6/27/2006

Naming Our Children, Part III

Part I, II

Rephael Amichai (Raphi) is named for my wife's maternal grandfather, whose name was Rephael Reuven. We added the name Amichai to resolve a certain ambiguity which exists in the name ‘Rephael’.

The Hebrew root r-p-a can mean ‘to cure’ or ‘to heal’, and there’s a big difference between the two. Curing is a biological process. It means preventing, reducing, or eradicating illness and disease. We relate to this aspect of ‘Refu’ah’ in the bracha of Asher Yatzar, which thanks God that all of our internal systems, our orifices and cavities, function properly, and which concludes ‘Who cures all flesh and does wondrous things’. This bracha, recited upon exiting the bathroom, is universal in its scope and message, but it is not the aspect of ‘refu’ah’ that we wished to emphasize with Raphi’s name.

The thrice-daily amidah contains a bracha for refu’ah as well. Here, there’s a sense of ‘healing’, an existential state of wholeness. It appears in context of a series of brachot that include repentance, atonement, and redemption. The phrases of the bracha are rooted in Yirmiyahu 17:13-14, where the cry ‘Refa’eini!’ comes in the wake of seeing God as the 'Mekor Mayim Chayim - Fount of Living Waters, and is followed by a call for salvation. The Psalm (6:2-11) that we recite as Tachanun describes an existential unhealed and unredeemed state and begs God for healing. This broader sense of healing - which includes the general sense of 'cure' - characterizes the special relationship between God and the Jewish people; thus, the bracha concludes with 'rofei cholei amo Yisrael ' and, according to the Talmud (Megillah 17b) is the eighth bracha of the amida in order to signify a connection to Brit Milah - the ultimate Jewish symbol of covenant and mission (for a full treatment of the structure and theme of this bracha, see the essay of Mori Ve-Rabbi R’ Ezra Bick, which can be found here. IMHO, this is the best stuff on tefillah that can be found in the English language. Period).
The name Amichai, which means ‘my living nation’ reflected, for us, the sense of a dynamic, living relationship between the Jewish people and God, and evokes the latter meaning of Refu’ah by relating specifically to that aspect which is unique to our people, and which is reflected in the 8th bracha of the Amidah. Thus, the name as a whole means “God heal my living nation”, which reflects our hopes and prayers.

The name Amichai also evokes the second chapter of Hoshea, which was also the source for Ruchama’s name. There (verse 1) we find a transition whereby Israel, is called ‘B’nei El Chai - Sons of the Living God’ instead of ‘Lo-Ami - You-are-not-my-nation’ (I would highly recommend a basic reading of the first two chapters of Hoshea in order to appreciate the story and its transitions). As a final twist, which really sealed the deal for us, the verse 3 of that same chapter states, “call your brothers 'Ami- My Nation' and your sisters 'Ruchama - shown compassion'", which explicitly connects the names of our two oldest children, brother and sister.
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