Beloved Friends, 

One of my favorite teachers at Grinnell College was Dr. Ed Moore, of blessed memory. When I first met him in 1979, his eyesight was already failing him due to macular degeneration. Knowing this, he committed all of the works of William Shakespeare to memory so that he could continue to teach students his beloved Bard as he had in the past. 

Dr. Moore not only possessed an incredible mind, but he also had the most wonderful, deep sonorous voice with which he would recite passages of Shakespeare’s works. Whenever I read one of his works, I cannot help but hear Dr. Moore’s voice.  

In Act II, Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet, Juliet says:  

“Tis but thy name that is my enemy; 

Thou art thyself, though not a Montague. 

What’s Montague?… O, be some other name! 

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose 

By any other name would smell as sweet. 

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called, 

Retain that dear perfection which he owes 

Without that title.” 

And yet, in Torah, names are quite significant indeed and are fraught with meaning. Just this week we read in the Torah portion, Vayishlach, of Jacob’s transformation in a nighttime encounter with an angel, a messenger of God. Upon his birth, seeing that he had taken hold of his brother, Esau’s heel, his parents named him Jacob, literally “heel grabber.” From that point forward, Jacob would be grasping for more. 

It is not until the wrestling match that we see something different in Jacob that causes the angel to say: “No longer shall your name be Jacob, you shall now be called Israel, for you have struggled with beings, human and divine and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:29) 

Perhaps, though, Shakespeare was right after all. The name change does not actually transform Jacob. He does not become something or someone else. He will still continue to mislead and misstep as he has in the past. In fact, the text of the Torah will go back and forth using both of his names, Jacob and Israel. Perhaps most telling of all … in the Amidah, the central part of our worship, we pray “God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob” and not “God of Israel.” 

Our tradition teaches us that the name does not make us, we make the name. Just as the essence of a rose, its sweet smell, does not depend on the name “Rose,” so it is with us as well. Our essence, the goodness we possess, comes through in the words we choose to speak and the actions we choose to take. 

May this Shabbat find each of us crafting a good name for ourselves that reflects the essence of who we are and who we hope to become. 

Shabbat Shalom,