Thursday, December 04, 2008

Ponderous Parsha Point...

...this Shabbos amongst many other things we will encounter the births of 11 of the Shevatim. Now by all accounts they were to become extraordinary people - to the point that we refer to them often as the Shivtei Ka.

Perhaps the most well known aspect of the Shevatim are their names. In jewish schools the world over children come to know the names of the 12 shevatim almost as if they were members of their own family. This year for the first time I actually paid attention the pesukim that detail their names and the ideas behind each of them. They are as follows:

וַתַּהַר לֵאָה וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן, וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ רְאוּבֵן: כִּי אָמְרָה, כִּי-רָאָה יְהוָה בְּעָנְיִי--כִּי עַתָּה, יֶאֱהָבַנִי אִישִׁי.
And Leah conceived, and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben; for she said: 'Because the LORD hath looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.'

וַתַּהַר עוֹד, וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן, וַתֹּאמֶר כִּי-שָׁמַע יְהוָה כִּי-שְׂנוּאָה אָנֹכִי, וַיִּתֶּן-לִי גַּם-אֶת-זֶה; וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ, שִׁמְעוֹן.
And she conceived again, and bore a son; and said: 'Because the LORD hath heard that I am hated, He hath therefore given me this son also.' And she called his name Simeon.

וַתַּהַר עוֹד, וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן, וַתֹּאמֶר עַתָּה הַפַּעַם יִלָּוֶה אִישִׁי אֵלַי, כִּי-יָלַדְתִּי לוֹ שְׁלֹשָׁה בָנִים; עַל-כֵּן קָרָא-שְׁמוֹ, לֵוִי.
And she conceived again, and bore a son; and said: 'Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have borne him three sons.' Therefore was his name called Levi.

וַתַּהַר עוֹד וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן, וַתֹּאמֶר הַפַּעַם אוֹדֶה אֶת-יְהוָה--עַל-כֵּן קָרְאָה שְׁמוֹ, יְהוּדָה; וַתַּעֲמֹד, מִלֶּדֶת
And she conceived again, and bore a son; and she said: 'This time will I praise the LORD.' Therefore she called his name Judah; and she left off bearing.

וַתֹּאמֶר רָחֵל, דָּנַנִּי אֱלֹהִים, וְגַם שָׁמַע בְּקֹלִי, וַיִּתֶּן-לִי בֵּן; עַל-כֵּן קָרְאָה שְׁמוֹ, דָּן.
And Rachel said: 'God hath judged me, and hath also heard my voice, and hath given me a son.' Therefore called she his name Dan.

וַתֹּאמֶר רָחֵל, נַפְתּוּלֵי אֱלֹהִים נִפְתַּלְתִּי עִם-אֲחֹתִי--גַּם-יָכֹלְתִּי; וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ, נַפְתָּלִי
And Rachel said: 'With mighty wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and have prevailed.' And she called his name Naphtali.

וַתֹּאמֶר לֵאָה, בגד (בָּא גָד); וַתִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ, גָּד
And Leah said: 'Fortune is come!' And she called his name Gad.

וַתֹּאמֶר לֵאָה--בְּאָשְׁרִי, כִּי אִשְּׁרוּנִי בָּנוֹת; וַתִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ, אָשֵׁר
And Leah said: 'Happy am I! for the daughters will call me happy.' And she called his name Asher.

וַתֹּאמֶר לֵאָה, נָתַן אֱלֹהִים שְׂכָרִי, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַתִּי שִׁפְחָתִי, לְאִישִׁי; וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ, יִשָּׂשכָר
And Leah said: 'God hath given me my hire, because I gave my handmaid to my husband. And she called his name Issachar.

וַתֹּאמֶר לֵאָה, זְבָדַנִי אֱלֹהִים אֹתִי זֵבֶד טוֹב--הַפַּעַם יִזְבְּלֵנִי אִישִׁי, כִּי-יָלַדְתִּי לוֹ שִׁשָּׁה בָנִים; וַתִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ, זְבֻלוּן
And Leah said: 'God hath endowed me with a good dowry; now will my husband dwell with me, because I have borne him six sons.' And she called his name Zebulun.

וַתַּהַר, וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן; וַתֹּאמֶר, אָסַף אֱלֹהִים אֶת-חֶרְפָּתִי
וַתִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ יוֹסֵף, לֵאמֹר: יֹסֵף יְהוָה לִי, בֵּן אַחֵר
And she conceived, and bore a son, and said: 'God hath taken away my reproach.' And she called his name Joseph, saying: 'The LORD add to me another son.'

