Influential Names & Monopolies on Truth

Moshe Ben-Chaim

This week, a Rabbi endorsed the view that our names determine our "fate." He actually committed theft by selling his name readings, claiming to give insight into a person based on his name alone…for a price. 

Let's think: if fate were a reality, repentance and good deeds would be useless, since a force not in our control called "fate" would be steering our lives; not us. But as free will has been demonstrated since man walked the Earth, we reject the notion of fate. God too rejects fate, as He says we have the "choice" to live by Torah or not. Now, if there were in fact such "forces" that compel our fate, while God says otherwise, that we can choose…this makes God out to be a liar and an unjust ruler. Clearly, this position violates Torah's most primary fundamentals.

This Rabbi quoted the Vilna Gaon and rejected Maimonides to support the notion that our names possess some power. But name dropping — even of a great intellect — without reasoning and proof, in no way validates any notion. King Solomon taught under Divine inspiration, "For man is not righteous in the land who does good and does not sin (Ecclesiastes 7:20)." Even Moses sinned. So no man or woman has a monopoly on truth. Therefore, quoting alone, even someone as great as the Vilna Gaon, does not validate the notion. The Rabbi offered no reason for his siding with the Vilna Gaon, leaving us clueless as to why he rejected Maimonides. 

How then do we determine truth, or "reality?"

Unless some notion is proven to be fact, it does the believer no good — and usually harm — to accept such fantasy as reality. Only that which has been experienced is called reality. Thus, as the Rabbi's support of gilgul (reincarnation) and the power of names both remain without proof, it is worthless to say "I accept this as truth."

The Creator granted man five senses for the precise purpose of relying on them to determine truth from falsehood. If we do not witness or detect a phenomenon, we must not accept it. This is God's will. For if we are to accept as real any matter we have not witnessed, we must then accept any prophet and any religious claim throughout time, including Jesus, Mohammed, et al. Yet, God instructs us not to accept any of them (Deut. 13:4). We witnessed Revelation at Sinai; we know Judaism to be true. God orchestrated Revelation precisely to offer man proof of the senses. It is then unreasonable to suggest that God wishes we accept matters like mysticism that are bereft of proof.

God requires we apply reason and proof to all areas of life. By suddenly abandoning our senses and reasoning, and accepting reincarnation and name influence, we abandon God's will. The Torah openly records God's admonition of Cain, warning him that "sin crouches at the door," but that repentance is equally available. Thus, Cain's name had nothing to do with his decisions, as God stated. This opinion of name influence, is accepted only by those ignorant of the Torah.

Furthermore, by accepting this view that our names determine our lives, we reject God's Torah fundamental of "free will."  We know we have free will, so we know this view is false.

The only influence a name has upon its bearer is through identification. If I am named Moses, I might (and I stress "might") attempt to live up to his great image. But other than this, there is no basis for suggesting a name possesses any abilities. In fact, a name is merely an idea, not a physical force like fire, which has physical properties. In contrast, names are in no manner related to the physical world, or mankind. Similarly, the Talmud (Sabbath 156a) teaches that a person might identify with the events that occurred during the Six days of Creation: "One born on Sunday will be either totally good, or totally evil." Rashi states that since Sunday is the “lead” day of the week, one who is born on Sunday will also be a leader, in either the good life, or the evil life. This is explained by simple identification; the person views his birth day with great significant. He feels, "There must be reason why I was born on Sunday." This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is no need to concoct fantasies of "powers" residing in days, or powers within a name.

Reviewing the Matriarch's lives, we notice Rachel and Leah naming the Twelve Tribes. Leah names a few of her children after her hopes that Jacob would love her. Rachel names Joseph after her wish that God will yet add (yosef) to her lot another son. These women far surpass anyone today. Yet, they attributed no "mystical" meaning to the naming of children, as this Rabbi suggests.

It is worthwhile to reiterate an idea mentioned above. As the Torah — God's "complete" blueprint for life — has no mention of mysticism, including the power of names and all other such notions, we must make a conclusion. That conclusion is that God's omission teaches that they are not true. Would our fair and just God leave mankind in the dark about "powers," had they been real, and could improve our lives? Would God record the stories of the Patriarch's and Matriarch's difficult times, and omit their use of sorcery and mysticism, had they truly acted this way? We must appreciate that Torah is a system of inclusion, and "exclusion." What is excluded is done so, since it is false. God tells us how Jacob prepared himself when his twin Esav approached, threatening his life, and the lives of all with him. Jacob prayed, he prepared a bribe, and he prepared for battle. But he did not engage in mysticism. Neither did any other Patriarch or Prophet. The reason is because these prophets knew mysticism was not real.

Stating that the Vilna Gaon did not agree with Maimonides does not mean the Vilna Gaon is correct. The burden of proof remains on such individuals to prove their theories, or to abandon them. But to accept something as true without proof means the adherent of such view is not following his mind. It would be wise to say "I have no evidence that such and such is true." But to say "It's true, but I have no proof" is a confession that one has abandoned his reasoning. Of such a person, King Solomon said, "A fool believes everything he hears (Proverbs 14:15)."