The man carefully steered his car into the designated parking space. It was a bright, sunny day in early July and he had just finished playing a tiring softball double-header with his over-the-hill gang of friends–average age 40. Leaving the car, he walked towards the two-story apartment building he occupied with his young wife and two children. His right knee ached a bit from the hard-hit groundball that had ricocheted off his leg on the decisive play of the second game. It stung as did the loss.
As he often did, he rang the doorbell even though he had the house keys in his pocket. His wife opened the door. Immediately the man saw the tear-filled eyes, and the tension etched on her face. She sat down slowly on the nearby couch as he entered the living room; he closed the outside door without looking back.
She hesitated and spoke: “It’s my father. He suffered a heart attack this morning. He woke up early this morning and wasn’t feeling well. He’s in the hospital in Far Rockaway.”
Her words stunned him momentarily. They triggered an immediate response. “Let’s call someone to come over and watch the kids so we can drive out to the hospital.” He hurried to the bathroom to clean up, hoping to himself that his father-in-law was okay. “Are you okay?” he shouted over the sound of the water filling the bathroom sink. His wife was pregnant, one month into carrying their third child; he worried how the news about her father might affect her. She came into the room and quietly said in her calm manner, “I’m very concerned, but hopefully everything will be all right.”
An hour later, standing in the hospital room where Grandpa lay intubated, the man and his wife learned of the severity of the attack. The doctors informed them that the damage had been significant, and that it could be days before they would know if he would survive. Grandpa was a fighter, a survivor, known for his quiet strength. His family hoped and prayed for the best.
A week passed and, to everyone’s relief, Grandpa won his battle. The doctors were pleased. It appeared the crisis had passed, and with proper care Grandpa could return to a normal life. The woman was overjoyed because she loved her father dearly, as did the man. Everything seemed to return to normal in their household as well. For the woman, however, one thing remained to be discussed with her husband, something important to her and of import to her unborn child.
“Last week when Dad got sick, I prayed so hard that he would survive. I was so deeply concerned that I told myself, if he pulled through, I would give our baby a name that would reflect our great thanks to God for sparing Dad’s life. I really want to do this! What do you think?”
The man didn’t hesitate to respond: “It’s a great idea. We’ve got some time to decide on the exact names to use and–don’t forget–we’ll have to choose two sets of names ’cause we don’t know if the baby’s a boy or a girl!”
That suited the woman just fine. Time would show, however, that fulfilling this vow would not be as easy as making it in the first place.
Further weeks went by, lists of names were made, some names added, some crossed off, until some measure of agreement began to appear. The man and the woman concluded that whatever name they chose should express their thanksgiving for the successful birth of a healthy child as well as for Grandpa’s life. Ultimately, he and his wife concurred that if a male child were born to them, he would be named Jonathan, which means, God’s gift; if a girl, she would be called Daniella, meaning God has rendered favorable, divine judgment. Either name would be most appropriate, they thought. Both wanted to give the child a middle name as well and on that subject the man and woman still could not agree:
“My mother’s father was named Aryeh (lion in Hebrew) and we could use that as a middle name,” said the woman.
The man countered: “I prefer the name Asher; it means fortunate or lucky. Asher was one of Jacob’s sons mentioned in the Torah, you know.”
More weeks passed and they stopped discussing names altogether. The man started studying the holy books specifically to find some sign that a middle name of Asher would be acceptable to fulfill the woman’s vow. It became something of an obsession with him, he would later admit. But he felt there was precedent for what he was doing. Since early times people had sought confirmation for important steps they were about to take, for omens and portents that the powers around them approved of their actions. Even though the man and the woman were educated, literate, and modern, they too sought this confirmation. Somehow the man believed he could find a connection. In fact the books he researched offered some support for the use of the name Asher.
In the Bible, Asher’s descendants had inherited the most fertile portion of Canaan upon the conquest of the land by the 12 tribes of Israel: the Jezreel valley west of the Jordan River. The sons and daughters of the tribe of Asher were considered “lucky,” became wealthy and were chosen as princes and princesses in biblical times. The man could find no direct evidence or link that naming the baby Asher would fulfill the woman’s vow, but that did not deter him from trying. When continued research proved fruitless, the man despaired of ever finding such a link if it existed.
The months passed rapidly now and as winter progressed, the woman reached that time she had long awaited. On a sunny, crisp day in late February, a baby boy was born. He was a long, slender child with dark hair and strong lungs. His parents were overjoyed at his birth and the man made preparations to welcome home mother and child. The father realized that the time had come to make a final decision on what to name their child. The first name, Jonathan, was certain, but the middle name was not.
Early on the morning following the birth, the man sat nervously alone at home waiting for his car pool ride to work in the big city. He finished his breakfast cereal and abruptly rose and walked over to the bookshelf in front of him. He reached up and pulled down a volume from the shelf; somehow he had overlooked this author in his prior searches. The book was the famous Yalkut Me’am Loez, literally A Compendium of a Foreign People. Its author, Rabbi Ya’akov Culi, had begun this compilation of Midrashic and Talmudic analyses of the Bible and Prophets in 1730 in Turkey. Pressed for time, the man quickly read from the volume, selecting the verse from Bereishit where Jacob names his newborn son Asher. What he read was disappointing, since it was a by now familiar summary of all the sources the man had uncovered in his earlier researches. Frustration at failing to find a decisive clue gnawed at the man; he had mere moments to spend before the auto horn’s blast would tear him away. At that exact moment, the man’s eyes fell on the last four words in the paragraph he had reached: “And he (the biblical Asher) was born on the 20th day of the Hebrew month Adar.”
“I had no idea we know the birthdates of Jacob’s sons!” the man exclaimed.
Immediately, another thought entered his mind. He placed the book on the table in front of him, got up and turned to cross into his kitchen where a calendar hung conveniently on the nearby wall. The man studied the calendar for a moment and a chill ran down his spine. There in front of him was the proof that he and his wife had been seeking, the proof that the vow would be deemed fulfilled, for their son had been born on the 24th day of February, the 20th day of the Hebrew month of Adar!
The man quickly dialed the hospital and soon his wife was on the line.
“Don’t ask any questions, dear, the baby’s middle name is Asher! I have it on very good authority. Short of our receiving word from a heavenly messenger or a rainbow appearing outside our window, naming our son Asher will fulfill the vow you made those many months ago.”
And the woman, absorbing what her husband had just told her, knew that this was true and that the child, blessed from birth, would grow to be a fine young man, and good fortune would shine upon him.
By Joseph Rotenberg
©2014 Redmont Tales