April 12, 2024
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April 12, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

In Parshat Vayishlach, Hashem gives Yaakov a bracha by changing his name to Yisrael. How is a name change a “blessing”? Let’s explore through a story.

This story is about a boy named Akiva, but to almost everyone he was known as “Oh No!” Nobody ever claimed to have invented this nickname; it was just such an obvious choice. When Akiva was born, his mother took a look at his face and shouted “Oh No!” until the doctor pointed out that she was looking at Akiva upside down. At his brit, Akiva’s father was about to tell the rabbi what name to announce when he tripped over Grandpa’s cane. As he fell, Akiva’s dad exclaimed “Oh No!” which the rabbi first announced as Akiva’s actual name. Thankfully, the rabbi didn’t finish the full name in time, so he changed it to Akiva.

In other words, trouble followed Akiva from the day he was born. There was the time he took his first steps (into the cat’s litter box), the first time he rode a bike (oy!) and the first time he went fishing (don’t ask). Who could forget that time with the pickle jar, The Mayonnaise Incident, and of course, Mayonnaise Incident Number Two? Yes, Akiva was definitely more than worthy of his nickname, but he didn’t really mind. Akiva knew he was a bit clumsy, and had a good sense of humor about it, at least until the biggest Oh No! of his life came along.

One Tuesday afternoon, Akiva was skateboarding home from school when a truck carrying scissors collided with a van full of ping pong balls. The balls spilled out of the van and rolled underneath Akiva’s skateboard, causing him to fly off his board and into the air. Of course Akiva was wearing a helmet, but a pair of scissors flew out of the truck perfectly aimed at the strap holding his helmet on. Akiva’s helmet flew off and the next thing he knew he was lying in a hospital bed, surrounded by strangers (okay, they were his family members, but he couldn’t remember much).

After a week in the hospital, Akiva regained his memory, but for whatever reason he did not remember his nickname. So that he wouldn’t be confused, Akiva’s parents decided to tell him; after all, everyone was going to call him that anyway. They decided his father would break the news. “Akiva,” he began, “I just want you to know that although your name is Akiva, you also have a nickname that all your friends call you.” “What is it?” asked Akiva, with an expectant smile on his face. “Well,” continued his father, “your friends call you…. Oh… Yes! They call you ‘Oh Yes!’”

Akiva could hardly contain his excitement. “Oh Yes? I love that name! I must have the best luck!” And with that Akiva jumped out of bed (narrowly missing hitting his head on the lamp), landed directly in his clean clothing (with everything facing the right way!) and hopped on top of a wheelchair (each of his legs landed directly on one armrest). He rode the wheelchair like a skateboard down the hallway like a champion, leaping off just in time to squeeze through the automatic doors as they closed. In front of the hospital, Akiva jumped into the back of a pickup truck that just happened to be driving to his next-door neighbor’s house to deliver mulch. Oh Yes, Akiva’s luck was changing!

For Akiva (a.k.a. Oh Yes! a.k.a. Oh No!) this was a new beginning. No more tripping and falling. No more getting squashed and stuck. And no more getting crashed or crushed. To keep this new attitude going, Akiva’s parents reached out to his school. They asked his principal to speak with Akiva’s friends to make sure to call him by his new nickname, or at least simply “Akiva.” Mr. Belding was happy to comply and passed the message along. Unfortunately, one of Akiva’s best friends, Jojo, was out of school that day and didn’t get the message.

The first day Akiva returned to school, his friends and teachers were all there to greet him. “Welcome back, Akiva!” “Oh Yes! There you are!” “Great to see you, Mr. Never-Gets-Into-Accidents!” Akiva, with his huge smile, perfectly tucked in shirt and cool new sunglasses, was feeling great. Then Jojo came along. “Look who it is! I missed you, buddy! I had nobody to pick up off the floor! Welcome back, Oh No! you beautiful klutz!” And with that, Akiva’s shirt came untucked, his backpack popped a strap and fell to the floor, and his sunglasses shattered. Akiva’s smile disappeared and so did he, into the closest room, which happened to be the school social worker’s office. Mrs. Sprinkle followed Akiva into her office and knew exactly what to do.

“Akiva, look at these two pictures. Which of these students is luckier than the other?” Akiva looked confused. “Neither; they are the same person, me.” “Exactly,” said Mrs. Sprinkle. “The same Akiva who went into the hospital is the same Akiva who came out and the same Akiva standing right in front of me. Don’t let a silly nickname change who you are. You are Akiva, and you are awesome!”

A name can have a powerful effect on the person who carries it. Your name affects the way you see yourself, and in turn, the way you act. This is why the change from Yaakov to Yisrael is such a big bracha. Hashem wasn’t simply changing Yaakov’s name. The name Yisrael comes from the word for “straight,” as opposed to Yaakov, which means “crooked” (like the shape of a heel). Hashem was telling Yaakov he should now see himself as someone who has earned everything he has. This was the biggest bracha of all, giving Yaakov the self-confidence to start a nation that believes in doing the right thing.

By Yair Daar

 

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