Rabbi's Blog

Thought of the Week


It has been a busy but extra-fulfilling week for me. Monday was spent driving to drop Mendel off at Newark Airport for his Israel Summer Program. Tuesday was my actual birthday and a last push for the  1st Annual Raffle (See winners below). Wednesday was teaching JLI and Thursday was a beautiful Whiskey and Torah event for my b-day and raffle drawing (see winners below).

One story that I read this week (from the JLI course) moved me so deeply that I shared it last night at my b-day event and I feel I have to share it with you here. Oh, and it ties well into this week's Torah portion Balak. 

It is about Natan Sharansky and is from his book with Shira Wolosky Weiss, Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy, pp.24-25. For those unfamiliar, Natan Sharansky is famous for being a refusnik who spent 9 years in Soviet prison as he defied the USSR and tried to emigrate to Israel. Here is the excerpt in Natan Sharansky's words:



"A few days before my arrest, an American tourist gave me a small book of Psalms from my wife, along with a letter she had written. In it Avital explained that she had carried the Psalms with her all year, during her travels around the world to fight for my freedom and for the freedom of Soviet Jewry. Now, she wrote, I feel that you should have it so I am sending it to you. Back then, my Hebrew was in no way adequate to read that book. After I was arrested, the book, along with all my other belongings, was confiscated. Then I began to think about the Psalms and about the note from Avital. The book soon took on an almost mythical meaning for me. I started to fight to have it returned, a battle that continued for three years. I finally received the book along with the news that my father had passed away. I tried to read it, but I still understood little. I had to work my way through it slowly, page by page, comparing different lines, trying to recognize patterns and connect words to each other. The first lines I understood were those of Psalm 23: “Although I walk through the valley of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.”

I noticed that in the Psalms, the word fear kept appearing. On the one hand, fear was something to be overcome, such as not fearing evil. But as Yirat Hashem, or the fear/awe of G-d, it had a positive connotation. It took me time to understand what this fear of G-d meant. My understanding was at first very vague and uncertain. But at some moment it occurred to me, seeing it many times, that this fear was connected not simply to G-d the Creator but to the image of G-d in which man was created. Mankind was created to be worthy of that image and to be true to it. This required me to go forward in an honest and direct way, without compromising principles. This fear, the fear of not being worthy of the Divine image, not the fear of death, was what I was most afraid of in my interrogations with the KGB. I was afraid to lose the world of inner freedom I had found, to fail to stay true to my inner self, to no longer conduct myself in a way that was worthy of the divine image."


Wow. To me this is gold. This is what it means to be a real religious person with faith and reverence for G-d. It is not fear of something out there but rather respecting something deep inside our core. This is what gave Sharansky the power to resist the KGB dictatorship.

This is what Jews have brought to the world. Many dictators don't like this but it is the truth and by standing strong we teach all of humanity what it means to be a human being, that we are all created with deep powers that stem from our soul being created in the image of G-d.

This week's parsha is Parshat Balak. The Torah tells us that Balak was a non-Jewish king who hated the Jews. This Jew-hater hired a prophet by the name of Balaam to curse the Jewish people. Balaam was a person with great spiritual powers who was able to curse and bless, and Balak expected him to inflict much harm on the Jewish people using his curses. Balak and Balaam both couldn't stand the Jewish people and that G-d chose them for a historic mission to be a light unto the nations.

In the end - you guessed it - the plan backfired. Not only didn't Balaam curse the Jews, he ended up blessing them.

Let this be a message to Jews everywhere and the world at large: We must and will continue shining the light that Sharansky was talking about. 

No one will be able to stop this mission and destiny. People can try to imitate Balak and Balaam , but in the end we saw what happens - not curses but blessings will come to the Jewish people, and we will extend those blessings to all of humanity.

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yitzi and Rishi Hein

Thought of the Week


As you may know, this past week I travelled to the Rebbe's Ohel in honor of his 30th yahrzeit. I was joined by Jews of all stripes (as well as non-Jewish people, including NYC Mayor Eric Adams) coming to connect to the Rebbe's legacy.

