A nickname Israel

By Rabbi Dovid Markel


In a beautiful talk from the Lubavitcher Rebbe said on 12 Tammuz 5744 (1984), the Rebbe explains the statement of the verse (Yeshayahu 44:5) “וּבְשֵׁם יִשְׂרָאֵל יְכַנֶּה-and adopt the name Israel,” which conveys that there are individuals that state that their name Israel, is only their nickname or kinnuy.

This means to say, that if someone were to ask them for their name, they’d tell you a secular name, not their Jewish name, as they merely see that as something they are called, and referred to as, not as their main name.

The Rebbe, however, conveyed a different idea in the concept of a nickname, “a nickname is something that you are called by your family,” said the Rebbe.

“These individuals are comfortable with being Jews when they around mishpachah, then the name is dear to them. However, they are embarrassed to use their nickname in public.”

I believe the Rebbe’s reinterpretation is a somewhat transformative explanation of the idea: וּבְשֵׁם יִשְׂרָאֵל יְכַנֶּה.” It does not mean as the normative translation “and adopts the name Israel,” which conveys that really they do not act like Jews, and merely adopt a name that is not real for them, but the opposite.

It is the statement that the “secular” Jew remarks:

“I love Judaism, it is dear to me, and it is the nickname that I use in private when I am amongst family. However, since I need to be a part of civilization I use my *deeper,* or more objectively true name, that I am a *human being* that is a part of society.”

In truth though, not only is “Israel-Jew” a name that is endearing, it is the objectively true manner that a Jew should express himself, both in public and private.

Being a Jew is not merely a nostalgia of remembering one’s youth, but for a Jew to be *true* to *himself,* and his identity (not merely as a nostalgia for the endearing name of one’s youth), he should be expressive of his Jewish name and identity, both in private and in public; both together with family, and as a member of the greater civilization.

“Jew,” is not only a nickname, it is who he is. He should surely be expressive of his core being, and not deny it.

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