What’s In a Name?
Is it any use changing our names to improve our luck? The answer comes from none other than the ancient Book of Zohar, which reveals the secrets concealed in names and letters
Have you ever gotten lost browsing through a book of names, trying to find the hidden meaning behind your name, or that of your significant other, your children, or friends? Is this fascination with names, letters and their hidden meanings childish and naïve, or based on real phenomena? And if it is genuine, can we manipulate our names to turn around our fortune for the better, as many people today try to do?
The Book of Zohar sheds light on all these questions in the “Essay About the Letters,” which begins:
When the Creator thought to create the world, all the letters of the alphabet came to Him in reverse order from last (Tav) to first (Aleph). The letter Tav entered first and said, “Master of the world! It is good, and also seemly of You, to create the world with me. For I am the seal on Your ring, called EmeT (truth), that ends with the letter Tav. And that is why You are called truth, and why it would befit the King to begin the universe with the letter Tav, and to create the world by her. The Creator answered: “You are beautiful and sincere, but do not merit the world that I conceived to be created by your properties.”
In this playful, pictorial essay, the ancient text gradually reveals the secrets concealed in every letter. The article proceeds to describe how every letter stood in line, waiting for its turn to speak to the Creator in order to ask Him to be used in creating the world.
Interestingly, the letters come to the Creator in reverse order, from the last letter of the alphabet, Tav, to the first, Aleph. The Creator patiently hears every letter out and gives it a chance to argue its case. But the only letter He finally chooses for creating the world is none other than Bet.
With the Letter Bet, the World Was Created
The letter Bet entered and said to the Creator: “Maker of the world, it would be good to create the world by me, as by me You are blessed Above and below. For Bet is Berachah (blessing).” The Creator replied to Bet: “Of course, I will create the world by you, and you shall be the basis of the world!”
Why did the Creator choose none other than the letter Bet to create the world? And why does the story advance in the reverse order of the letters? And what does this fascinating Kabbalistic story have to do with us?
The Hidden Meaning of the Letters
Each of the 22 Hebrew letters alludes to a spiritual revelation that a Kabbalist has experienced. All the various combinations of letters – the words, sentences and phrases found in Kabbalah books - depict the entire spiritual reality that was actually felt by the Kabbalists who wrote these books.
This reality is available to each and every one of us. We can advance up the spiritual path leading to the Creator, gradually expanding our understanding and sensation of the inner (hidden) meaning of each letter. We will then uncover layer after layer of the spiritual reality.
It’s a bit like climbing a ladder whose rungs are the letters – the qualities of the spiritual world. However, the Creator is positioned at the top of the ladder, whereas we are positioned at the bottom. That’s why The Book of Zohar talks about the letters in reverse order, beginning with Tav and ending with Aleph: it is telling us, from our perspective, how to climb the spiritual ladder to the Creator, from below upwards.
This brings us to the essence of The Zohar’s story about the letters: it isn’t talking about the letters at all, but is indeed describing a person’s inner, spiritual journey. We begin this journey from a state where we are completely remote from sensing the Creator (represented by the last letter of the alphabet – Tav). Then, step by step, we go through all the letters (spiritual states) until finally arriving at the full revelation of the Creator’s attitude to us: an attitude of perfect love and wholeness (represented by the letter Bet).
When we attain this spiritual state, we discover the Creator's love towards us and gain the ability to love Him. Through this newly acquired attitude, we ascend to none other than the level of the Creator Himself.
At that point, we discover one more letter - the letter Aleph, which stands at the head of the alphabet.
Change Your Perception, Not Your Name
Names, words and phrases are combinations of letters, and hence they, too, depict various discernments and degrees of the Creator's attitude toward us. More specifically, they are various degrees of the revelation of His attitude to a person.
The order and connections between the letters in a word or a sentence form a path of alternating spiritual feelings. They are descriptions of how these feelings alternate and replace one another within a person moving up the spiritual ladder toward the Creator. If we keep this hidden meaning of the letters in mind, then reading a Kabbalistic text turns into a real spiritual experience, a true entrance into the spiritual world.
This brings us back to the question of names and their meanings. In Kabbalah, a person’s name is determined by the spiritual level he has reached. As we move closer to the Creator, revealing His attitude more and more, we reveal different orders and combinations of the letters. Therefore, our “names” will continuously change according to our spiritual attainment.
And only at the highest spiritual level does one attain one’s real name. This is very different from changing our names “artificially” in an attempt to improve our luck. If we really want to change the course of our lives for the better, and to discover our ideal names, then we must climb the spiritual ladder and broaden our spiritual perception. There, in the spiritual world, we are sure to find the names we seek.