Question & Answer With Rabbi Micha Golshevsky - Sharing The Same Name
A Simple Jew asks:
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said, "Do not wonder how a name can contain the secret of a person's existence when so many share the same name. It is an error to question this."
I certainly would never consider questioning the validity of this teaching from Rebbe Nachman. I would, however, like to understand it better. Could you elaborate a bit further on this general topic and the issue Rebbe Nachman raised in particular?
Rabbi Micha Golshevsky answers:
First of all, the Ramaz writes that ones' name is his neshamah.
Chazal tell us that when Hashem told the angels to give names to the animals they could not, but when Adam received this task he immediately assigned names to them all.
The Chidah asks the obvious question: why couldn't the angels name the animals?
He explains: one's name contains his mission and ability to choose good or bad. This explains why Chazal sometimes teach a person's good or bad deeds from his name.
We can extrapolate a little of what this means from the Zohar Hakadosh which teaches that the letters of the holy Torah are from the loftiest spheres and emanate from the Boundless Light of Hashem as it were. We cannot fathom even a fraction of the greatness of even one letter of Torah or tefilah.
But what does this really mean?
Rav Ya'akov Abuchatzeira compares the letters of the Torah to a body and soul. Just as one's soul can only interact with the material world through the physical vehicle of his body, the boundless Supernal lights imbued in the letters of Torah can only be accessed in this world through the physical forms of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. It is only through these forms that these illuminations interact with our physical world.
Just as even twins may have a very different spiritual nature (like Ya'akov and Eisav for example.) the same letter can sometimes access different spheres of the supernal light it reveals. Even identical twins can take very different paths in life. One may be spiritually upwardly mobile while the other may be in a very low spiritual slump.
So there is your answer: Each letter of our name represents a lot of potential — for good or for bad. What we do with it is up to us.
I was once interviewed by a fairly prominent Talmud Chacham, also a great mekubal, for entry into his kollel. While I was speaking with him, a clean shaven young man with furrowed brow, (presumably his son) approached.
"What's on your mind?" the Rosh Kollel asked.
"What in the world is behind the custom of saying a pasuk the first letters of which make up one's name before yihiyu liratzon in shemonah esrei?"
The Rosh Kollel mentioned an earlier source for this custom but the young man was obviously not satisfied. "Yes, but why does this practice enable one to 'remember' his name after he dies? And, why does remembering his name make his judgment any easier, for that matter?"
The elderly man shrugged. He clearly had no idea.
Although I knew nothing about kabbalah and was not in this erudite scholar's league, I knew the answer to his sons question. You see, I had learned through a little sefer called Meshivas Nefesh which explains this issue in great depth.
Rav Nosson writes there that one's name refers to his potential for good. One who "forgets his name" is a person who has forgotten his potential for good in the world. One who "remembers his name" knows that Hashem takes pride in every Jew as long as he feels proud to be a Jew, no matter what his spiritual level (as Rebbe Nachman writes.)
This is the meaning of a dead man "forgetting his name." He is so disconnected from the good within that he doesn't connect to it. He cannot yet access the good that he has done, although this is his true essence.
One who reminds himself of his name at frequent intervals can easily return to Hashem since he is proud of his intrinsic connection with Hashem as one of the chosen nation.
Now we can understand why we recite a verse at the end of each shemonah esrei before yehiyu liratzon. Mentioning a verse in Tanach which alludes to our name and our mission in this world, we recall that every Jewish soul is rooted in the boundless lights symbolized by each and every letter of the Torah.
Hashem should help us always truly recall our name and reconnect to our intrinsic worth. Let us remember that we are important and beloved to our Heavenly Father; no matter what!