someone who is able to rise from convicted slave to Viceroy of Egypt would be completely taken about his own self-value. Joseph, however, recognized that everything that had occurred to him was part of a much larger Divine plan.

But Joseph was not always so “righteous.” Before he was sold to Egypt, the Torah describes him as “seventeen years old...a youth...(Genesis 37:2),” who was “of beautiful form, and fair to look upon” (Genesis 39:6). In fact, tradition informs us that he was quite vain: “He acted like a youth, adorning his eyes, lifting his heels, and dressing his hair” (Genesis Rabbah 84:7).

Additionally, Jacob “loved Joseph more than all his children” (Genesis 37:4), adding to the youth’s inflated sense of self.

Youth often has a skewed view of the world, and Joseph was no exception. Genesis 37:3 notes that “Joseph brought evil reports of [his brothers] to their father.” The sages provided examples: He would see his brothers cutting the limbs off live animals, in order to heal the animals, and he told his father’s that they were eating the limb of a live animal (an act prohibited even by the seven Noahide laws).

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Leah

(Are you looking for our Twebrew School Treats about the Hebrew alphabet or our Hebrew Instructional videos? Click here for a directory!)Click here to hear Lay'ah pronounced

On the morning after Jacob was to marry Rachel, he woke up only to find that his new bride was the wrong woman--actually Rachel’s older sister, Leah. “‘Deceiver, daughter of a deceiver!’ he said to Leah...She said to him, ‘Is there a teacher without disciples? Did your father not address you as Esau, and did you not respond?’” (Genesis Rabbah 70:19). (Click here for Rabbi Buchwald's insights into Jacob's deception.)

Leah was a woman of great strength who was singularly focused on achieving what she knew in her heart to be her destiny. Like the other Matriarchs, Leah is credited with being both modest and beautiful. And while it is noted in Genesis (29:17) that she had “weak” eyes, the Midrash explains that this was a condition brought on by her tears. Leah’s father Laban, and his sister Rebecca, had agreed that Rebecca’s sons should marry Laban’s daughters (cousins frequently married in those days). Leah was destined for Esau, but Esau’s reputation preceded him: “She [Leah] sat at the crossroads and inquired, ‘What are the deeds of the older [son, Esau]?’ They replied, ‘He is a wicked man who robs people.’ She wept until her eyelashes fell out” (Baba Batra 123a).

Leah’s hopes were fulfilled, and she was married to Jacob. And nearly every mention of her in the book of Genesis reveals her desperate longing to feel loved. The names of the six sons whom she bore to Jacob (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulon), each reflect her desire to strengthen her relationship with her husband.

Unfortunately, Leah never seems to win the full affections of her husband Jacob. Finally, after the birth of her sixth son, she appears to accept her imperfect situation. Pregnant for a seventh time, the Midrash explains that she prayed for a daughter, so as not to cause her sister Rachel further anguish. In one way, Leah did “win,” in that she, not Rachel, is buried next to Jacob in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Noah

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Click here to hear No’ahch pronounced

There is an interesting debate among the sages regarding the verse “Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generation” (Genesis 6:10). Does it mean that Noah was a true tzadik (righteous person), or that Noah was righteous only when compared to the rest of his generation?

Noah was given his name by his father, Lamech, who said: “This one will bring us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands, from the ground which God had cursed” (Genesis 5:29). From the very beginning, Noah was destined to have an impact on the world.

Although Noah lived in a time of chaos, when the people were, as the Torah describes them, completely corrupt, he “found grace in the eyes of God” (Genesis 6:8). While Noah had a relationship with God, however, he was not on the best of terms with his neighbors. Throughout the time that he was building the ark, he responded to inquiries about what he was doing, by telling his neighbors that God intended to bring a big flood. They “mocked him, calling him despised old man” (Genesis Rabbah 30:7). What Noah should have done, but did not do, was to reach out to his contemporaries and show them how to talk with God and to repent their wicked ways.

