There's a question that I've been asked nearly every day of my life. It's the most basic question--one that takes zero thought to answer--and yet, I take so much pride in answering this question--this simple, mundane question--every day.
"What is your name?" "Noam."
To me, it's more than just a four letter sequence that people call me, and it's more than just Noah with an M at the end. The Hebrew word itself means "pleasantness", which is an aspiration. On my right thumb, I always wear this ring that says some words which I'm sure you've all heard before: “Deracheiha darchei Noam, vekol netivoeiha shalom. His ways are ways of pleasantness, and all of his paths are peace.” That's my mantra; it's what I live by, and how I take pride in my own name.
But who is to say that it's my only name?
This week's parasha, Va'eira, begins as any might--with God speaking to Moses--and of course, that's thrilling. But something caught my eye when I was reading it over. God calls himself by three names in the first three sentences. Three names. My question was why God, or anyone, could possibly need more than one name.
The truth of the matter is that no character can be contained in a single word.
Elohim--Lord, master, King of the universe.
Yud-hay-vav-hay--an indescribable divine presence.
Shadai--the righteous, sufficient, caring God.
Midrash Tanchuma taught me that it's not just God that's given this number of names. It's all of us. It says: "You find that a person is given three names: one that his father and his mother call him, one that his fellow people call him, and one that he acquires. The one he acquires for himself is better than all the others."
Think about that. There's a name that we are born with, be it Jenna or Aaron or Abraham Lincoln or Mati Lazar. But there's also a name that is given to us by the people around us: kind, introverted, eccentric, loud, quiet, brilliant. But, of course, the most impactful name you're given is the one you give yourself.
This is my challenge for you: think about the name that you gave yourself five years ago, and then think about the name that you give yourself right now. Because that's the one that will change. You'll always have the name your parents gave you; you'll always have those character traits that people know you by; but your assessment of yourself will definitely change as you do new things, and meet new people, and take new risks, and sing new songs...
Next time you lead an ice-breaker with a group of teens, be sure to ask them that one, simple, ever-reflective question: what is your name?