In real estate it may be all about location, location, location.
In Judaism it is all about names, names, names….
We are obsessed with names. The very first thing that the very first man Adam does is name all the animals in his wondrous garden. When he meets his life partner, Eve he is so overwhelmed by her presence that he bursts out into a song about her radiance and her name. He actually only names himself after he names her. It is as if he only really knows himself after he recognises the other.
We have an entire book of the Torah called the Book of Names known in Hebrew as Shemot.
So, with apologies to Shakespeare, what’s in a name? Everything and a rose by any other name would not be quite the same!
The beginning of wisdom lies in our capacity to call things by their name. The attainment of a good name is one of the highest achievements in Jewish life, if not life itself. It’s called the crown of a good name.
Jewish wisdom just tell us the name that our parents give us at birth is indicative of our capacity, our personality and our destiny.
There is an added element to the nature and mystique of a name in the Torah reading last week (Emor, Leviticus 22:32) ”Do not desecrate My holy name, that I may be sanctified among the children of Israel, I am the Lord who sanctifies you.” From this verse are derived two ultimate and dual values in Judaism. Not to shame the name of God called Chillul Hashem. To positively promote the name of God called Kiddush Hashem. You shame not only yourself and others when you besmirch or betray the name of God but you shame God himself. And when you act in an exemplary, ethical and moral way you bring radiance and appreciation to the name of God. Like a proud parent God loves our acts of goodness, kindness and thoughtfulness.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote a compelling book about religious violence called: Not In God’s name. As he so eloquently elocutes – “When religion turns men into murderers, God weeps.” To use the name of God to justify violence against the innocent, the killing of the vulnerable in the name of religion, is not an act of holiness but one of horror. It is a type of blasphemy, it is taking God’s name in vain, it is a gross and egregious Chillul Hashem. God Himself would surely implore us – please don’t justify your behaviour in my name!
The concept of Chillul Hashem taken literally is also about name-shaming another human being. When we use names to harm others we demean ourselves. Jewish people know only too well how the very word Jew is still used by some to insult and as a slur – a Heb, a Kike, a filthy Yid, a greedy Jew are just a few variations. The word Jew has the dubious distinction of being used as an insult as both a verb (to Jew someone) and a noun…
In June 1973 the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary defended his decision on a court suit over the secondary definition of “Jew” as “a name of opprobrium or reprobation; specifically applied to a grasping or extortionate money lender or usurer, or a trader who drives hard bargains or deals craftily.”
We understand the power of racial, religious, gender and sexual slurs, we know how you can undermine those with disability by a casual remark or lazy reference. The Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements have reminded us just how damaging objectionable words about race and gender can be. On Tuesday 17 May it was International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. A time to reflect on the pain and damage caused by the language of gender stereotyping, by the demeaning names given to those who are gay, bi or trans. A timely reminder to call out those who use their words to wound others.
Our challenge is to live the lessons of the name we have been given, to respect and protect the name of others, especially those sidelined by society, to carry the name of God with integrity and pride. And our challenge is to earn a good name by our integrity and our actions on behalf of others, for as Shakespeare put it so well: “Who steals my purse, steals trash, who filches my good name robs me of everything I have.”