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Shabbat Parashat Chukat 5773

Parashat Hashavua: Whats in a Name?

Harav Yosef Carmel

Last week we dealt with Aviram, the people and the name. As we recall, the first Aviram teamed up with Datan to wickedly stand up in opposition to Moshe from “their beginning to their end” (Meilla 11a). This week we will continue to look at the significance of Aviram’s name and of similar names in Tanach.

First we should know that in Tanach a person’s name is an important detail, which can teach about him. Many of the characters in Tanach have more than one name, and when a name is used for a person without knowledge of when he received it, we cannot be sure that it was the one his parents gave him when he was born or whether he received it later based on his actions. There are also sources that indicate that the name given by his parents is a sort of prophecy that enters their consciousness. We do not intend to say anything conclusive on that point. In any case, Chazal interpreted the two wicked people’s names as follows: Datan – he who violated the dat (religion) of Hashem; Aviram – he who strengthened himself to avoid repentance (Sanhedrin 109b).

We will explore another approach to the names, based on Ibn Ezra and the Chizkuni. The Torah stresses that Datan and Aviram were the sons of Eliav who was the son of Reuven, Yaakov’s eldest son (Devarim 11:6). The Ibn Ezra explains that Datan and Aviram’s rebellion had to do with the fact that Reuven’s status as firstborn was taken away and given to Yosef. In that case, the name Datan can be connected to the meaning of dat as law. In other words, Datan was proclaiming: “I should be the one making the rules.” Aviram can imply “My father is great” or “father of the great one.” In other words, “I am in the midst of a monarchal dynasty.” This was the intention of their father Eliav – leadership should be in their family. The Midrash (Shemot Rabba, Shemot 5) derives from the overlapping use of the word nitzavim that Datan and Aviram were prominently included among the Jewish officers who confronted Moshe and Aharon after the mission to achieve liberation from Egypt got off to a slow start.

Let us look at a similar name phenomenon. One of the early attempts at creating a kingdom in Israel took place at the time of Gidon and his descendants as we see from the famous parable of trees trying to decide on a leader (Shoftim 9:8). Gidon refused the mantle of kingdom, but his son stopped at nothing to declare himself king. When Gidon died, his son Avimelech slaughtered all of his seventy siblings (ibid. 5). His name, meaning “my father is king” and “father of the king,” represents what he was claiming to be – a legitimate continuation of his father’s potential rule and the beginning of a formal dynasty that would continue on into the future.

Both Aviram and Avimelech forgot a basic rule: one receives kingdom; he does not grab kingdom. Certainly one must not seize it by fighting with Moshe or killing his siblings.

Let us hope that decisions regarding leadership in the Jewish Nation, in the State of Israel, will be taken by seeing what the nation wants, which is done these days at the ballot box, and not in another way.
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