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To My Youngest On His Bar Mitzvah Day

When we had my son Rafi, knowing he was the last baby, I nicknamed him Rafikomen.

The Ari taught that Jewish parents are imbued with Ruach Hakodesh (Divine inspiration) when they name their children. The names they choose describe the essence of their children. The gemara (Talmud) discusses a similar idea in terms of character in Yuma, 83b. The implication is that when parents name their children, they receive a prophetic glimpse of what their children’s spiritual essence will be.

This holds true with our son, Rafael Dovid Yaakov.

The name Rafael means “God heals.” Rafi has always been a “healer” because he is a person who holds other people’s pain. When his siblings cry, he cries with them. When a kid is sad and alone at school, he notices them and comforts them. When a crossing guard helps Rafi cross the road, he tells them “Have a great day!” When a teacher is being ignored by classmates, Rafi makes sure to be extra attentive and respectful.

Rafi’s second name is Dovid. Dovid famously battled the mighty Goliath. Though he was small, Dovid had the courage to stand up to the big guy and vanquish him. When Rafi was a baby, he used to suck his thumb. As he became a toddler, he continued to suck his thumb. I was trying to encourage him to stop sucking his thumb around his third birthday, so I playfully pulled his thumb out of his mouth.

Rafi was NOT having it. “Is this your fum?” he asked. “Is this YOUR fum? No, this is NOT your fum,” Rafi extorted. And Rafi proceeded to suck his thumb. I had to give it to him. Rafi took me on and vanquished me. I was bigger, but I had no response. It was not my thumb. Thankfully, Rafi stopped sucking his thumb (when he was ready).

Rafi’s third name is Yaakov. We were thinking of giving him the name Yaakov, after Reb Yaakov Kamenetsky, the grandfather of my rabbi, since the other relatives we named him for were not so connected to Torah. We weren’t sure if we should, but then Rafi was born on parshas Toldos and his hand came out before his head. (Needless to say, he was not easy to deliver!)

In addition, our Rafi, like his namesake Yaakov, is clever. When Rafi was not even yet 2 years old, he misbehaved one day, so as a consequence, I took his toy away and put it on a high shelf in the living room. Shortly thereafter, Rafi began carrying on, expressing to my husband that he wanted the small trampoline in the the basement. He was not speaking in full sentences at the time, but he led my husband to the trampoline, convinced him to bring it upstairs and got my husband place it in the living room in a certain spot. Right in front of the shelf where his toy was. It wasn’t until Rafi started jumping that my husband and I realized the ploy Rafi had going on!

We are living in a scary time right now. We are joyous for all of Rafi’s growth and accomplishments and also sick when we think of the hostages in Israeli, the soldiers in harms way, the maimed and injured and the families forever broken by Hamas’s indescribable massacres. We are living in an age now where people still call Jews bloodthirsty babykillers. Too many people think that Israel is made up of men who target innocents.

But the men fighting to defeat Hamas started out as boys like Rafi and his sweet friends. Kind and caring souls who feel the pain of others, brave and courageous boys who stand up for what’s right and aren’t afraid to fight for it and use their cleverness to succeed, even though we are such a small people in a large world.

In the name Yaakov, contains one more lesson for our time. Later on in the Torah, when Yosef is reunited with his brothers, he asks if his father (Yaakov) is still alive. His brothers answer “od avinu Chai” (our father is still alive). Here Yaakov symbolizes the Jewish people, for we are the children of Israel (Yaakov’s other name). In fact, this is where the phrase “Am Yisrael Chai” comes from. And this is the blessing that I will give us all, in Rafi’s name: Am Yisrael Chai!

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