Thursday, March 12, 2009

I know my name

I will choose Miriam Tzipora.

I like that these names are associated with Moses and the stories of Exodus. I like that they appear in the parshiot that correspond with my birthday. I like that they are very clearly Biblical names, but they do not refer directly to G-d; they refer to nature. I like that they were both pretty amazing women, one a prophetess, the other the great woman behind a very special man.

I even like that they are opposites, in a few ways; Miriam had a problem with Moses's wife, who goes unnamed in that particular story, for being dark (and probably for taking up so much of his attention), so HaShem makes Miriam snow-white by afflicting her with leprosy for a week. They are also opposites in terms of background. Miriam was born an Israelite, the sister of Judaism's great leader and also of the first high priest. Tzipora, however, was not born into the tribe; she would have been a convert like me, from a different religious background (also with family ties to a high priest, being the daughter if the high priest of Midian).

I choose Miriam, partly because it is the name my mother suggested for me when I asked her. It was one of the names I asked her about and she liked the meanings behind it. She thought it fit me best. It's not completely clear what Miriam actually means.
In Egyptian, it could mean "beloved", which my mom thought was good, partly because when we watched the movie (based in the Toni Morrison novel), Beloved's mother tells her "you're my best thing", and my mom always thought the same of me.
In Hebrew, Miriam means "bitter water/sea", which almost sounds like a bad thing. But I've always loved being near the ocean, even though I don't love swimming. So a reference to water makes sense for me. To explain the bitter part, I like thinking about a Chinese idiomatic 
expression, "to eat bitter". This is how they would talk about perseverence. To me, that is very important, because that which is worthwhile is not always easy. It also seems to apply to the Biblical Miriam, because she was known for her kindness and generosity of spirit, even when she was going through difficult times personally.

That is something I asipre to and, I think, very worthy of a name.

I choose Tzipora, partly because it refers to my mother's pet name for me, in a way. Tzipora means "little bird", and as best I can tell, usually refers to a songbird. Mom liked to call my sister and I her "little chickadees". She doesn't say it about my sister as much anymore, but she still says it to me. Chickadees are very common birds in my hometown, and they used to congregate in our backyard to eat the tiny crabapples on our flowering crabapple tree. I also like Tzipora because I have always pictured her as dynamic, graceful and intuitive. Part of how I picture Tzipora is very dependent on how I perceive the relationsip between Moses and his wife, and therefore in how I understand marriage. Because Moses was clearly very special, I picture Tzipora being special, too. I think she was there to support Moses and help him find the courage to do what he needed to accimplish, whether it was dealing with his guilt after he killed the Egyptian, pulling himself together enough to confront Pharaoh, or constantly acting as a go-between with HaShem and the Israelites.She also showed that she understood what Moses taught her about HaShem and the covenants when she thought fast during the bridegroom of blood incident and saved Moses' life (or maybe Gershom's).

I think this is especially important to me and worthy of a name, because she, like myself, learned the mitzvot as an adult and took on the challenge of adapting to life with slightly new rules.

Try as I might, I couldn't decide between the two. Both names hold a great deal of meaning, both in Jewish culture and for me personally. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I would never be able to pick just one. I think it is best to take them in combination 
and hope that I can live up to them.

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