Or perhaps "legacy" is the wrong word. The Rebbe wasn't just a unique leader who did incredible things for the world. More than anything, the Rebbe's greatest feat was "empowerment." In the words of the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks OBM, "the Rebbe didn't create followers; he created leaders. That was the Rebbe’s greatness. Not only did he lead, he was a source of leadership in others." 

30 years after his passing, his still present voice is asking, begging, all of us to dig deep and lead. 

The need for all of us to be all types of leaders is beautifully reflected in this week's Torah portion of Chukat:

The Jews who traveled through a desert for forty years received three gifts that would sustain them throughout their journey. Each miracle was in the merit of one of their three great leaders:

In Miriam's merit a rock-turned-well traveled with them, providing a never-ending source of water in the desert. In Aaron's merit the Clouds of Glory offered the Jews protection from the many dangers they faced, reminding them constantly of G-d’s care and love for them. And Moses was the leader in whose honor the daily manna fell from heaven.

Obviously, there is a direct link between each one of these three leaders, and the amazing miracles with which they are associated.

Miriam excelled in kindness. From her youth she devoted herself to her people's welfare. Even as a small girl, she assisted her mother as a midwife and brought food to the poor. When her helpless brother was in a basket floating down the Nile, it was Miriam watching from the reeds that was able to ensure her brother was saved and fed.

Because of her attribute of kindness, G-d provided the Jews with water. Always flowing downwards, water is the source of all life and growth. This is the gift Miriam gives the Jews. Not only a vital necessity, but a symbol of kindness, of growth, and of always giving graciously.  

Aaron, the High Priest personified both closeness to G-d and "Shalom." His devotion to the service in the Temple revealed G-d's presence to the Jews in the desert.  Hence, the protective Clouds of Glory, a  source of pride and honor for a nation so carefully loved by G-d.  Through his peace-making abilities, Aharon was also known for bringing tranquility back to marriages and friendships. 

This was Aaron’s gift; revealing G-d’s closeness to us, and our closeness to each other.  

Moshe was a Rebbe, a teacher, an inspiration and guiding force for the Jews. It was Moses who gave us the Torah and taught us everything we know. Torah is compared to bread because it is our source of sustenance. 

Just like we digest the food that becomes part of our blood supply, Torah values are internalized within our personality, becoming the way we process life.  Moshe’s contribution to the Jewish people was the manna, the transformative bread internalized within a Jew, a.k.a. the Torah. It was he who formed our psyche and paradigm on life. 

Not all of us may have the platform of a world leader, Fortune 500 company CEO or famous non-profit head.  But every one of us is in a position of influence of some sort - as a parent, a teacher, a spouse, or a friend. Everything we do affects somebody within our circle of influence. The question is what is our gift to those around us?

Are we Miriams, who will always be remembered together with water because of how we constantly share kindness and goodness around us?

Or are we going to be remembered as Aarons, as proud Jews who revealed the glory of G-d upon His people? Someone who helps build holy communities and bringing Jews together?

Or perhaps we will be teachers like Moshe, feeding the food of faith to those willing to listen, constantly inspiring others with words of wisdom and meaning?

Ideally, we should do parts of all three, just like Aaron also did kind things, and Miriam also taught Torah. 

But which leader do you most personify? Are you giving the world a Well of Miriam, a protective Cloud of Glory, or Heavenly bread?

Which miracle are you creating for the world through your unique strengths?

The power is in you already. All you have to do to lean in and reveal it.

Wishing you a Good Shabbos & Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yitzi and Rishi Hein
















































Jewish Thought of the Week


This year was my most memorable July 4th, partly because of our pre-July 4th lecture (see video below) explaining why American ideals are crucial for Jewish destiny. 

But this year's July 4th has extra meaning than most years and it has to do with yesterday's hebrew date. This year's July 4th fell out on the 28th of Sivan, which is a very important day on the Jewish calendar. 

