May 12, 2024
Close this search box.
Close this search box.
May 12, 2024
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Last week was the season of siyums across the Jewish world, as many carnivores flocked to meals in restaurants, homes, camps, and shuls where masechtot were completed and meat was served during the Nine Days. If you were among those desperate consumers of flesh, before you could take a bite you had to hear some strange words being recited by the celebrant. Words like “Rafram,” “Rachish” and “Surchav.” You can’t have a siyum without those Babylonian men and their seven brothers getting a shout-out. What a strange practice!

In the beautiful tefillah of Hadran that is recited upon the completion of a tractate of Gemara, we ask Hashem: Yehi Ratzon—may it be Your will, God of our fathers, that your Torah should be our occupation in this world and may its merit be with us in the World to Come. And then, for some mysterious reason, we read aloud the names of the 10 sons of the great Babylonian Amora, Rav Papa.

Who are Papa’s Progeny?

Chanina bar Papa

Rami bar Papa

Nachman bar Papa

Achai bar Papa

Abba Mari bar Papa

Rafram bar Papa

Rachish bar Papa

Surchav bar Papa

Ada bar Papa

Daru bar Papa

Many people hear the names of the 10 sons of Rav Papa more often than they hear the names of the 10 sons of Haman. While I admit that Dalphon and Vaizasa are pretty cool names, I would like to explore the deeper meaning of the names of Rav Papa’s sons.

Luckily for us, the Rama, Rav Moshe Isserles of Cracow, already did all the hard work. As recorded in Rav Shlomo Luria’s Yam Shel Shlomo, the Rama was present at a siyum and delivered a drasha that explained what each name really means on a mystical level.

On a simple level, Rav Papa was a wealthy man who routinely celebrated the learning accomplishments of his 10 sons, and that legacy remains with us in our siyumim. But the Rama argued that on a deeper level the 10 sons correspond to each of the Ten Commandments we read this week in Va’etchanan:

The word Papa—pei-pei-aleph—alludes to Moshe Rabbeinu, who communicated with Hashem “peh el peh”—pei-aleph-pei. And Papa also can be read as a contraction of the words “Patach Pei Aleph,” opened with 81. The first commandment from Hashem to Moshe begins with a word that has the value of 81: אָֽנֹכִ֖י ה’ אֱלֹקֶיךָ אֲשֶׁ֧ר הֽוֹצֵאתִ֛יךָ מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרַ֖יִם מִבֵּ֥ית עֲבָדִֽים

1) In the second commandment, we are told, לֹא־יִֽהְיֶ֥ה לְךָ֛ אֱלֹקִים אֲחֵרִ֖ים עַל־פָּנָֽי, You shall not have the gods of others in My presence, and a corollary of that is the prohibition of showing favor to idolators, לֹֽא־תִכְרֹ֥ת לָהֶ֛ם בְּרִ֖ית וְלֹ֥א תְחָנֵּֽם. So if you want to name a son after this idea, the name would be Chanina bar Papa.

2) Furthermore: לֹא־תַֽעֲשֶׂ֨ה לְךָ֥ פֶ֨סֶל֙ כָּל־תְּמוּנָ֔ה, You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness that is in the heavens above, which is on the earth below, or that is in the water beneath the earth. And you’ll regret it—nicham—if you do make this powerless object that will not help you. In other words, Nachman bar Papa.

3) How about the third son, Rami? Ram means elevation or pride, raising something up. Just like לֹ֥א תִשָּׂ֛א אֶת־שֵֽׁם ה’ אֱלֹקֶיךָ לַשָּׁ֑וְא, do not raise up the name of God in vain.

4) שָׁמ֛וֹר אֶת־י֥וֹם הַשַּׁבָּ֖ת לְקַדְּשׁ֑וֹ כַּֽאֲשֶׁ֥ר צִוְּךָ֖ ה’ אֱלֹקֶיךָ: Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord your God commanded you, שֵׁ֤שֶׁת יָמִים֙ תַּֽעֲבֹ֔ד וְעָשִׂ֖יתָ כָּל־מְלַאכְתֶּֽךָ, six days may you work and perform all your labor; those six days are the numerical value of the fourth son of Rav Papa, Ada—aleph daled aleph, 1 + 4 + 1 = 6.