My ponderings stem from the following: w/ the exceptions of Yehuda, Gad & Asher the thoughts behind the names of the Shevatim are not what I would expect to lie behind the foundations of the future of Klal Yisroel. By and large they would seem to come from non-positive feelings, and that's being charitable in some cases - I don't just struck me as kind of off.



  1. Penderous yet again, eh? :)

    Good Q. It's as if they weren't happy unless they were getting more than they expected to... troubling.

  2. Change the names of the women and put this on daytime tv and what you seem to have is two women, sisters, who are both in competition for the same man, who is married to both, and neither feels that she is "valued" highly, that her husband esteems her. They produce sons as a means of gaining their husband's attention and gaining his esteem. Only after they have produced 12 sons do you get the feeling that they think they are the "top banana." If we saw this on tv we'd say the author had gone "over the top" in writing the script, but this is chumash we are talking about. So what are we supposed to learn out from this, about husband/wife relationships, about sister/sister relationships, about the importance of having children?

  3. So many possible responses:

    Today we sometimes name after non-positive events...such as Rafael when there's a need for healing, or Nachum/Nechama/Menachem when there's a need for consolation.

    Also, our names are kind of set in stone since many of us use traditional biblical or mishnaic names (it's true that modern hebrew names often have nice aesthetics.)

    While we only hint at the emotions / feelings we have in selecting a name for a child, the Imahos were able to give full expression in choosing the original names they gave their children.

    Although every child is welcome, let's face it, not every birth happens at a time that seems opportune to us.

  4. Rashi comments on Va-t'kanei Rachel ba-achosa that she wasn't jealous of Leah's children, but rather of her ma'asim tovim that led her to be granted children before Rachel was - kin'as sofrim tarbeh chochmah, in a sense. Viewed through this lens, the sequence of names can be representative of a spiritual "arms race", rather than a physical competition.

  5. Josh M.-

    Okay, that could work for the Rochel/Leah still leaves the Leah/Yaakov ones which to me are more of an issue.

  6. tesyaa-

    I get your thought(s) in general what do they have to do with the post?

  7. My point was why do you expect names to only have a positive connotation? Our names today often don't have anything to do with circumstances around us, they have to do with names of deceased ancestors (or living ancestors in the SY/Sefardi world). The Imahos chose names reflecting circumstances, which were not necessarily positive circumstances.
    Have a nice Shabbos.

  8. Tesyaa - I think his point was why specifically *negative*, not asking why it's not positive... Even Refael, Menachem - those are meant to help/comfort, not bash the father/kid.

  9. Ah, gotcha.

    So I hear what you're saying - i guess it just strikes me as odd that so many of them (8 of 11!)should be based on such negativity. And why did they choose to emphasize negative circumstances as apposed to trying to accentuate positive ones.

    Not positive i can see, even negatives to send a message - i just don't see that here.

  10. This question is one I had many years ago and is the source of one of my most bitter memories from Yeshiva. I asked this exact question to one of the rebbeim who had a reputation in the Yeshiva as someone deep. I thought he would be the right one to ask.

    So I asked. He looked at me and told me a moshol of "someone who waits on the sidewalk for the purpose of taking the bus, for the purpose of going to work, for the purpose of making money, for the purpose of providing for his family, for the purpose of being honorable. So in the final analysis he is standing on the sidewalk to be honorable".

    I understood that he was trying to convey a message about immediate objectives vs. ultimate objectives. But I couldn't place all the elements of the nimshal (my question about Leah and Rachel) into the moshol. He refused to clarify. He holds himself to be this big guru who should be understood by the himalyan-like hints he dispenses. I should have realized that he was a person to stay away from.

    Alas, I kept on going back to him, convinced that he possessed a chochma the other rebbeim did not grasp. And I kept getting hurt, each time worse than the time before. Thoughts of him and his arrogant face are my worst memories of an otherwise positive Yeshiva experience.

    With this parsha I learned about the Talmid Chochom She'Ein Bo Daas who is more vile than a rotting corpse. Any success I have had in Klei Kodesh comes from being the opposite of that douchebag.

  11. G -

    Perhaps one could view Yaakov as a landmark of sorts in ruchniyus that Leah measured herself in reference to.