It was on this this day in 1941 that the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin safely arrived in America, having fled war-torn Europe on one of the the last passenger ships to cross the Atlantic before travel became impossible due to a German u-boat blockade. Thus, today is known as the "yom hatzalah," the day of rescue, for the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin.  The Rebbe was tremendously grateful for the gift that is America, and would commonly refer to this country as "Medina Shel Chesed", a country of kindness. (See below for a letter the Rebbe penned to President Bush (Sr.) on this theme)  


The Rebbe also emphasized that the significance of his move to America was not merely about what he was fleeing from but equally, if not more so, about what he was moving toward. Sadly, at that time, some Jews had abandoned Jewish practices seeing freedoms of America, and modernity in general, as contradictions to a Torah lifestyle.


The Rebbe saw no such contradiction.  He saw these freedoms as something, when when harnessed properly, could maximize our Jewish lives! Together with the challenges of modernity also come tremendous opportunities. A Judaism with more pride and joy. A fresh relevance to Torah. The ability to positively influence the wider world.  


When a Jew decides to adopt a life of Judaism today it is that much more meaningful, truly coming from our freedom of choice. As the Rebbe once told writer Herman Wouk regarding American Jews, “While you cannot tell them to do anything, you can teach them to do everything.  


Please G-d, America should remain that Medina Shel Chesed.  In the words of the prayer for the country we recite each Shabbos, "that the leaders and all their counselors and aides be inspired to deal kindly with us and with all Israel."









Inside The Name Rachel



Rachel רחל


Meaning: A ewe (female sheep)


Note: There is much to write about Rachel’s persona vis a vis her sister-wife Leah. We will explore all that next week when we go inside the name Leah and can compare and contrast. This week we will explore the name Rachel, a ewe, by itself.



Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher RebbeCourtesy of

Jacob arrives in Charan, and the first sight to greet him is that of several flocks of sheep congregated around a sealed well; the second is his future wife, Rachel—the name is Hebrew for “sheep”—shepherding her father’s sheep. Soon Jacob is a shepherd himself, caring for sheep, receiving his wages in sheep, breeding sheep with special markings, dreaming of sheep, amassing a fortune in sheep, and finally leading his flocks back to the Holy Land where he will present his brother Esau with a huge gift comprised largely of . . . sheep.

Between flocks, we also read of Jacob’s marriages to Leah and Rachel, and the birth of eleven of his twelve sons, progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel. What are we to learn from the fact that the nation of Israel was founded in such sheepish surroundings?

The First Metaphor

“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine, he who shepherds [me] among the roses” (Song of Songs 2:16). The voice of this verse, explains the Midrash Rabbah, is that of the community of Israel, speaking of her relationship with G‑d. “He is my shepherd, as it is written (Psalms 80:1), ‘Shepherd of Israel, hearken’; and I am His sheep, as it is written (Ezekiel 34:31), ‘And you, My sheep, the sheep of My pasture’” (Midrash Rabbah on this verse).

The same Midrashic passage also describes our relationship with G‑d as that of a child to his father, a sister to her brother, a bride to her groom, a vineyard to its watchman, among others. Each of these metaphors expresses another facet of the relationship: the inherent bond between G‑d and Israel, the love and affection, G‑d’s guardianship over us, our being a source of joy to Him, etc. What does the sheep/shepherd metaphor represent? If the point is that G‑d provides for us and protects us, or that we are subservient and devoted to Him, these elements also exist in the father/child relationship. What unique aspect of our relationship with G‑d can be expressed only by describing us as His sheep?

The sheep’s dominant trait is its docility and obedience. The child obeys his father, but does so out of an appreciation of his father’s greatness; the sheep does not obey for any reason—it is simply obedient by nature. It is this element of our relationship with G‑d that the sheep represents: an unquestioning subservience which derives not from our understanding of His greatness and our feelings toward Him (in which case it would be defined by the limits of our understanding and feelings), but from the recognition that “I am His sheep.”

