Monday, April 28, 2008

That He Should Have a Name

Tur, Yoreh Deah 348

יתומים אין פוסקין עליהן צדקה אפי' לפדיון שבויים אפי' יש להם ממון הרבה אם פוסקין עליהם לכבוד כדי שיצא להם שם שפיר דמי

[In the case of] orphans, [the court] does not decree that they give [a specific amount of] tzedakah, even [for the sake of] redeeming captives, even if they have much money. [However] if they decree [that a specific amount of tzedakah should be required] of them for honor, in order that they should have a name, it is considered good.

I do not know whether, were we to exist only as individuals, we would need names. Names are bestowed by others; names are the natural extension of our souls fitting those around us into a world we understand, and are a way for communities to assign the roles they feel they need to survive intact. The "I" of the ego needs no name to know itself - the interior of the self is felt.

But the "I" in midst of community cries out for a name. Despite the fact that names are bestowed by others to the Other, we immediately cling to them. Names are all that we have that describes the exterior self - the self created in interaction with others. Wise people know that the names given to them never encapsulate their identity, but that is not to diminish the absolute necessity of a name. To have no name is to be left bereft, and the lure of the Isaiah's promise of "a hand and a name" springs from the promise of rescue from the emotional devastation of namelessness.

וְאַל יֹאמַר בֶּן הַנֵּכָר הַנִּלְוָה אֶל יְקֹוָק לֵאמֹר הַבְדֵּל יַבְדִּילַנִי יְקֹוָק מֵעַל עַמּוֹ וְאַל יֹאמַר הַסָּרִיס הֵן אֲנִי עֵץ יָבֵשׁ:
כִּי כֹה אָמַר יְקֹוָק לַסָּרִיסִים אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁמְרוּ אֶת שַׁבְּתוֹתַי וּבָחֲרוּ בַּאֲשֶׁר חָפָצְתִּי וּמַחֲזִיקִים בִּבְרִיתִי:
וְנָתַתִּי לָהֶם בְּבֵיתִי וּבְחוֹמֹתַי יָד וָשֵׁם טוֹב מִבָּנִים וּמִבָּנוֹת שֵׁם עוֹלָם אֶתֶּן לוֹ אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִכָּרֵת:
Isaiah 56:3-5
Let not the child of a foreigner who has joined God say, "God has separated me from God's people," and let not the infertile say, "I am a withered tree." For so says God, "to the infertile who keep my Shabbatot, and choose that which I have desired, and hold fast to my covenant, I will give them, in my house and in my walls, a hand and name, better than sons or daughters - an eternal name will I give him, that will not be cut away."

Orphans have no name. Their saying, "I am the son of X, the daughter of Y," is empty speech, for that which those names signifies has been cut away. Remember that names are really nothing more than glorified mnemonics - a way of summarizing the infinite complexities of a relationship with another person: I am the son of my father, the grandchild of my grandmother; when the content of the relationship is removed, all that remains is the empty husk of a name.

Perhaps it's more accurate to say that orphans have an amputated name, and the extent of the amputation is related to the amount of experiences they had with they parents they have lost.

Since community is the source of names, the reason for the generation of the exterior self, the question becomes: how do we restore names to the bereft?

The section quoted above is the Tur's answer: we create a name for them, and we do it through bestowing responsibility, and through the creation of new relationships. The very idea of Tzedakah is based in an understanding of the fundamental nature of human relationships, that humans, no matter how distant in relation, are bound by obligation to each other.

Thus we place the responsibility upon the orphan to give, knowing that giving will per force re-inject her into the fabric of human relationship, knowing that it will give her a name.

(ז) כִּי יִהְיֶה בְךָ אֶבְיוֹן מֵאַחַד אַחֶיךָ בְּאַחַד שְׁעָרֶיךָ בְּאַרְצְךָ אֲשֶׁר יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ לֹא תְאַמֵּץ אֶת לְבָבְךָ וְלֹא תִקְפֹּץ אֶת יָדְךָ מֵאָחִיךָ הָאֶבְיוֹן:
(ח) כִּי פָתֹחַ תִּפְתַּח אֶת יָדְךָ לוֹ וְהַעֲבֵט תַּעֲבִיטֶנּוּ דֵּי מַחְסֹרוֹ אֲשֶׁר יֶחְסַר לוֹ:

7 If, however, there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman.
8 Rather, you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs.
Deuteronomy 15

No comments: