Parshat Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20), which we read this Shabbos, contains one such reference. The prince of the tribe of Gad is listed in 1:14 as Elyasaf ben (son of) De’uel. A chapter later, in 2:14, his father is named Re’uel. Ramban (1194-1270 Spain) offers a cogent interpretation: Re’uel is a contraction of the words “Ra’yon El,” (the thoughts of G-d). De’uel combines “Da’at El,” (knowledge of G-d). Elyasaf’s father, is being recognized and complimented for having been able to combine the two. Clearly, the merits of the nearly unknown father informed the selection of his son as the head of the tribe. Don’t hold your breath, though. In chapter 13, the ill-fated spy from the tribe of Gad who was sent on the mission to check out Canaan was named Geu’el (salvation of G-d). We know his fate. And, by the way, he’s named last.
The Torah reading for the first day of Shavuot, famously containing the Ten Statements, comes from Parshat Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23). Yitro (Jethro), Moses’ father-in-law, breaks the biblical record for pseudonyms: Re’uel, Yeter, Yitro, Chovav, Chever, Keini, and Putiel. Chazal have an explanation for every one; identifying each as making a specific point regarding how this Moabite priest made his journey from idolatry to being a devoted servant of Hashem and an astute advisor to His greatest prophet.
The Torah reading for the second day of Shavuot (Deuteronomy 15:19-16:17) contains the greatest Name of all. But all the names of the Divine are not equal. In this familiar passage giving us a rundown of the holiday cycle, we most often read the double-appellation of the most well-known names of G-d: the ineffable name pronounced Ado-nai, representing G-d’s quality of mercy, followed by Elo-him, representing justice. The two most emergent elements of Hashem (the Name) are combined, appropriately, in our ritual observance. But read the rest of the Bible. There are dozens of ways in which G-d’s name is represented. Each new name focuses on a different quality, action, power, preference, blessing, or curse. As humans, unable to fathom the Divine in its totality, we must resort to using linguistic euphemisms in order to make a paltry attempt at comprehending G-d’s complete essence.
Shakespeare asked, “What’s in a name?” I’m fairly sure that Juliet was more concerned with Montagues and Capulets than Elyasaf, Yitro, and G-d. Yet, as we read the parshsa which is the prelude to the establishment of the Tabernacle/Temple ritual, and then celebrate the receiving of the Torah on Shavuot, we can put the pieces together. May we all take this “three-day holiday” to get a blessing from the beauty of names…and Names.
May we have both thoughts and knowledge of G-d, as did Elyasaf. May our relationship with G-d and our people constantly evolve and mature as did Yitro. May we constantly, and limitlessly, find new ways to relate to G-d, even if it means creating a new paradigm in order to understand how the connection is being made.
And may you all have a Shabbat Shalom, and a Chag Sameach.
Rabbi/Hazzan David B. Sislen