The Jewish nation was founded amidst sheep because our self-negation and unquestioning obedience to G‑d is the foundation of our Jewishness. Of course, we are not only G‑d’s sheep—we are also His children, His bride, His sister and His vineyard. By the same token, the Torah tells us that when Jacob left Charan after twenty years of shepherding, his wealth consisted not only of sheep: “He had much sheep, maids and servants, camels and donkeys.” We have just read that Laban paid him his wages in sheep, and that his flocks multiplied exceedingly; but where did his other possessions come from? Rashi explains that “he sold his sheep for high prices and bought all these.” Spiritually, too, Jacob’s “wealth” did not consist solely of docility and self-negation, but also included feeling and understanding, fortitude and vigor. But the source and basis of it all was his “sheep.”

Being a Jew means studying the divine wisdom (revealed to us in His Torah), developing a passionate love and reverent awe for G‑d, and teaching His wisdom and implementing His will in an oft-times hostile world—all of which require the optimal application of our mental, emotional and assertive powers. But the foundation of it all, the base from which all these derive and upon which they are all predicated, is our simple commitment to G‑d—a commitment that transcends reason and emotion.

Inside The Name Mordechai



Mordechai מרדכי 


Root Meaning #1: From the Aramaic words מירא דכיא which translate as Pure Myrrh which was a pre-eminent spice that was used in the Temple as part of the anointing oil (Source: Talmud Chullin 139b)


Root Meaning #2: There is some speculation that this name was a derivative of the Babylonian idol Marduk (and Mordechai had another Hebrew name either Pesachya or Malachi) Source: Steinsaltz Megillah


Let’s unpack the Root #1:


Mordechai is referred to in the Megillah as Mordechai HaYehudi, which means Mordechai the Judeanor Mordechai the Jew. While we are familiar with the term Jew (again a shortened form of the word Judean), a Judean technically would refer to a Jewish person specifically descending from Judah, one of the twelve tribes. However, Mordechai descended from the tribe of Benjamin, not Judah,(the Megillah also mentions he had Benjamin lineage) so why does he have that title?


The simple answer In the 5th century BCE, the Kingdom of Israel was conquered by Assyrian King Sennaherib, and the vast majority of the ten tribes were exiled and lost. The bulk of the remaining Israelites were the residents of the Kingdom of Judah, and the term "Yehudi" or "Jew" came to refer to all the Israelites, regardless of their tribal ancestry.


But there is also a deeper meaning to the name "Judean/Jew" and this will also shed light upon the life mission of Mordechai. The Talmud (Tractate Megillah 12b) asks: "Mordechai is called a Yehudi, implying that he descended from Judah; he then is called Yemini, implying that he is a Benjaminite!" Rabbi Jochanan responds: "He was a Benjaminite. Yet he was called a Yehudi because he rejected idolatry—and anyone who rejects idolatry is called a Yehudi."

The commentaries explain that the name Yehudah shares the same root as the Hebrew word hoda'ah, which means acknowledgment or submission to something greater than oneself (i.e. G-d). One who acknowledges G‑d's existence and submits to His authority—to the extent that he is willing to sacrifice his life for the sanctification of His name—he is called a Yehudi.

So now we know why Mordechai is called a Yehudi/Judean/Jew which derives from submission to a Higher authority and purpose. He exemplified the deep inner connection a Jew feels for G-d and the Jewish people, even willing the lay his life on the line for both. As a matter a fact, he even brought out that feeling of submission to a Higher power in the rest of the Jews of his time (of which many were highly assimilated).

But what does that have to do with his name Mordechai, which we see is connected to the preeminent spice Pure Myrrh that was used in the anointing oil in the temple?

It is interesting to note that Pure Myrrh was from a secretion from the blood of a male musk deer which is not a kosher animal. How was a non-kosher ingredient used for one of the holiest purposes possible? The answer is that the processing of the blood of the male musk deer transformed it to be kosher.

Spiritually, this represents the transformation of our animal drive/ego to become a tool for our Divine mission. How is that possible? How can the ego become a tool for holiness?