It would be wonderful to say that Noah’s life was completed as meaningfully as it had begun. But, the journey in the ark and seeing his entire generation (except his family) destroyed, had its effect on him. After thanking God for his salvation, Noah’s second act on dry land, unfortunately, was to plant a vineyard and get drunk. He never regained the stature that he had before and during the flood, and the Torah moves its focus onto his sons.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Mariah

(Are you looking for our Twebrew School Treats about the Hebrew alphabet or our Hebrew Instructional videos? Click here for a directory!)

Click here to hear Mo’ree’yah pronounced

Mariah appears to be a variant of the Hebrew name Moriah, which is a common girls name in Israel. Moriah is not the name of a Biblical persona, but rather, it is the name of one of the most important locations in Jewish history, Mount Moriah. The first biblical reference to Mount Moriah is in Genesis 22:2 as the place to which Abraham is instructed to bring Isaac and offer him up as a sacrifice. Numerous important occurrences in Jewish history are connected to Mount Moriah, but none as critical as being the location of the Holy Temple(s). As it says in II Chronicles, “Then Solomon began to build the house of God in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah” (3:1).

Moriah, as a word, can have numerous meanings. One could connect it to marah as in bitter (particularly those who connect the name Moriah as a derivation of Miriam, which translates as “bitter water.”) But connecting bitter to a holy site such as Mount Moriah does not appear plausible. Perhaps it is related to the Hebrew word mor (myrrh) a sweet smelling spice. Several other etymological connections do, however, make sense. "What is [the meaning of] Mount Moriah?--With regard to this there is a difference of opinion between Rabbi Levi ben. Hama and Rabbi Hanina. [One says] because from this mountain instruction (from the root yud-reish-hey, meaning teach) went forth unto Israel; and the other says: Because it is the mountain whence fear (from the root yud-reish-aleph, meaning fear) came upon the nations" (Ta'anit 16a).

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Nathan

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Click here to hear Na’tahn pronounced

While “good old reliable Nathan” (from Guys and Dolls) might be a phrase that pops into a few heads when they hear this Biblical name, Nathan was actually an important prophet who lived in the time of King David.

When Nathan first appears in II Samuel, King David expresses his concern: “See now, I am living in a house of cedar [an elaborate palace] while the ark of God dwells with the curtain [in a makeshift Tabernacle]” (II Samuel 7:2). Nathan tells him to go with his heart. But, that night, God speaks to Nathan and tells him that King David is not destined to build the Temple. This honor will go to David's son who will succeed him.

Nathan’s more dramatic appearance occurs several chapters later. King David had sent a man named Uriah to the fatal front line against the Ammonites and married the wife that Uriah had divorced for the sake of war (Bathsheba). After Bathsheba gave birth to a son with David, Nathan appeared in the court and presented the King with a legal case of a rich man who stole the beloved sheep of a poor family. When King David declared that such a man deserved to die and must pay fourfold for this ewe, Nathan dramatically declared, “You are that man!” He then announced God’s rebuke and punishment (“The sword shall not cease from your house forever.”).

The child born to Batsheva died. However, she and King David later had four sons, one of whom was Solomon, and another who was named Nathan.

Nathan the Prophet remained faithful to King David even in the most difficult of times. It was Nathan who informed Bathsheba that Adoniah (David’s son with another wife, Haggit) was fermenting a rebellion. King David was old and unaware of his son’s machinations. Together, Nathan and Bathsheba ensured that King David’s decision that Solomon inherit the throne was implemented.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Naomi


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Click here to hear Nah’aw’mee pronounced

Overshadowed by the story of her famous daughter-in-law Ruth, Naomi’s story is both poignant and important. She is introduced into the Biblical narrative as the wife of Elimelech, a man of great wealth in the city of Bethlehem (in the territory of Judah). They have two sons. When famine strikes, rather than see his wealth depleted in local relief efforts, Elimelech decides to close up his house in Judea and leave. Elimelech, family in tow, heads to a more prosperous locale: Moab, was a nation with a history of less-than-friendly relations with the Israelites and had recently been at war with the inhabitants of the Judean territory.

