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When life tosses what looks like a barrier in our path, we are often stunned and confused. We duck, or try to move around it, or decide to retreat. But once we realize that the barrier cannot be avoided and is not really a barrier, but perhaps even a blessing, we discover that we can choose to move through it and take the path of the unknown and the potential blessings that might ensue.
That’s what I’m trying to do with my diagnosis of breast cancer. And already the blessings and good wishes are overwhelming; I can hardly believe that so many people care. Each person offers me an opportunity for gratitude, humility and the strength to move through what may be a difficult time, and will likely be a life-changing experience.
A few days ago, I had the good fortune of having one friend, @iwe, reach out to me in a deeply meaningful way. In the Jewish tradition, a child or convert is given a Hebrew or Yiddish name. In my case, I know that I was given a name, but I have no memory of it. (My mother mentioned it to me once and I didn’t make a note of it back in my barely Jewish days.)
It turns out, though, that a Hebrew name has significance. Here is an explanation :
Hebrew names are used in prayer in and out of synagogue and for other religious rituals. When a person is called up in synagogue for an aliyah (the honor of reciting a blessing over a Torah reading, he is called up by his Hebrew name. The names that appear on a ketubah (marriage contract) or on a get (writ of divorce) are Hebrew names. When people are ill and mi shebeirakh prayers are recited for their well-being, they are identified by Hebrew names. When a deceased person is remembered through the Yizkor prayers recited on certain holidays, the Hebrew name is used. Jewish tombstones sometimes carry the Hebrew name instead of or side-by-side with the secular name.
There is also this description :
Your Hebrew name is your spiritual call sign, embodying your unique character traits and G‑d-given gifts. Ideally, you should use it 24 hours a day, not just when you’re called to the Torah or when prayers are offered on your behalf. Your Hebrew name functions as a conduit, channeling spiritual energy from G‑d into your soul and your body. This is why, say the Chassidic masters, an unconscious person will often respond and be revived when his or her name is called. According to Jewish custom, a critically ill person is sometimes given an additional Hebrew name — somewhat like a spiritual bypass operation to funnel fresh spirituality around their existing name and into their bodies; with the influx of spirituality, the body is given renewed vigor to heal itself.
My friend, @iwe, was one Jew among several who had asked for my Jewish name, in vain. And he knew that G-d would accept prayers for me, regardless. But he asked his rabbi what could be done in a situation where I (who had the good fortune to meet the rabbi) essentially was without a Hebrew name. The rabbi had a simple answer for me: pick one. Of course, there are many female Hebrew names, so I was befuddled about whom to choose. Then Mrs. @iwe suggested that I pick the name of a woman from Torah whom I admired. That was easy: Ruth.
Ruth was a woman of courage, loyalty, devotion, faith, kindness and determination. As a non-Jew, she had married a Hebrew. Then her husband died, as did the husband of her mother-in-law, Naomi. And when Naomi wanted to return to her original home, Ruth insisted on leaving her people of origin, as well as her sister, to accompany Naomi. I only aspire to Ruth’s many attributes, but I knew instantly that I wanted to adopt her name. And the words, “daughter of Sarah,” also become part of my new Hebrew name. (Sarah was our first matriarch.) The rabbi also offered to pray for me on Shabbat as part of his aliyah. At that moment, I formally became Ruth.
So to most of you, I remain Susan Quinn.
To the Jews who wish to call me by my Hebrew name:
I am Root bat Sarah.
* * * * *
I’m unable to convey how deeply moved I am by this entire process. For so long, I was only barely connected to the Jewish people. Now, the connections are running deeply and plentifully. And with my name, Ruth, I feel my heart and soul are touching to G-d’s existence in a way I’ve never experienced.
So many blessings.Published in