The answer lies in the name Yehudi: thought submitting ourselves with utter devotion and humility to our Higher Power, even the intial unsavory parts of us get transformed into a holy purpose. Source: Torah Ohr 99a-b


Sources: The Kehot Megillah Page 14b

Inside The Name Esther

Esther אסתר


Root Meaning #1: From the hebrew word HESTER הסתר (Talmud Chullin 139b bringing the Torah verse And I will hide [haster astir] My face on that day for all the evil which they shall have wrought, in that they are turned to other gods” (Deuteronomy 31:17–18).


Root Meaning #2: Bright Star (Moon?), v. אִסְתְּהַר She came and brought light and salvation to the Jewish people from the dark decree of Haman (like a bright moon in the nigh. Shemot Rabah 15


Root Meaning #3 : A Persian name ASTRA, which means a star (perhaps Venus) in Indo-European languages (Talmud Megillah 13ᵃ)


The heroine of the Purim story actually had two different names or aliases, as the Megillah tells us:” וַיְהִ֨י אֹמֵ֜ן אֶת־הֲדַסָּ֗ה הִ֤יא אֶסְתֵּר֙ He was foster father to Hadassah—that is, Esther” (You can read below the debate in the Talmud of what was her true name).


However, we see that her most famous name, and indeed the name she is referred to throughout the Megillah is Esther. Why?


The secret to understanding this is that Esther wasn’t just a private individual. She also was the embodiment of the Jewish people of her time.


Esther (her Aramaic-Persian name) and Hadassah (her Hebrew name) represent the possible states of the Jewish people.

Hadassah means a myrtle which is a fragrant branch. This represents the Jewish soul in its fullest righteous state (see Talmud Meg. 13a) in a time when holiness and spirituality are the norm, like in the times of the first Jerusalem temple. In such a state, the soul constantly progresses with ever-instensifying love to connect with the Divine.


But what about times when spirituality and holiness is not the norm on the street? The Purim story took place during the first exile of the Jewish people when they were displaced into the Persian empire, far from the Jewish sovereignty and holiness in the land of Israel. They had to be Jewish under very estragned conditions.


But exile goes beyond just displacement. Exile is a time of concealment, or detachement from true self. It is when our soul has everything stacked against her and little to move her towards attachment to the Divine.


But here’s the irony: it is specifically in a time of Exile, of outward disconnection from the Divine and the optimal Jewish state, that the soul can connect with G-d in an elemental way - with bare conviction. The soul realizes it is connected to G-d on the core level, not only from feelings of spirituality. This single-minded drive and deepest bond between our soul and G-d is only activated in the darkness of exile. When everything is stripped away besides the essence, that is when we realize the essence.


Thus, the protagonist of the Story or Purim is called Esther, as well as her book, because that name captures the essence of exile for the Jewish people - both  the great challenge and the great opportunity for the soul. On the one hand, G-d’s obvious connection is concealed from us. On the other hand, that concealment arouses the deepest form of dedication in our souls.


Talmudic Debate on what her real name:


Rabbi Meir says: Esther was her real name. Why then was she called Hadassah? On account of the righteous, who are called myrtles [hadassim] . Rabbi Yehuda differs and says: Hadassah was her real name. Why then was she called Esther? Because she concealed [masteret] the truth about herself, as it is stated: “Esther had not yet made known her kindred nor her people” (Esther 2:20). Rabbi Neḥemya concurs and says: Hadassah was her real name. Why then was she called Esther? This was her non-Hebrew name, for owing to her beauty the nations of the world called her after Istahar, Venus.

(Talmud Megillah 13ᵃ)

Inside the Name Yaakov - Jacob

Yaakov יעקב

Anglicized version: Jacob

Meaning #1 - Related to the word heel עקב because Yaakov was born right after his twin brother Esau and came out grasping Esau’s heel (Genesis 25:26, Rashi)

Meaning #2 - “the one who outsmarted” (Onkelos Genesis 27:36) Esau by receiving the firstborn blessings first (which technically already belonged to Yaakov who bought their rights from Esau years earlier, but Esau was not going to honor the sale of the firstborn status).

Meaning #3 - A combination of the Hebrew letter YUD י (which symbolizes the the point of divinity of the core of the soul) &   (heel) עקב. The soul’s core permeates to the lowest elements of the person’s material life and and physical body, symbolized by the lowly heel.

