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Thought for the Day: Naming for Our Ancestors

I am working from Southern California this week.  The primary motivation was traveling to meet my new grandson, יהושע אהרן דנבן Yehoshua Aharon Donovan (more about the name soon).  As השגחה would have it, my company just happens to have an office 30 miles from where my new grandson currently resides, and I just happen to have recently been assigned to an issue that relates to the product that is developed in this office, and it just happens the discovery of the root cause of the issue required me to sit together with a developer here so we had expertise from both areas of the code base looking at the same screen and discovering the problem together.  What luck!

Anyway, I use the navigation system on my cell phone (a small, hand-held computer with more memory and compute power than the computers that landed a man safely on the moon, and by the way can also enable real-time voice communication between two parties even while traveling nearly anywhere on the globe) to get most efficiently from my grandson's abode to my temporary office.  The phone knows not only all the routes, but also has real-time traffic monitoring.  It begins my journey with, "Your route has usual traffic, but you should reach your destination in 34 minutes."  Of course, the moment I hear that, I immediately think, "I can beat that!"  I do not allow myself to make reckless decisions to beat the announced schedule, but I do concentrate about being more efficient in my maneuvering and choices along the way.

We Jews of Ashkenazi decent (and its adoptees) name our children in memory of our ancestors and/or great people. One reason we do that, obviously, is as a comfort to the survivors.  I am named for my grandmother's oldest sister who was, along with her husband and children, murdered by the Nazis.  I have really just now told you everything I know about that great aunt, yet I can tell you that I bear her memory with pride and hope that I am a merit for her and her family.

There is a more spiritual dimension of our custom to name after ancestors (and/or great people): we are using that name to infuse this child with the character traits of his namesake.  That can sometimes be a cause for concern; if a person died young or childless, for example, one should consult with his rav.  Something that is not a concern, though, is the level of frumkeit of the ancestor.  Chazal tell us that everything is in the hand of heaven except or one thing and one thing alone: his level of frumkeit.  There are no bad or good character traits, there are only good and bad choices about how to use those character traits in עבודת השם.

And that brings up back full circle: the practical effect of naming a child for an ancestor and/or great person.  We expect the new Jew to exemplify the character traits of his namesake; we have רוח הקודש whispering to our minds: Your route has usual traffic, but this young Jew can reach whatever heights he chooses.  We, as parents (and grandparents... we can't help ourselves) will guide this child according to his way, using his character traits.  We won't be reckless, but we will concentrate to be more efficient in our maneuvering and choices along the way.  A person who grows to fulfill his potential can even increase the spiritual standing of his ancestors.  He is then, it turns out, named for an ancestor who (it is now realized) is a great person -- just look at what he produced!

This young man, my new little grandson is named for his maternal grandfather.  My father-in-law was exemplified in his trait of taking his responsibilities seriously and planning for the future.  He took special care in ensuring that my mother-in-law should be able to provide for herself and be comfortable for as long as she lives; she should continue in her good health and spirits.  In his last few months of life, a time of difficulty and pain, he always found pleasure in seeing his great-grandchildren and even made a very difficult move after 50 years in one community to live out his days across the country closer to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

I can think of no greater bracha than that my grandson should take this midos to grow in Torah, to Chupa, and wonderful good deeds to be a יהושע for the אהרן for whom he is named and for the entire Jewish community.


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