פרשת ויצא

Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older one was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel

It is taught in the Midrash (Kohelet Rabah 7:3)

A person has three names

  1. What her parents call her
  2. What others call her
  3. What she acquires herself

To explain:

  1. What her parents call her
    This is spotted immediately from the moment of birth – Is she bright? Foolish and lazy? Alacritous? For in the time of our ancestors, everyone had this kind of intuitive insight. They could recognize what a person’s essential nature is.
    Similarly with Laban, he called his children names that typified what they were all about. The name “Rachel רחל” refers to jealousy and a competitive/triumphant spirit, but not a combative tongue, as it is written (Isaiah 53:7), “Like a ewe רחל, dumb before those who shear her, He did not open his mouth.” Rachel’s jealousy was for the sake of Heaven, as it is written (Genesis 30:1), “Rachel became jealous of her sister.” The name “Leah לאה” refers to being weary נלאה, for she was constantly weary and thirsting for divine salvation.
  2. What others call her
    This is how people catch a glimpse of her essence based on her actions.
  3. What she acquires herself
    This is based on what a person does to repair and heal a deep lack within her, even one that she is born with. This is the interpretation of the verse (Proverbs 3:8), “It will be a cure for your body/navel,” meaning the lack that is found within her from birth, as it is taught (Talmud Sotah 45b), “The source of a person’s formation is from the navel.” And this is the meaning of the prophet (Isaiah 48:8), “And you were called a rebel from birth.”
    Therefore, the name she acquires for herself is the greatest of the three names. The word “name” refers to the source of life, for the fullness of the soul manifests through it.

From the Ishbitzer’s point of view, you do not get to decide who you are. You get to decide who you could be. His discussion about confronting an essential nature and overcoming some inborn defect may strike us as problematic. It can be limiting and even potentially stifling. But if we follow him through we end up at a place of great openness and possibility.
His first point is we already have a name. We are brought into this world, into an incredibly narrow set of circumstances and environments, and that does define us at some level. Better to be honest about it than to deny it. It could ultimately be for the good (Ishbitz spoiler alert: it is!)
The second is that we let others give us a name. How we act in the world speaks volumes about who we really are, and so much of us is revealed in the way we interact with others. HOW I give money to the beggar on the train says a lot more about me than the fact that I gave charity, and those around me pick up on it. It is based on my actions, but they have the final say in what I will be called.
There is a final name, one that is impervious to factors of our birth or the gaze of those around us. It is the one we give ourselves. Who do I really want to be, or, How shall I refer to myself? We earn this name through our introspection and self-work. The world doesn’t have to know about it, but we know what we have struggled with and overcome. That is the name we want to call ourselves by. The one that recalls the trials we have faced, and the ways we have navigated past them. Who we are, What we call ourselves, is a reminder of where we have been and what we have been through, and also where we are going and who we could be.

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