The Torah verses above give us two interpretations of the name Jacob. Jacob was born grasping the heel of his elder twin, Esau; thus he was named "Jacob" (Yaakov, in the Hebrew), which means "at the heel." Years later, when Jacob disguised himself as Esau to receive the blessings that Isaac intended to give the elder brother, Esau proclaimed: "No wonder he is called Jacob ("cunning")! Twice he has outsmarted me: he has taken my birthright, and now he has taken my blessings."

Jacob is the Jew still in the thick of the battle of life. A battle in which he is often "at the heel"--dealing with the lowliest aspects of his own personality and of his environment. A battle which he must wage with cunning and stealth, for he is in enemy territory and must disguise his true intentions in order to outmaneuver those forces, both internal and external, who attempt to ensnare him. 

Threatened by a hostile world, plagued by his own shortcomings and negative inclinations, the Jacob Jew has yet to transcend the axiomatic condition of his humanity—the fact that "man is born to toil" and that human life is an obstacle course of challenges to one's integrity.

The prophet Balaam commented along these lines in his famous blessing about the Jews"[G‑d] sees no guilt in Jacob, nor toil in Israel." (Numbers 23:21)

G‑d sees no guilt in ‘Jacob’, for despite all that Jacob must face, he has been granted the capacity to meet his every detractor. Even if he momentarily succumbs to some internal or external challenge, he never loses his intrinsic goodness and purity, which ultimately asserts itself, no matter how much it has been repressed by the travails of life. But while he might be free of sin, he is never free of toil, of the struggle to maintain his sinless state. For Jacob, the war of life rages ever on, regardless of how many of its battles he has won.

Short Mystical Meaning of the Name: the name Yaakov or Jacob represent the very real Jew, who is a person of the world, who despite being involved in all aspects of a material life with its constant challenges and temptations, always manages to keep his or her head on straight to live an inspired life of Mitzvahs,ethics, and repentance.


Inside the Name Rivkah/Rebecca

Rivkah רבקה

Anglicized version of the name - Rebecca

Root Meaning of the Name 1: Fattened Calf (Sechel Tov)

Root Meaning of the Name 2: Harness/Yoke for Cattle Teams (Torah Ohr 18a of R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi)

Some of the root name meanings we have by other Jewish hebrew names have been easy to identify a noble trait. 

But Fattened Calf? Cattle Yoke? 

Let’s back up with who Rivka was and what she accomplished:

Rivka, or Rebecca, was the second matriarch of the Jewish nation. Although she grew up in Padan Aram, amongst pagans, she remained righteous and pure. Our sages applied to her the verse (Song of Songs 2:2): “As a rose among the thorns, so is my beloved among the daughters.” She married our patriarch Isaac, and gave birth to Esau and Jacob. It was she who orchestrated Jacob’s obtaining Isaac’s blessings (as described in Genesis 27).

Most importantly, as one of our matriarchs, her character is part of the spiritual genes that make us who we are.

Although the meaning of her name is not explained in the Written Torah, the Mishnah in tractate Eruvin uses the word revakot, the plural of rivkah, to describe “teams of cattle.”

The chassidic masters explain that becoming a “team of cattle” is a very Jewish aspiration, one that we can accomplish only because of the special soul-powers with which Rebecca endowed us all. We all have two distinct souls and consciousnesses animating our bodies: an “animal soul” and a “G‑dly soul.” The animal soul is driven by self-centeredness; the G‑dly soul, by the selfless quest to serve the Almighty.

Each of these souls has its own intellectual and emotional faculties, from creative wisdom to focused concentration, from discipline to loving and generous kindness. The difference is that all the emotional faculties of the G‑dly soul are dominated by the mind. As such, notwithstanding their extreme differences, the emotional faculties work together in harmony; they complement each other. Wisdom engenders compromise and cohesion. 

The animal soul, by contrast, due to its self-centered nature, is dominated by its emotions and impulses. Each one of these emotions operates independently of the others; they do not complement each other to work as a cohesive whole.