Their self-imposed exile lasted many years. Long enough, that both of Naomi’s sons took wives from among the Moabites. Long enough, that Elimelech died in exile, as did her two sons. Left a widow, with two widowed daughter-in-laws, Naomi decided to return home to Judea and, at this point in the story, one learns the significance of Naomi’s name.

When she decides to return home, Naomi cannot bear to be called by her own name, which comes from the word na’im, meaning “pleasant” or “agreeable.” When she and her daughter-in-law, Ruth, arrive in Bethlehem “all the city was astir concerning them, and the women said: 'Is this Naomi?' And she said to them: 'Call me not Naomi, call me Marah; for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and God has brought me back home empty; why call me Naomi, seeing that God has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?'” (Ruth 1:19-21).

Neither history nor the people of Bethlehem at that time accepted Naomi’s declared name change, but it was included in the biblical narrative because of what it showed about Naomi as a person.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Alexander

(Are you looking for our Twebrew School Treats about the Hebrew alphabet or our Hebrew Instructional videos? Click here for a directory!)
Click here to hear Ah’lec’sahn’dehr pronounced
This is certainly not the type of name one typically thinks of as a traditional Jewish name. It may surprise you to learn that the name originated as a way of honoring none other than Alexander the Great.

Alexander was in his mid-twenties when he brought his armies to Judea. He had already conquered the Balkans and Asia Minor. Since Alexander was moving into the territory from the north, he first encountered a small converted tribe known as the Samaritans (also referred to as the Cutheans). The Samaritans had accepted much but not all of the Torah; in particular, they rejected the oral law and the Temple worship in Jerusalem. They viewed themselves in competition with the Jews of Judea and therefore told Alexander that the Temple should be destroyed. (They wished that their holy site on Har Gerizim would thus be rendered the pre-eminent place of worship.) They further attempted to embitter Alexander against the Jews by emphasizing the Jews’ refusal to place a statue of Alexander in the Temple.

Upon hearing of the treacherous plans of the Samaritans, Simeon the Just (Shimon HaTzadik), who was the High Priest at that time, dressed himself in his priestly garments and went forth with some of Israel’s noblemen to serve as a welcoming party. At dawn, they came upon the army of Alexander.

The Talmud relates the encounter thus:
When the dawn rose he [Alexander] said to them [the Samaritans]: Who are these [people]?
They answered: The Jews who rebelled against you....
When he [Alexander] saw Simeon the Just, he descended from his carriage and bowed down before him.
They [the Samaritans] said to him: A great king like yourself should bow down before this Jew?
He [Alexander] answered: His image goes before me in all my battles and leads me to victory.
He [Alexander] said to them [the Jews]: What have you come for?
They [the Jews] said: Is it possible that star-worshipers should mislead you to destroy the House wherein prayers are said for you and your kingdom that it be never destroyed! (Yoma 69a).

Alexander proceeded to conquer Judea (as well as most of the “known world” of the time), but did not destroy Jerusalem or its Temple. The strife that would later develop between the Jews and the Greeks occurred long after Alexander had died.

To honor Alexander for his respect for Jewish life, many boys born that year were named Alexander. Thus did the name of the great pagan emperor become a Jewish name, along with its Yiddish version, Sender.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

An Assortment of Girl Names


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Click here to hear Kayla pronounced
Click here to hear Gahv’ree’ayl and Gahv’ree’ay’lah pronounced
Click here to hear Mee’cha’eyl pronounced
Click here to hear Ah’lee’yah pronounced
Click here to hear Ah’mahl’yah pronounced

In the 2011 list of favorite girl names compiled by the United States Social Security Administration, there are several names that have a connection to Hebrew (or Yiddish) but are not rooted in Jewish history. Here is a brief/explanation of some of these names:

Kayla, which ranks 49th on the list of names, has several possible origins. As a Jewish girls name, it is the Yiddish variation of the Hebrew Kelila, meaning a “crown of laurels.” It is also a feminine form of the masculine kalil (which means “complete,” and might be the source of Superman’s real name). It is interesting to note that Kayla is the name of one of the languages of the Beta Israel (Jews from Ethiopia).

