It’s All in a Name: The Steipler, Rav Shmuel and Parshas Shelach


babyDavid and Sarah Fried were devastated when they learned that their new baby would be born with the dreaded disorder known as spina bifida. Children born with spina bifida usually require an operation shortly after birth which drains accumulated fluid near the brain. The surgery delayed the bris of their son, but it also gave the young parents more time to reflect on the choice of a name for this special child.

The Steipler Gaon, Rav Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky zt”l (1899-1985), said that a boy with this condition should be given a name such as Boruch, meaning blessed, which is an expression of both prayer and hope for his welfare. David and Sarah were reluctant to give this name, since they already had a daughter named Bracha, but Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky shlit”a, the Philadelphia Rosh Yeshiva, advised them that it was proper to do so despite the similarity in names. 

The next week’s parsha was that of Shelach. David saw a p’shat in the pirush of Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch zt”l explaining that when Moshe dispatched the meraglim to spy out Eretz Yisroel, he changed the name of Hoshea to Yehoshua as a prayer that the spies be safe and secure in their mission. Yehoshua would be a guiding light to his companions “not to lose sight” of their mission.

The idea of Yehoshua setting an example struck David. Yes, he would name the child Yehoshua, and he and his wife would strive to make their child so happy that he would be a positive influence on anyone beset by handicaps. Sarah agreed immediately. The baby progressed to where the bris could finally be scheduled.

The night before the bris, David’s father called and asked, “Have you decided on a name?” David avoided giving a direct answer. His father persisted, “If Sarah doesn’t have a particular relative whom she is obligated to name after, then I want you to name him after my brother Bernie who passed away a few months ago. No one has been named for him.”

His father was emphatic. David didn’t know what to say. He had liked and respected his uncle, but the other name meant so much to them. Still, he wanted to avoid a confrontation with his father.

“What was uncle Bernie’s name?” David asked reluctantly.

“Yehoshua Baruch!” came the startling reply.

(The above true story appears in Along the Maggid’s Journey by Rabbi Paysach Krohn.)

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