I remember it like yesterday. I was 13, in a summer camp in Canada. The sun was warm and bright and I sat outside, lounging in my cutest outfit. Exactly who I was posing for in an all girls camp beats me. But it worked. A girl walked over and started talking to me. She asked me my name. “Rivka Malka,” I said. “Oh,” she replied, “You look like more of a Jessica!”
I looked at her, a big grin spread across my face. A little bubble of happiness filled my heart. She thought I was cool! Cool enough to be a Jessica! So cool that my long and clumsy Hebrew name didn’t even fit me. So cool, in my cute little outfit, that I couldn’t possibly be that orthodox.
When I remember that story I have to smile. Who exactly did I want to be? And who did I think Rivka Malka was?
Just the other day I was reading Minchas Erev, by Chana Benjamin PhD.. She writes that the Jewish People were redeemed from Egypt because no matter how much they assimilated they held on to their Jewish names. The exile in Egypt, in fact, was necessary for them to experience a reunion with their names.
What a cool concept! A reunion with your name!
Your name is your essence. It’s the immutable fact of who you are. It’s your personal, individualized spark of G-d and the expression of that spark in this world.
Even Pharoah, she writes, called his daughter Batya – daughter of G-d, because he considered himself a deity. In fact, he was right, she was a daughter of G-d – the One G-d and she raised Moshe and identified with The Jewish People.
All of who you are is only in potential. It’s bound up with your name and its locked up in your name , until you choose to become the thing you are. Chana writes that this is a process that we engage in all day long. “Do I choose to be patient or impatient? Do I choose self-discipline or overeating? Do I choose to pray or to rush through the day? Do I choose to be selfish or to be kind?” We’re in constant movement. With each one of these decisions we either connect or disconnect from who we are.
And more. We connect to G-d by connecting to our names.
I know a Rabbi who likes to say “Judaism is not a religion – it’s a system of personal development.” I knew that he’d thought through this definition when I heard him say it, but I couldn’t wrap my head around it. “If that’s what it is,” I thought, “then where does G-d fit in?” Now, at last it makes sense to me.
Coming into who you are and connecting with G-d are one and the same.
That’s why; and this is the most beautiful part; after we became who we needed to be; after discovering and rediscovering ourselves through the Egyptian bondage, when we finally emerge what’s the first thing G-d reveals to us?
He starts the Ten Commandments with “I am Hashem , your G-d!”
By getting to know ourselves we came to know Him!
This is mind – boggling, beautiful Torah!
G-d is loving and supportive. He bound up His process of revelation with our process of self discovery, our success with His glory.
And its all in the name.
So take yourself seriously. Look at your name and find your purpose in it. The answers to your deepest, most existential questions may be right on the tip of your tongue without you even knowing it.
My name, Rivka Malka, used to feel so heavy for me. It wasn’t cute or catchy and people always forgot it, calling me Esther Malka or Rivka Leah or some other more common combination. But the more I learn, the more right it feels.
Rivka was our mother, Rebecca. A woman who symbolized strength. She needed to make her own decisions from an early age. Even within her marriage she was called on to act with what she knew was best for her family. I get a lot of strength from this when I need to act with forwardness or find myself having strong opinions. I try not to use it an excuse for being obnoxious, but as a prod to be courageous.
It also comes from the word Boker – morning, which connotes perceptive as the dawn sheds light on the dark world.
Malka means a queen. In Judaism, a king must always carry with him, a Torah scroll. This is to remind him that he’s just an agent, representing the will of G-d. I feel too, that my ability to be effective in this world is directly in proportion to my working to establish connection with G-d. I keep this in mind when I’m slacking or when I need direction.
There are verses too, that correspond to your name. My verse is all about refraining from sinning. When I first read it, I was 16 and I was insulted! That’s who I am? I have a sinning issue?!
But with time, I see how on target it is. I’m an all or nothing person. I ‘m intense. Intensely joyful, intensely moody, intensely loving, intensely busy. If I want to be who I need to be then I need to know that there are certain things I just can’t do. Period. Because everything affects me so deeply.
I’ve shared just a bit and even this bit helps me tremendously. As my life unfolds, if I’m willing,and if I work at it, more will be revealed.
I still think Jessica is such a pretty name. It’s just not me.
What about you? Where do you find your calling?
Are you a Jessica? And if so, who are you? What’s your soul name, your Hebrew name that the angels will call you when they usher you in to the Garden of Eden? Are you a Leah, a Rochel, an Esther, a Shulamit, a Meira, a Devorah?