Gabriela/Gabrielle and Makayla are both legitimate Hebrew names rooted in tradition. However, these names do not exist in the feminine form. Gabriela and Gabrielle are both derivatives of Gabriel, which means “God is my strength.” Gabriel is the name of one of the four archangels. Likewise, Makayla is a feminine version of Michael, another of the archangels. Michael means “Who is like God?”

A fairly new name on the world name scene is Aaliyah. This name may have gained popularity from the late pop singer, Aaliyah, who was not Jewish. The name means “ascent.” This same word is also the term for the act of going up to read the blessings of the Torah in synagogue, as well as the act of moving to Israel.

Amalia (and its derivative Mia) are both linked to the modern Hebrew name which means “Work of God.”

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 3, 2008

John

(Are you looking for our Twebrew School Treats about the Hebrew alphabet or our Hebrew Instructional videos? Click here for a directory!)Click here to hear Yo’chah’nahn pronounced

The name John is actually the Greek rendition of the Hebrew name Yochanan (Johanan - a name that today many would assume is German). While the common name John gets its popularity from John the Baptist, Yochanan was actually a common name in early Jewish history. The name translates to “God is gracious.”

There are two different Yochanans mentioned in the biblical canon. The first is Yochanan ben Karea, who tried to warn Gedaliah, the Babylonian-appointed governor of Judah, that he was going to be assassinated, After the assassination occurred and Babylonian troops appeared to express the emperors ire, Yochanan ben Korea helped lead the remaining inhabitants of Judea to safety in Egypt (Jeremiah 43:8-22).

The second appearance of this name is in the Book of Nechemia. Yochanan ben Yayada is listed as one of the priests who returned from Babylon with Zerubabbel.

There are, however, several important post-biblical Yochanans. While everyone remembers Judah Macabee, who led the rebellion, his oldest brother was the less well-known Yochanan Gaddi (note the Greek second name). His death at the hands of the sons of Jambri from Medeba (in Moab, now Jordan) is recorded in the first Book of Maccabees.

Within the same family, but several generations later, the name Yochanan reappears. Yochanan Girhan assumed the Hasmonean kingship in 134 B.C.E., and was known as John Hyrcanus I. By the time his descendant, John Hyrcanus II, became High Priest in 76 B.C.E., the Hebrew Yochanan appears to have fully transformed to the Greek John.

When Jewish life moved into the age of written oral tradition, Yochanan remained a popular name. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai was the Jewish leader who lived through the destruction of the Temple. He remained loyal and devoted to the Jewish people, and when the Emperor Vespasian offered him three wishes, one of them was that Vespasian give the Jews the city of Yavneh, which was to become the new home of the Sanhedrin, and spare the sages from destruction.

Finally, in our list of famous Yochanans, was the fascinating, and incredibly handsome, Rabbi Yochanan ben Naf'cha, was a well-known student of Rabbi Judah the Prince (Yehuda Hanasi) Rabbi Judah the Prince (Yehuda Hanasi), the redactor of the Mishna. Among other things, Rabbi Yochanan ben Naf'cha is credited with editing the Jerusalem Talmud.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Matthew

(Are you looking for our Twebrew School Treats about the Hebrew alphabet or our Hebrew Instructional videos? Click here for a directory!)Click here to hear Mah’tit’ya’hoo pronounced

Matthew is another name whose popularity is based on Christianity but is actually the Greek form of a Hebrew name, Mattityahu. The name means “Gift of God.”

There is really only one famous Mattityahu in early Jewish tradition, and he is not in the Hebrew Bible. Rather, Mattityahu is the first hero in the story of Chanukah and the Maccabees. A High Priest, descended from the Hasmonean line, Mattityahu lived in the city of Modi’in with his five sons. Mattityahu started the rebellion against the Syrian-Greeks when he refused to sacrifice a pig to a Greek god and slew the Jew who volunteered to do so.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.