“Leah conceived, and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben; for she said: ‘Because the LORD hath looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.’” Genesis 29:32 (The Israel Bible™)
Many people have either a Biblical Hebrew name or a name which connects to the Bible. In Jewish tradition, one’s name contains a spiritual dimension. Naming a child is not just a random happening that parents impose upon their children. The Bible is actually replete with stories which reflect the importance of a name.
“There are generally three ways in which a Hebrew name expresses something important about a person,” explained Roni Segal, academic adviser for eTeacher, an online language academy specializing in Biblical Hebrew, to Breaking Israel News. “Sometimes the name represents the essence of a person. Sometimes it reflects an aspect from the birth the child and sometime it shows the purpose of the person in this world.”
The essence of the first man is reflected in his name. Called Adam, we know that he was created from the earth – adama (אדמה) in Hebrew.
Biblical Father Jacob’s name is Yaakov in Hebrew. This name is used to record the unusual circumstances of his birth. Jacob emerged from his mother’s womb holding the heel of his twin brother, Esau.
Heel in Hebrew is akev (עָקֵב) the same root as Yaakov. Already from the womb, Jacob was on the heels of Esau, chasing the rights of the first-born child. The Bible records that Esau received his name because he emerged hairy, as if he were “completely made”. In Hebrew, asah means to “make” (עשה).
Similarly, although Biblical commentators state that Moses – Moshe (משה) in Hebrew – had no less than ten names, he is generally referred to only by his Egyptian name, Moshe. Exodus 2:10 explains that Pharaoh’s daughter saw a child in a basket floating down the Nile River. She drew him out and became his step-mother, a dangerous act as it was decreed that all Jewish males be killed. She named him Moshe, which literally means “to draw out”. This is the name used throughout the Bible to give honor to this act of great self-sacrifice.
There are several times in the Bible when God changes a person’s name to better reflect their purpose in this world. For instance, Abraham’s original name was Abram (אַבְרָם֙). Abram means “high father.” By changing his name to Abraham (אַבְרָהָם), his future mission is reflected; Abraham means the “father of multitudes”. He becomes the father to all who believe in one God.
God also changed the name of Abraham’s wife. In order for Abraham to fulfill his mission, he needed his wife by his side in a similarly lofty spiritual level. Therefore, God changed her name from Sarai (שָׂרי), which means “princess”, to Sarah (שָׂרה) meaning the “mother of nations”. Together they become the parents of innumerable disciples.
Lastly, we have Biblical צother Leah naming her children to represent her feelings and desires at the time of their births. We know that Jacob’s first choice for a wife was Leah’s sister Rachel. But Leah’s father tricked him into marrying her first. In order to provide Leah with appeasement for being the second-choice wife, God opened Leah’s womb and she merited to give birth to four sons.
Each of their names tells of Leah’s emotional state at the time. Her first son, Reuven (רְאוּבֵן) is named from the Hebrew word ra’a (רָאָה) to which means “see”. The Bible states, “God saw my pain at being the less-desired wife and my husband will see that I deserve to be married to him.”
Leah’s second son is Shimon (שִׁמְעוֹן). Shimon comes from the Hebrew word shema (שָׁמַע) which means “hear”. Leah expresses that God heard her cries and blessed her with a second son.
Levy (לֵוִי) is related to the Hebrew word for attach, y’lavey (יִלָּוֶה). Jacob named him Levy to express that he will be more attached to Leah through this child.
Most telling is the fourth son’s name, Yehuda (יְהוּדָה). Yehuda comes from the Hebrew word for praise, oh-deh (אוֹדֶה). With this birth, Leah publicly praises God for giving her a great portion in the creation of the tribes of the Jewish people. Additionally, it also represents her essence. She is known for praising God both in challenging and good times.
“By reading the Bible in the language it was written, Hebrew, we understand much deeper God’s messages for His children and all of mankind,” shared Segal.
Find out more about Biblical Hebrew by clicking here.
This article was originally published on November 20, 2016.