Changing Names

Moshe Ben-Chaim

Jessie: I just read a midrash about Moshe renaming Hoshea "Yehoshua." (Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 2:6 cited by the Torah Temima):

"The letter yud was taken from our Matriarch Sarai.  It went and prostrated before God and said, 'Master of the world, because I am the smallest letter, You uprooted me from this tzadekes Sarai?'

God answered him: 'In the past you were placed on a female name at the end of the name; by My life that I will place you in a male name at the beginning of the name.  And that is that it is written, "And Moshe called Hosea bin Nun 'Yehoshua'." (Moshe added Sarai's yud to the beginning of Hosea, renaming him Yehoshua)

My questions: 

1. What do we learn from the association of the yud from Hosea, being originally from the name of Sarai?

2. What is the comfort of being used at the head of a male vs. the end of a female name? What do we learn from the anthropomorphism of the yud?  

3. Why did Hashem make an oath to move the yud to a better location after it complained?  What do we learn from this?

Rabbi: Hebrew letters (the yud) cannot talk! What then can this mean? We must say the "cause" for which the yud pleaded with God, is a worthy cause; for we see God complied with the yud. Now we must discover the valid claim the yud presented before God.

I asked my friend Rabbi Pearl about this medrash. He said "Sarai" (before God named her Sarah) meant "my Master," as in "God is my Master."  Sarah, now means God is not only my master, but Master in general not only my personal Master. This makes sense, as Sarah was renamed in proximity to Avraham being renamed from Avram. And we are told why, he was to be a father to nations. Sarah too was now to share this role. Thus, the renaming from Sarai to Sarah.  Midrash Rabba states this openly (Gen. 47:1): "Rav Manna said, 'In the past Sarai was to herself, now Sarah will be to all those who enter the world'."

Base on what Rabbi Perl said, I surmised that Sarai's relationship to God was one of tznius, explaining the independent or secluded reference, Sarai, "my Master." This private relationship is what is meant by the letter yud. And it is this precise trait that Moshe saw Hosea required, if he was to isolate himself from the counsel of the Spies and maintain loyalty to God. Moshe prayed that "Yehoshua" would find the strength to stand independent from the Spies, so as to defend himself from succumbing to their evil plan. The Yud represents one's private relationship with God. And this private trait, is more feminine, than the more brazen male personality. Thus, the yud is Sarai is at the end of her name, a modest position, whereas the yud in Yehoshua is at the beginning, a prominent position. 

We are taught that this trait in in fact not reserved for women, but it is a boon to both genders. I recall the Chazal that says tazddikim are akin to women. A wise Rabbi once said it means they are less driven to build empires and accomplish "grand" things. This trait, to be subdued and be a tznuah, a modest person, is a highly-praised trait.

Why did Hashem make an oath to move the yud to a "better" location after it complained? It was not a "better" location. Perhaps the beginning means more prominent, as in, more needed by Yehoshua.