Good Shabbos. Our sages teach us that when parents name a child they are imbued with ruach haKodesh—Divine inspiration that is required to attribute a name—which is a person’s essence- to a human being. Sara and I had been in mutual agreement since our last daughter was born that any future daughter we would be blessed with, we would want to name Esther after my great aunt, of blessed memory, Estelle Rifkin, who treated us like her own grandchildren. We were prepared to name our daughter Esther regardless of when she would have been born: January, June, March, or May, her name would have been Esther. It is therefore, a very neat example of Hashgacha Pratis, (Divine Providence) that the Talmud asks, “Where in the Torah is there a reference to Esther? It is from the verse in Devarim, V’anochi Hester Astir es Panim…and I will certainly conceal my face…. That pasuk, is taken from none other than this week’s parsha—Nitzavim-Vayeilech, on the day we are sponsoring Esther’s kiddish, on a day that we would have named her, if only we could have waited 7 whole days to give her a name.
The Torah teaches us there in Chapter 31, Then My anger will flare up against them, and I will abandon them and hide my Face from them. They shall be ready prey, and many evils and troubles will befall them. And they shall say on that day, ‘Surely it is because our G-d is not in our midst that these evils have befallen us. And I will keep my face hidden on that day because of all the evils they have done in turning to other gods.
The Rabainu Bachya explains on this second, seemingly redundant verse “V’anochi Haster Astir” that the first pasuk we quoted of hester panim was a reference to the first exile, but this second one, with the double language, is referring to the Roman Exile in which we currently find ourselves. The language is doubled to indicate that this present exile will be much longer than the first. Thus, it would emerge according to the Rabainu Bachya, that Esther got her name from this verse in the Torah which refers to our current exile.
When I reflected about my own Esther, and her circumstances into which she was born, this idea absolutely, totally, blew my mind, and showed me that indeed G-d gives us some sort of super natural abilities when He allows us to name our children. Ever since we moved to Denver, I thought to myself about how I would feel about having a child born in Denver—the place where I, my parents, grandparents, and great grandparents were born. At first, I got sentimental, I got warm fuzzies, and thought how neat it was. And indeed, I am overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude to the Almighty for allowing us to live in this medina shel chesed—this nation of kindness in which we are allowed to practice as we please. And I am grateful to my great grandparents for moving us to the most beautiful state in this republic, instead of a place like, New Jersey, Cleveland, or Detroit.
But then I was reminded of a sobering Klei Yakar from Parshas Vayechi, and a Meshech Chochma from Bechukosai. The Klei Yakar comments on Yaakov losing his ruach hakodesh so he could not reveal the end of days to his children, because if they found out about the end of the days, and if in fact it was not for a long time, then people would despair and no longer long for the Geula, the redemption, and they wouldn’t cry out to Hashem. But the Klei Yakar comments that even today, when we don’t know when Moshiach will come, we still don’t long for the redemption, since we all live in large houses that we view as our permanent home, and are quite comfortable in galus. Similarly, the Meshech Chochma in Bechukosai comments that the reason Yaakov Avinu insisted in not being buried in Egypt, was that if he were, his descendants would view Egypt as their true home, and the would not long to go to Israel. By doing this, he instilled deep within the hearts of his future descendants an awareness that their living in exile was as a sojourner—not a real resident. He didn’t want his descendants getting confused and confusing their homes in galus for the real thing. We are not meant to be in galus.
There is a great story told about Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendelovich, on the occasion of the dedication of his new yeshiva in Monsey. His students observed that he looked a little sad, and they asked him, “Rebbe, why are you so sad? You have worked countless hours for this momentous occasion!” To this he responded with a moshel, a parable which helped describe his feelings: In the Bronx Zoo is located an attraction where a Polar Bear lives. And in this area, they set up the environment such that it can support a Polar Bear. They make it feel very cold, give it frozen fish for food, and make it think that it is actually in a freezing climate. But when you take a step back you smell the unmistakeable stench of urine that permeates the Bronx. And you observe the graffiti in various languages. And you realize, that no matter how hard they try to make it feel like an Arctic climate, you are still, very much in side the Bronx. So too, we Jews in exile have infrastructures that make us feel comfortable, that make us feel like we are home. But at the end of the day, this is not how it is meant to be. We Jews in galus are like Polar Bears in the Bronx zoo.
With this background, how appropriate is it, therefore, that our first child born in my birthplace, and my parents birthplace, and my great grandparents birthplace, is named Esther. And not only is this my birthplace, but is also the place that, after moving around for 11 years, we have “put down our roots,” buying a house, and having no intention of leaving for many years. It is appropriate to name our native Coloradan born daughter Esther not only because we see Esther in this week’s parsha, but because, as the Rabainu Bachya beautifully explains, that Esther min HaTorah is a reference to THIS LONG GALUS—This long exile—in which we currently find ourselves. Lest I get overly excited when calling my princess by her name, thinking about how great it is to have a child in my “home,” HER VERY NAME IS A REMINDER THAT THIS IS NOT HOME. That in fact, we are very much still in galus.
Now that I have described the incredible hashgacha pratis regarding the timing of her birth and the meaning of her name, I want to discuss briefly her namesake my dear Auntie of blessed memory. Less than a year before I was born, my grandmother, Margot Keinon, was tragically taken from this world, at a very young age. I never merited to meet her, though she inspires me everyday. After this tragedy, my auntie promised herself, and us, that she would raise us like her own grandchildren. She would strive to be the grandmother on my mother’s side that we never merited to meet. And indeed, she succeeded. I have very fond memories of spending nights over at her house, at her cooking me delicious homemade Chinese food, of watching Broncos Games on her couch. And perhaps the most powerful memory I have of her, is how every single time she saw me, she told me how wonderful I was, and how I could truly accomplish anything I put my mind to. Whether it was her comparing my looks to that of Mel Gibson’s, which I took as a compliment, despite his anti-Semitic leanings, or whether it was that I could become the president of the United States of America, she was perhaps the one person, more than anyone else I knew, who imbued within me a healthy sense of self-esteem, and a feeling that I actually could accomplish anything I set my mind to. Ever since she passed away, I was resolved to forever cherish and preserve her memory, by naming a child after her. I pray that our Esti will carry on her superb character traits, and will be a shining light for the Jewish people for many, many years to come.