Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, Dean of Students and Senior Lecturer at Diaspora Yeshiva, is not only a popular speaker and teacher, but also a dynamic thinker and writer. A student of Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky and Harav Gedalia Schorr, Rabbi Sprecher was granted smicha (rabbinical ordination) by Torah Vodaath Yeshiva. Prior to his current position, Rabbi Sprecher was a professor of Judaic studies at Touro College in New York. In addition to his duties at Diaspora Yeshiva, Rabbi Sprecher writes a regular column on various Judaic topics in the Jewish Press, and lectures regularly at the OU Israel Center in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem: What's in a Name?
Published: Monday, April 22, 2013 01:31:29 PM
Number of views: 2431

Names play a significant role in Judaism. In the Torah, the name of almost every person comes with an explanation or reason for the name. The name Adam is derived from the Hebrew word, "adama" (earth), to remind us of our humble roots and beginnings. Avraham, will become the "Av" (father), of many nations. The name Yitzchak, is a reminder of his parents Tzchok (laughter), upon hearing the miraculous and joyous news of his upcoming birth. Yaakov's name is derived from his grabbing the "Akev", the heel, of his twin brother Eisav at birth. The name Yaakov symbolizes the eternal struggle the two brothers would share throughout history.

In each case, it is clear that the names are much more than a convenient way to get the person's attention. The name represents an inner quality or ultimate destiny of the individual. The Orach Chaim Hakodosh states that even today when parents choose a name for their baby, G-d reveals to them, through their choice of the name, some hidden quality or mission contained in the name of the new child.

The name game is not just for people. The same idea of naming also applies to Jerusalem and to Eretz Yisrael. Tosfot in Tractate Taanit, 16 states that the name Yerushalayim is a combination of two words, one uttered by Avraham at the Akeda (Bereshis 22), "Har Hashem Yeiraeh", which means "The mountain where G-d will be seen" and the city was already called Shalem, (peace), by Malkitzedek (Bereshis 14).Thus the city of Yerushalayin combines the two names – "Yeiraeh" and "Shalem". Tosfot also explains that is the reason we don't put a yud between the lamed and the mem in the word Yerushalayim, to focus on the name, Shalem, which means peace and has no yud.

The question now arises why pronounce the word Yerushalayim with a yud when it is written without the final yud? The answer is that the patach yud mem in Hebrew makes the word dual, for example, "oznaim" (ears), "raglaim" (feet), "yadaim" (hands). This question is answered by the Talmud which explains that there are two Jerusalems, a heavenly one which is situated directly above the earthly Jerusalem. Just as the heavenly Jerusalem is G-d's eternal capital, so is the earthly Jerusalem, Israel's eternal capital, despite the U.S. State Departments objections.

This same idea also applies to the name Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. Eretz Yisrael is a land overflowing with beauty and sanctity. Some of its beautiful qualities are revealed, and others are hidden away beneath the surface. In a similar sense, the famous Tzaddik among the Spies, Kalev ben Yefuneh, who saw only the good in Eretz Yisrael, unlike his colleagues, who were deceived by the superficial problems they saw in Eretz Yisrael. He was called Kalev, the same root as the word "Kelev" ( a dog), because a dog is always digging beneath the surface to find the buried treasure.

So too, a Jew in Israel has to plumb the depths to discover the hidden treasure, concealed in Eretz Yisrael.

Thus, the prophet Yirmiyahu (3:19) referred to Eretz Yisrael as "Eretz Chemdah" and "Nachlat Tzvi". The first name means the land of desire and longing to be in Israel. The Talmud states that before Yehoshua conquered Israel, all the non-Jewish kings in the Middle East bragged and boasted that they owned a palace in Israel. This was a sign of status and accomplishment. The second name, "Nachlat Tzvi", refers to the luscious produce of Israel that ripens as fast as the deer could run. Additionally, the deer's skin is very elastic which symbolizes the ability of Eretz Yisrael to stretch wider and wider to accommodate all the Jews of the Diaspora when they will return home, speedily in our days.

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