Parshat Hayyei Sarah
Yehuda Avner in his book, The Prime Ministers, recalls a conversation that happened on the eve of the 14th of May 1948:
“Hey, Mahler!” shouted Elisha cutting through the hullabaloo. “Our state—what’s its name?”
The violinist stared back blankly. “I don’t know. I didn’t think to ask.”
“You don’t know?”
Mahler shook his head.
“How about Yehuda?” suggested someone. “After all, King David’s kingdom was called Yehuda—Judea.”
“Zion,” cried another. “It’s an obvious choice.”
“Israel!” called a third. “What’s wrong with Israel?”
Let’s drink to that,” said Elisha with delight, breaking open the bottle of wine and filling a tin mug to the brim. “A l’chayim to our new State, whatever its name!”
“Wait!” shouted a Chasid whom everybody knew as Nussen der chazzan--a cantor by calling, and a most diligent volunteer digger from Meah Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox area of Jerusalem. “It’s Shabbos. Kiddush First.”
What we call ourselves, as individuals, as a community, as a people, has great significance. When I introduce myself, do I use my first name, my title, or a nickname? Usually, that depends on who I am introducing myself to, what I want our relationship to be and what I want to say about myself. This week, we read Parshat Hayyei Sarah. After Sarah’s death, Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for his son, Isaac. The servant prays for a good match to appear before him, and before he is even finished praying, Rebekah appears before him. Rebekah introduces herself as the daughter of Betu’el, the son of Milcah, wife of Nahor. Now, it makes sense to discuss Rebekah’s lineage, since it was Abraham’s express desire to have his son marry from within the tribe. Betu’el, Rebekah’s father, is the son of Nahor who is one of Abraham’s brothers. However, the naming of Milcah, Nahor’s wife, is unusual. Why add her name?
Rabbi Mecklenburg explains that this tells you about the character of Rebekah. She mentions Milcah, because Milcah is the daughter of Haran, Abraham’s other brother. When Abraham was thrown into the fiery furnace for disrespecting local customs, the spectators noticed that he was not affected by the fire. They said to themselves that Haran (who had also been captured) must be some kind of magician. He must be whispering spells that stop the fire from burning Abraham. Immediately, a fire came down from the heavens and consumed Haran. Once he was gone, people knew that Abraham was saved by God. Haran’s death actually increased the awareness of God in the world. This is why Milcah’s name came first when Rebekah introduces herself. She was pointing out that she belonged to a family that made God’s name great in this world. This makes her righteous.
What we call ourselves matters. Whether it’s me, Rebekah our Mother, or the Jewish State. Rebekah makes sure that God is front and center in the beginning of her journey that brings her to her husband. And our choice to call our state “Israel” ensures that we are always known as a people with an intimate relationship with God. This week, we have an opportunity to reflect on how we tell our stories and how we name and highlight the essential components. We thank God for the ability to find joy and blessing in our families and in the relationships that brought us to this point.
 Aver, The Prime Ministers, pg. 65
 Typically, in the Torah the wives and mothers are not listed in this way
 Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (יעקב צבי מקלנבורג) was a German Rabbi and scholar of the 19th century, best known as author of the Torah commentary Haketav VehaKabbalah (HaKsav VeHaKabalah)
 According to Midrashic tradition (not the in written Torah!)
 This version is slightly different that the “famous” version.
 Ha’Ktav V’Hakabbllah, Gen, 24:47
 Israel literally means struggles with God
Rabbi Ezra Balser has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since July 1, 2016. He received his “smicha” (ordination) in June 2017 from Hebrew College while also earning a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies. He has also received the iCenter's Certification in Israel Education.