Lech L'cha - Sacred Names Matter

G*d said to Abraham:
Sarai, your wife,
no longer call her
by the name Sarai,
for Sarah is her name,
and I will bless her. . .

When the sacred name of a soul is heard in the heart of her mother, the name is said to resonate in every dimension of Being. This is the name through which your or your family announces your presence in the covenant of our people. This name is how you will be known when coming up to the Torah and when a Jewish community prays for your well-being.

Your sacred Jewish name will be called out as your soul's vibration, at minimum, for all rituals of major soul transition: Birth, b-mitzvah, conversion, marriage and funerals.

Several Jewish folk traditions suggests that your "true" name was assigned before your conception, this is derived from Jeremiah 1:5: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you." Some say, finding your sacred name is not so much about what you think, as how you listen for that original name. Your name, or your child's name, has a precious vibration that you will recognize when you hear it.

In the Torah G*d often calls such names twice when something very precious needs to be heard. Take the name you are contemplating and call out to the soul of the child you are awaiting [or your own soul, if the name is a new name you are trying out for yourself.] How does it resonate when called out to come home for dinner, to warn of danger, to reach out for a hug? Do you sense the soul says hineni to this name? Hineni is the Torah answer to be called twice, it means "Here I am!"

You will know when the name is the right one, an inner glowing that ripples wider than your individual self will occur. Or at least that’s my sensation of it; yours may manifest differently.

If you have picked out a name for its quality, such as Bahirah, "clarity," Tikva, "hope," or Simchah, "happiness" - a similar search will bring up stories and verses.

If the soul of an ancestor is attached to you or a life you are carrying, that may be a name that comes clear to you.

At a naming ritual, tell and record the story of deciding upon this name.

Take the name which most draws you to it and explore the stories that go with it in Torah and Jewish lore. This is most easily done with a key word search on-line or the Torah and Midrash on a disk.

If the exact name is not in Torah, likely words from the same root are, these are also important sources of inspiration for living.

As our study verse reveals, when a sacred name becomes known it is very important for those close to you or the child to honor this deep truth by using it consistently. Abraham was accustomed to speaking of his wife as Sarai, since he could be envisioned as changing such a pattern in those times, surely those around us can do so today!

While all too often the Torah retains only the names of our mancestors, we can change this by incorporation the torah of women's lives by telling their stories and using our momcestors names. In that spirit, let's close this d'var with a remarkable momcestor naming story:

"Gail, do you want us to call you Goldie for the weekend?"

It was a wonderful question. I was at Achiot Or, Sisters of Light, an annual experimental Jewish women’s retreat that a small group of us hold every year. In one of the sessions we were invited to tear up old magazines, finding images that help tell the stories of our lives to each other by fashioning them into a free form collage.

Then the facilitator handed each of us a small bottle of Elmer’s Glue, asked us to close our eyes and when we were ready to write our name across the collage, keeping our eyes closed. Upon opening my eyes, I gasped. For unbidden the name that appeared on my collage was "Goldie." My given and customary name at the time was "Gail Milgram Beitman," the last part would soon be dropped as part of divorce. We were passed glitter to sprinkle over the glue. Gold, of course.

Goldie was my Yiddish name, after great grand mother Goldie. When news would spread that "The Cossacks are coming - The Cossacks are coming," family legend has it that my great-grandparents would take down wall boards and hide their two tiny daughters, my grandmother and her sister therein. My grandfather would hide behind a shrub near the front door, carrying a heavy plank to hit invaders over the head.

Great Grandma Goldie was said to sit at the kitchen table with a bottle of vodka and several glasses, waiting as one more ring of defense for the children. One day she found my great grandfather slaughtered on the stoop. She saved her egg money and as soon as her daughters became teens, paid their passage to America. I’m told she lived through World War II and died of old age in that same house in Holmler Gubernia.

Goldie. It felt so good to look down and see her name at this point in my life. But, I hesitated to put people through the effort of calling me by a different name. There is hardly anything more self-centered than changing one’s name. What would my parents and children say? Gail had never resonated as the right name with me and the divorce process had tarnished its sound terribly.

Goldie - my Yiddish name sounded like sunshine, the old name felt like ashes. My mother had picked Gail because she was watching television when the doctor’s office called to say she was pregnant. A popular 1950's show was on, the principal character’s name was Gail Storm. Hmm. Had circumstances been different would she have named me "Evening News?"

One of our many rabbis had insisted that Goldie could not possibly be my Jewish name because it was Yiddish and not Hebrew. "Your Hebrew name is Zahava, that’s Hebrew for "gold" and what we will use here at the synagogue," he insisted. And I protested: "How could I have a name that was not selected? A name is not a translation. A name is a name! I must have been all of eight years old. He had all the power and won. But I was never Zahava in my heart, it didn’t fit.

A name has to fit. And, if need be, a name can also be replaced, added on to, set aside, changed. In times of severe illness or misfortune, it is traditional to change your name, perhaps to confuse the process that seems to be dogging you.

My friends, parents' and children's' reactions? They never missed a beat, even my mother who’d had a huge stroke made the transition flawlessly, the doctors were astonished.

Some ten years after I went to court to formally become Goldie Milgram, my Uncle Leon brought a box of post cards to my father. They had been written by his mother, who lived with his sister in Charlotte, NC after her stroke. The cards tell many unknown stories and will keep for another day. The one that matters here is date January, 8, 1955. That was two days after my birthday, a line in it reads: "Leona [my mother] had a baby the other day, her name is Goldie." My father has no idea has his mother came up with that, Goldie was my maternal great grandmother, she would not have known of her.

Accordingly, as this Torah portion says, Lech L'cha, or if it were in the feminine, l'chi lach, "go to yourself," hear the vibration of your spirit and

so, when the name fits - dare it!