Weekly Letter: The Importance of a Jewish Name

This week, as we read in the Torah Parshas Shemos, we present a letter from the Rebbe in which he emphasizes the importance of a Jewish name. The letter, written originally in English, is from the archives of the Rebbe’s personal trusted secretary, Rabbi Nissan Mindel.

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By the Grace of G-d

Rosh Chodesh Sivan, 5739

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Mr.

Johannesburg 2000

Greeting and Blessing:

This is to confirm receipt of your letter and may G-d grant the fulfillment of your heart’s desires for good.

Noting the beginning of your letter, it is surely unnecessary to reiterate that the everyday life and conduct in accordance with the Torah and mitzvot, although a must for its own sake, is also the channel to receive G-d’s blessings in all needs. Consequently, every additional effort in matters of Yiddishkeit widens the channel, and there is always room for improvement in goodness and holiness, Torah and mitzvot.

Referring to the matter of a Jewish name, you are, of course, right that it has a special significance and is incomparable to a name in any other language. However, when it is transliterated – as when a letter Is written in English and the name is transliterated in English letters – the original content of the name is preserved, and there can be no objection to it. Besides, there would be no point in signing an English letter in Hebrew, since the recipient may not be able to read Hebrew, which Is why the letter is written in English in the first place, in reply to a letter in that language.

Since you brought up this subject, it gives me an opportunity to relate it to the timely topic of these days of sefirah, linking the Festival of Yetzias Mitzraim with the Festival of Mattan Torah. For, as you may know, our Sages declare that one of the things in the merit of which the Jewish people merited the Liberation from Mitzraim was the fact that they did not change their Hebrew names which was an important factor in preserving their identity. Which also reminds us that the ultimate purpose of the liberation from Egyptian bondage was to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai, which we will soon celebrate on Shovuos. With the giving of the Torah, every Jew was given also the capacity, and hence is also fully expected, to go from strength to strength in the study of the Törah and the observance of the mitzvot, bearing in mind that the actual practice is the essential thing.

Inasmuch as the Torah and mitzvot were given to all the Jews, and to each one individually, for all times and in all places, and “these are our lives and the length of our days,” it is clear that every moment of a Jew’s life should be consecrated to Torah and mitzvot. Hence it is both surprising and painful to see a Jew spending precious time in search of “greener pastures” elsewhere, even if his Intentions are good, for, as above, the important thing is the actual deed.

Needless to say, the above includes Yoga and similar cults even if it is not connected with anything pertaining to avodo zoro – if there is such cult that is completely free from avodo zoro, and in this only a competent Torah authority who is permeated with halocho is qualified to rule.

I am not seeking opportunities to admonish anyone, but since you mention certain oriental cults, it is my duty to call your attention to the fact that every spare moment that a Jew can use to deepen his  knowledge of Torah he dissipates it on other things Is deplorable enough, not to mention cults that in their overwhelming majority are certainly connected with avodo zoro in one way or another, and if there are exceptions, one must make doubly sure through an expert  Torah authority, as mentioned above.

The present days are highly suitable for Jews to separate themselves from any alien influences  in preparation for the Festival of Mattan Toraseinu, when G-d sanctified us as a nation apart from all other nations, a unique “Kingdom of G-d’s servants and a Holy Nation,” by giving us His holy Torah and mitzvos. And since G-d Himself has shown us the way, what sense is there in looking for better ways. This is really too plain and self-evident to need further elaboration.

Wishing you a Joyous and inspiring Festival of Kabbolas haTorah and the traditional blessing to reaffirm the commitment to Torah and mitzvot with joy and inwardness.

With blessing,

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The above letter is from The Letter and the Spirit by Nissan Mindel Publications (NMP).

These letters were written originally in English and were prepared for publication by Rabbi Dr. Nissan Mindel, whose responsibility it was the Rebbe’s correspondence in English and several other languages.

We thank Rabbi Shalom Ber Schapiro, who was entrusted by his father-in-law Rabbi Mindel with his archives and who is Director of the Nissan Mindel Publications (NMP), for making the Rebbe’s letters available to the wider public. May the merit of the many stand him in good stead.

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