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Welcome to our Shabbos Table!

We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.

Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book. To respond, click on "Click here to respond" or email us at
responses@ourtable.org.

Parshas Bereishis #1

Our Name Is Our Essence

"And Adam gave names to all the animals, and to the birds of the sky, and to all the beasts of the field" (Bereishis 2:20).

How did Adam know which names to bestow on countless species of beasts and birds? The Ramban writes that when Hashem showed Adam each individual creature, he was able to perceive its inherent nature. The name he gave expressed the animal's essence.

The Radak points out that these names were in Lashon HaKodesh, the Holy Tongue spoken by Adam and all of mankind until the Dor Haflagah. He cites a number of early names mentioned in the Torah which are derived from words in Lashon HaKodesh. Among them are Adam's own name, derived from the word adamah, literally "earth," because he was formed from the dust of the earth, and Noach, who would comfort (yinachem) the world.

Chazal teach that a person's name can be an important influence in his life. For example, Rus' name indicated that she would be the ancestress of King David, "who satiated (rivah) the Holy One, blessed be He, with songs and praises," a reference to the Book of Tehillim authored by King David (Berachos 7b).

Choosing Well

The impact of a name can be positive, but it can be negative as well. Midrash Tanchuma (Haazinu 7) cautions parents to exercise care in choosing a child's name, "for sometimes a name can be a factor for good or for bad." The Midrash goes on to list the names of the desert Spies who slandered Eretz Yisrael, explaining how the name of each one was a portent of his future downfall.

Name Changes

The Rambam suggests that a penitent change his name as part of the process of repentance, as a way of saying that he is no longer the same person who sinned (Hilchos Teshuvah 2:4). This is not accepted halachic practice. The way to repent is by following the other practical guidelines listed by the Rambam, including confession, regret, and changing one's ways. Nonetheless, the Rambam's words do indicate how instrumental a person's name is in defining who he is.

Traditionally, a name is changed in a case of serious illness, by adding a name which is auspicious for life and health, such as Chaim ("life") or Rephael ("Hashem heals") for a man, or Chaya ("life") for a woman. Taamei HaMinhagim (p. 105, Kuntres Acharon) suggests Chanah, Sarah, and Yocheved as appropriate additional names for women. Among other segulos for childless couples, Rav Moshe Sternbuch mentioned changing either the husband's or wife's name, so that they will be more compatible (Teshuvos V'Hanhagos 1:790).

Changing one's given name should never be undertaken lightly; it can be extremely dangerous (see Taamei HaMinhagim ibid.). In all cases, one should never change a name without consulting a reliable halachic authority who is knowledgeable in this area.

Question for Discussion:

Your Hebrew name expresses your essence. If you could choose your own name, would you change it? If so, which name would you choose instead, and why?

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Parshas Bereishis #2

Touchdown

"If you do good, you will be forgiven, and if you do not do good, sin lurks at the door. And it desires you, and you will rule it" (Bereishis 4:7).

"'And it desires you': know that the yetzer hara (evil inclination) will crave your sins. Despite this, it is given over into your hands, and you are not given over into its hand. 'And you will rule it': if you do not wish to listen to him, it cannot make you sin" (Midrash Aggadah ibid.).

The battle with the yetzer hara lasts a lifetime, with no days off. We are often the winner, but unfortunately, it frequently gains the upper hand. Everyone struggles with their own personal challenges at their own level.

Football

Rabbi Shlomo Goldberg, the menahel of Yeshiva Aharon Yaakov-Ohr Eliyahu in Los Angeles, compares these challenges to a football game:

At a football game, two teams compete to carry the ball to the goalpost at the far end of the opposing team's territory. The team in control of the ball (the offense) runs with it or passes it to fellow team members as they advance towards the goalpost at the end of the field. The opposing team (the defense) does their best to block them and take control of the ball.

The offense has four "downs" (plays) to advance at least ten yards. If they succeed, they get another four "downs" to keep going. If they do not make ten yards, the ball goes to the opposing team. Teams score points by advancing the ball to the opposing team's end zone for a touchdown, or by kicking the ball through the opponent's goalposts for a field goal. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.

Playing Offense

In our battle with the yetzer hara, we are playing offense: we do whatever we can to cross the field and score a touchdown. The yetzer hara plays defense, constantly attempting to frustrate our advance. At times we move ahead; at other times, we may not move forward, but do at least hold our ground; and at others still, the yetzer hara tackles us and pushes us back. Even when he wins the play and we lose ground, the game is not over. As seasoned players, our job is to get up, dust ourselves off, and go for the next touchdown.

Question for Discussion:

Where do you see yourself on your personal football field? Are you heading for a touchdown, mid-field, or nowhere near? Can you identify something that is keeping you back from scoring a touchdown?

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