Parshas Vayeitzei (5777)
King David writes in Tehillim (Psalms 46:9): "Go and see the works of G-d, Who has wrought devastation (shamos in Hebrew) in the land."
The Talmud in Berachos 7a interprets this verse homiletically and teaches that the Hebrew name by which a person is called is not arbitrary, but a result of Divine inspiration. A name describes a person's true nature and affords a glimpse into his future accomplishments. This we learn from a homiletical reading of our verse. Instead of shamos, ‘devastation’, read, sheimos, ‘names’. Thus, Go out and behold the accomplishments of G-d (which are man's destiny to fulfill), for He has placed "names" in the land.
We thus find in the Talmud in Yoma 83 that Rav Meir dayik b'shmah - Rabbi Meir used to look into people's names in order to gain a glimpse of their essence. And we are told that the great Kabbalists were actually able to perceive the true character of a person based on his or her Hebrew name.
So we see from here that the name that we give a child is serious business, and should not be taken lightly.
[What Leo Rosten writes must be true because if the name Yenta really meant a ‘blabbermouth’, no one would ever have given their child such a horrible name at birth. Obviously, what happened was that some woman with the beautiful name Yenta was an incredibly obnoxious and meddlesome gossip and her name began to have negative associations attached to it, until everyone forgot its original meaning.]
Years later I found the name Adina in the Bible (although spelled with an alef at the end) – but as a man’s name. Yikes!! [Adina is the name of a soldier found in 1 Chronicles 11:42.]
The feminine name Adina, however, is a modern Hebrew name that is not to be found anywhere in the Bible, but the word itself can be found in Isaiah 47:8. There Adina refers to the ‘delicate’ and ‘pampered’ nation of Babylon.
I recently read a book about Hebrew names in which the great Torah scholar Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a quotes from an obscure Midrash named Sefer HaYashar (in Parshas Toldos) that Lavan’s wife was named Adina!!
This really irked me. After all, in this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Vayeitzei, we read all about how wicked and dishonest Lavan was, and I imagine that his wife was a perfect shidduch (match) for him as well! So why would we name our innocent baby daughter Adina if that was originally the name of a wicked person like Lavan’s wife?! We would never name our son Lavan, would we?
I later found that Rabbi Kanievsky himself addresses this question. He writes that if Lavan’s wife could raise two such incredible Tzidkaniyos (righteous women) like Rachel and Leah in the house and under the nose of the wicked Lavan, she must have been an incredibly righteous woman in her own right, and one can certainly name a child after her!