This condition, however, is not unchangeable. The mission of the G‑dly soul is to channel and focus the animal soul’s emotions toward its—the G‑dly soul’s—interest, the service of G‑d. (For more on this topic, see The Wild Horse.) When this is achieved, these formerly independent animalistic emotions can now unite, forming a harmony, or in the words of the Mishnah, “a team of cattle.”

This ability, writes Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chassidism, is the gift bequeathed by Matriarch Rebecca to her offspring—every child of the Jewish nation.

We all are Rebecca’s children, and we can follow in her ways by adding one more mitzvah to our daily schedule, transforming darkness to light, divisiveness to unity.

Rivkah represents the beautiful transformation that only the animal soul in the body can achieve. Yitzchak represents the aloof spiritual nature of the G-dly soul. Together, Animal soul and G-dly soul are fused into one person. And together they acheive an elevation for the body and physical world, which in turns even elevates the G-d invincible soul to a higher plane that it originated from.

Inside The Name Yitzchak

 Yitzchak יִצְחָק

English version of the name: Isaac


Root Meaning #1 will laugh (Rashi) 

Root Meaning #2 will delight (R. Schneur Zalman Of Liadi)

Root Meaning #3 a composite of the words יצא חוק which means “there went forth law and provisions” referring a people will be born from Yitzchak, his Jewish descendants, who will transmit the Divine law of Torah to the world and thereby sustain the world. (Midrash Rabah, Eitz Yosef)

Unpacking The Name:

Yitzchak was born on the first day of Passover and became the first child to be circumcised at the proper time, on the eighth day after birth. In many ways, Isaac was the first person to be born Jewish. At his circumcision, Abraham named him Yitzchak (Isaac), which means “laughter” in Hebrew.


The Torah in Genesis 21:6 recounts what his mother said at his birth: "And Sarah said, "God has made joy for me;">In the hebrew (notice the underlined Yitzchak words) וַתֹּ֣אמר שְר֔ה צְ֕ק ע֥֥שָׂ לִ֖י ֱלִָ֑ים קָּלָּשֹּׁמֵ֖עַ יִֽצֲחַק-לֽי :


What was the great laughter and joy connected to his birth? In addition to being the long awaited only child born to both his parents in their old age, the midrash tells us that on the day of his birth, many miracles occurred, with barren women conceiving, the sick being healed and many prayers being answered. It was a day of global joy and laughter. (Genesis Rabbah 53:8.)


The joy and laughter reflected in Yitzchak’s name is a unique high level of happiness. It refers to the great joy, delight to the point of outright laughter that comes after overcoming hardship and transforming it to revealed goodness. This is why the name is in the futuristic tense (“will laugh”) which alludes to the highest joy and laughter that will come by the ultimate world redemption through Mashiach. 

How this name influenced the original Yitzchak life mission:

While the name connotes joy and laughter, it is interesting to reconcile that idea with the basic info we know about Yitzchak’s personality, which seems at first glance contradictory to joy and laughter.


In Kabbalah and Midrash, Yitzchak embodied the idea of gevurah, the kabbalistic notion of discipline or restraint. The character trait associated with gevurah is yira’ah, awe. Yitzchak served G‑d with a sense of awe and wonderment. He constantly felt that he was standing in the presence of the Almighty. This caused him to act with restraint and modesty. 

In simple english: he was more inward, an introvert perhaps, who was constantly refining himself with introspection.


While his father Abraham was an outgoing, traveling activist, Yitzchak was more reserved. He stayed in the land of Canaan all his life, working on himself and others in a quieter fashion.


So why is his name about joy and laughter, which are very outward personality traits?


This paradox can be explained as follows: The joy that derives from self-fulfillment will always be a a finite joy (anchored to one’s starting reality). Even the largest self has its limits, which will inevitably frustrate the most joyous self-expansion. Understandably it is the refined selfless soul (as Yitzchak was), whose joy derives not from who and what it is but from who and what it serves, that experiences true, infinite joy.


Book of Genesis Tauber 21:6  Commentary

Likutei Sichos 30 toldos 1


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