Practical Judaism – Lech Lecha

“And you shall no longer be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham.” -Genesis 17:5

“Everyone has a share in the World To Come except for some, this includes the one who humiliates another in public and one who calls another by a derogatory name. Even if the victim has grown accustomed to being called that name in place of his name, and they are no longer humiliated by being called that name, since the intent was to insult them, the perpetrator’s punishment is severe.”
-Talmud, Baba Metzia 58b

Welcome to the new season of the ‘Raising Holy Sparks’ podcast. This year, we will be focusing on Jewish concepts and will be experimenting with ways to take them out of the theoretical and turn them into the practical.

In this week’s Torah portion of Lech Lecha, we once again see the power behind giving and receiving names.
After a long and circuitous journey from his homeland (in what some suspect is Southern Iraq) towards the Land of Israel, the prophet formerly known as Abram has his name changed by God to Abraham. His wife becomes Sarah and sheds her former name of Sarai.
There is a midrash, a Jewish legend, that says Abraham’s father was a miniature idol manufacturer. One day, his father comes home to find that Abraham had smashed all of these little toys that were known as gods by his neighbors.
Later in life, Abraham sets out to a new place to share his new message. In his mind, he was ready to begin this next chapter in his life, but he just needed one finishing touch – a new name.
Sometimes, old names carry old baggage.
When we visit friends from childhood, perhaps, we are once again called by old nicknames. Maybe this name – this label – impacts the way that others act towards us or even the way that we act ourselves.
If this is not something that happens with old friends, then perhaps this is a familiar scene that happens when you see old colleagues or your family members. With each group, we have names or characteristics that were a part of our identity (whether we liked it or not) at that particular time, but we have since outgrown them.
As the quote from the Talmud above mentions, there is something particularly sinister about giving someone a nickname that doesn’t rightfully honor who that person is. This goes without saying for nicknames that are blatantly mean or obnoxious.
As the Talmud goes on to say, even if we have grown accustomed to being called by a certain name, it still does not make it ok.
Your name is your name – you deserve to be called by it.
When we are called by our chosen name (or title, or pronouns, or whatever it may be) we are seen for who we really are. When others refuse to call us by this name and we demand it of them, it means we see ourselves for who we are and know that we are worthy of respect and love in all situations.
**My Kavanah, or intention**, for you all in this coming week:
1) This one is mainly for me – if the cafe barista doesn’t get your name right, correct them. Also, if you have an uncommon name, don’t be afraid to take the extra 30 seconds and repeat it a few times.
2) If a friend, family member, or colleague makes a playful jab about you or your name, it’s ok to remind them that you prefer to not be called or labeled by those terms and you would appreciate it if they honored that.

See you next time!

Thanks for listening and looking forward to being on this journey through the books of the Torah with you!

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