D’var Torah: Our good names are linked to our good deeds


We are told in Pirkei Avot (4:17) that there are three crowns, and “the crown of a good name surpasses them all.” This cliché, of course, has been used endlessly; yet, it is still relevant. 

In our parsha, Sh’lach L’kha, we have the renowned story of the 12 spies dispatched to reconnoiter what was then Canaan. All goes awry when 10 of the 12 spies return with a negative report that the people in Canaan were like giants and that we, therefore, have no chance to defeat them. Joshua and Caleb are the only ones who have faith that we can defeat the Canaanites.

Each of the spies are named. Essentially, the 10 who had no confidence or conviction after witnessing everything that had gone on post-Egypt have their reputations shot down right then and there.On the other hand, Joshua and Caleb are rewarded with leadership roles in the Promised Land for their trust in God.

Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham

According to the Talmud (Sotah 34b), names have the power to tell us about the nature of an individual. The Sages applied this maxim to the 10 spies who spoke negatively about the Promised Land, explaining that the names of the spies were not their given names at birth. Rather, they explain, the Torah ascribes to them names that reflect their destructive behavior. The text describes their attempt to deceive and entice the nation to all but abandon the Holy Land.

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This idea applies not only to our children or our companies but also to our institutions. Respected contemporary Rabbi Mordechai Gross notes in his Shema Garim: “When giving a name to a community, synagogue, study hall, neighborhood, city or any similar body, this requires careful deliberation, for the essential life of the matter and its root in holiness is based on the name it was given.”

When each of my three boys was born, there were always “deliberations” as to what the name should be. This was not only between my wife, Lauren, and me but between us and a myriad of other relatives, as well.  

You can obviously give as much (or as little) credence to “names” as you like.I have had friends who changed their names or had families whose names were changed upon entering America. 

My take is that the “crown of a good name” is derived from what you actually do in life, not from what others think it should be.  

May we all perform admirable deeds in our lives to merit having a “good name.”

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham serves Congregation B’nai Amoona and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.