5) The next one is quite obvious. כַּבֵּ֤ד אֶת־אָבִ֨יךָ֙ וְאֶת־אִמֶּ֔ךָ. Isn’t one way to honor a father by calling him Abba Mari, my father, my teacher?

6) What is the essential fact we must all remember to avoid violating לֹ֥א תִרְצַ֖ח, don’t murder? That every other person in the world is related to me; we share a divine spark, and we are all part of the same brotherhood. Hence, Achai, my brother. Achai bar Papa.

7) Adulterous relationships (וְלֹ֣א תִנְאָ֑ף) can often begin innocently enough with a minor gesture such as the flutter of an eye—לרפרף בעיניים. The deeper meaning of the next son, Rafram bar Papa.

8) Rachish, the eighth son, means wealth, rechush, and the prohibition of amassing wealth inappropriately is the next command: וְלֹ֣א תִגְנֹ֔ב: do not steal.

9) Surchav bar Papa is a contraction of the name of someone in the Torah who testified to an incredible fact that was so fantastic that many doubted its veracity. Surchav is short for Serach bas Asher, the granddaughter of Yaakov who was entrusted to gently break the big news that Yosef was still alive. It was she who bore witness, and therefore, commandment number 9: וְלֹא־תַֽעֲנֶ֥ה בְרֵֽעֲךָ֖ עֵ֥ד שָֽׁוְא, and you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

10) That leaves us with the youngest son, Daru. Of course, dar, dirah, ladur, refers to living in a house, and beito zu ishto, which also includes wife and family and all the special parts of our lives that God blesses us with. We dare not expect that our neighbor’s blessings apply to us. Hashem gives each person what is right for that person. וְלֹ֥א תַחְמֹ֖ד אֵ֣שֶׁת רֵעֶ֑ךָ וְלֹ֨א תִתְאַוֶּ֜ה בֵּ֣ית רֵעֶ֗ךָ שָׂדֵ֜הוּ וְעַבְדּ֤וֹ וַֽאֲמָתוֹ֙ שׁוֹר֣וֹ וַֽחֲמֹר֔וֹ וְכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר לְרֵעֶֽךָ, and you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor shall you desire your neighbor’s house, his field, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Did I convince you to name any your children Rafram or Achai? Did you find some of the connections between the Aseret Hadibros and the Bar Papas a bit of a stretch?

I think there’s something even deeper going on here. The Rama is linking for us the ten core categories of mitzvot with the naming of children. He is reminding us of the power of the commandments. Each mitzvah is an act of creation. Each mitzvah infuses the world with greater holiness and dispels darkness. By fulfilling our responsibilities to God we partner with Him to build and shape and perfect the universe. We are shutfim, partners, with God as we birth each mitzvah. Mitzvot are our children.

When you perform a mitzvah you become a new parent to it so to speak, and the more energy and enthusiasm you devote to that mitzvah, the bigger and stronger it can grow. And woe to one with mitzvah opportunities who had the potential to create that point of light but failed to do so. We have a rich world ripe for the picking. A world full of problems that any of us could be the solutions for.

On this Shabbos Nachamu, let’s think a little about that boy, Nachman bar Papa. Yes, Nachman, l’nachem, can mean regret, but it shares a root with Nechama, comfort, consolation, because all nechama comes from a change in perspective, a change of heart, approaching something from a different angle, seeing it in a different light. When we tell a mourner Hamakom Yenachem Et’chem we are telling them that Hashem should assist them to see their loss from a different perspective one day. Not to forget about loss because that’s impossible. Nachamu is seeing the same thing, but from a different vantage point.

So here’s the new perspective on life the Rama has given us. A mitzvah is not something that we do; it is a spark that we create, a way to build the world. And there is no age or station in life when this capacity is beyond us.

By Rabbi Steven Miodownik

Rabbi Steven Miodownik is the rabbi of Congregation Ahavas Achim in Highland Park and is a member of the Judaic faculty at the Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva in Edison. He received his semicha from RIETS and masters in secondary education from the Azrieli Graduate School.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles