A different post this time - the remarks I made about the name Jessica and I gave to our daughter. Ester Beruriah--Hebrew name Reyzl--is named after two grandmothers, two great-uncles, and two heroines of our tradition.
Esther Beruriah (Reyzl)
At her naming, February 21, 2016
The book of Esther opens with a feast that lasts a week long, and the week that we’ve known our daughter has been for us, similarly, an emotionally regal feast. We are overjoyed to celebrate a second מִשְׁתֵּה אֶסְתֵּר, “a Feast of Esther” (Esther 2:18) as we welcome our daughter into our family and into the Jewish community.
Esther, you are named after some very important women and men, including of course the heroic queen we celebrate at Purim. We pray that your life will be filled with the same virtues of character that blessed your namesakes.
Your first name comes from Jessica’s mother’s mother Joan Mont, whose Yiddish name was Eshke and whose middle name was Elsa. We’re so pleased that you’re wearing this morning a keepsake of hers – a name bracelet used to identify her when she was a newborn still in the hospital. Grandma Joan was resilient and resourceful; she never let life’s obstacles stand in her way. She constantly put others before herself, and she knew instinctively that nothing was more important than family. Joan was musical, clever, and patient. And most of all, she was kind and warm – her smile made you feel better when you were sad, her hug erased all traces of fear and doubt, and her laugh brought laughter to the lips of all who were around her. It is said of the biblical Esther that “she found favor in the eyes of all who saw her” (2:15). No truer words could be spoken of your great-grandmother Joan. May her memory always live on as blessing through you.
Your Hebrew name, Reyzl, which means “rose” in Yiddish, comes from my mother’s mother, Rosie. My grandma Rosie was a fiercely independent woman. She strove always to provide the best life she could for herself and her family even when that meant veering from the traditional roles of mother and housewife. Rosie was exceptionally proud of her children and grandchildren, and she wore her devotion on her sleeve. When Rosie loved you, you knew it, whether through extra servings of ice cream at her apartment or furtive hugs when walking side by side. She was also deeply spiritual, inspiring in her two children—and in their children after them—a genuine and lifelong commitment to exploring life’s true purpose. We hope that you will inherit the best of her emotional and spiritual legacy.
Your middle name, Beruriah, is after two great great-uncles: Jessica’s great-uncle Boris and my great-uncle Bruce. Both of these men for their own reasons never had children of their own, but they were an important part of their nieces’ and nephews’ family. Boris was peaceful and kind, deeply interested in world events, and absolutely devoted to his brother. Bruce was calm and spiritual, talented and charismatic, a sparkling soul who endeavored always to bring light and laughter into the world. They would have loved you so deeply.
Esther—Reyzl—your mother and I pray that all the greatest blessings of these women and men may shine within you and, through you, out to the world. And we know that you will also blaze your own unique trail. That’s why we’ve chosen the name Beruriah in particular as your middle name. Beruriah was a sage who lived in the second century, and she’s one of the few women cited in the Talmud. It’s taught that she “studied three hundred laws from three hundred teachers [every] day” (Pesachim 62b). Her rulings had the voice of authority (cf. Tosefta Keilim 4:17), and she was never one to suffer a fool (cf. Eiruvin 53b and Berachot 10a). Perhaps most importantly, she used her understanding of Torah for the sake of love and compassion. Multiple times, Beruriah brought wisdom and insight to her husband—himself a great rabbi—helping him through intense struggles with grief and anger (cf. Midrash Mishlei and Yalkut Shimoni on Proverbs 31:10 and Berachot 10a). For centuries, Beruriah has been reckoned as a complex personality with a sharp mind and sympathetic soul. We hope that you will find your own way to lean in to the power and potential of this name.
Reyzl—Esther Beruriah—may you always be as beautiful as a rose and as the queen whose name you bear (cf. Esther 2:7). Like the Esther and Beruriah of our tradition, may you be a woman of letters whose insight and intellect bring Torah into the world (cf. Esther 9:29). As it is said of Esther וַיֶּאֱהַב הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶת-אֶסְתֵּר מִכָּל-הַנָּשִׁים, “The king loved Esther more than all the other women” (2:17). May you, too, know deep and abiding love in the relationships you forge throughout your life. We are so excited to get to know you and proud to call you our daughter. Today truly is a day in which we celebrate and inaugurate your life in “light, gladness, happiness and honor” (8:16).
“To be effective, the preacher's message must be alive; it must alarm, arouse, challenge; it must be God's present voice to a particular people.”