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My Granddaughter’s Name

Last week, my wife and I were blessed with a third grandchild and I had the fortune of personally naming her last Shabbat. What is her name? Aviah Devora. She was named Devora after my son-in-law’s grandmother who was a righteous woman who passed away two years ago. She was named Aviah because my daughter and son-in-law liked the name and because in Hebrew it means, “God is my father.”  My daughter, Ahava, explained the name as both a blessing and prayer for her daughter that she should live her life always with this awareness of God being her father.

Our Sages instituted numerous blessings and prayers to create daily, formal opportunities to introduce a framework of basic God-awareness, similar to what my children were trying to accomplish in naming their daughter Aviah.  Of course, there are different ways in which we relate to God.  At times, we relate to God as “avinu malkenu,” as our father and our king.  What does it mean to relate to God specifically as a parent as opposed to a king?

Typically, we obey a king because we are afraid of punishment.  If we break the law then we will be punished.  The king demands strict obedience.  Sometimes we may not have an internal motivation to do what is right, so that’s when we need to feel that God is our king.  However, we obey a parent because we love and revere him or her and we feel that we have a personal, intimate relationship with him or her.  Having God-awareness of a God as a father means feeling what Rav Soloveitchik described as “the gentle pressure of [God’s] hand resting upon my frail shoulders.”

Having this awareness of God as our father is even more important in the time period in which we find ourselves.  Last Shabbat when I named the baby, we announced and blessed the upcoming Hebrew month of Av, which we will begin this week.  The Hebrew month of “Av” is derived from the Babylonian month, “Abu.”  Abu in the Sumerian religion was a minor god of plants and Abu means “father of plants and vegetation.”  Of course, in Hebrew, the month of “Av” means “father.”  It seems rather peculiar that the month of “father” is the month that the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed.  But maybe that’s the point.  Maybe the point is that we recognize that even though the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed, God is still our father.  God is not simply a king who punishes a servant who disobeys Him.  God is a parent who sometimes must discipline His child, but that discipline does not in any way diminish His love for us.  Indeed, this month is sometimes called “Menachem Av,” because we look to our father to be “menachem” us and to console and comfort us after we suffered the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash during this month.  The name for this month of “Menachem Av” reminds us that God is always there to comfort us in times of tragedy.

The Ramban writes that the only Biblically-mandated prayer is prayer in times of crisis.  Every other prayer, such as the prayers that we recite on a daily basis, was only created by the Rabbis.  While this may seem intuitive – to call out to God in our suffering and pray – in fact, doing so represents a real theological challenge.  It is easy to believe in God and to sing His praises when everything is great.  However, to turn to God when we are faced with questions – why do I have this illness, why can’t I find a shidduch, why can’t we have children, why can’t I find a job – indicates a desire to feel connected to Him even when we struggle with His will.  Turning to God during times of crisis means that we remain faithful even when it is hard to have faith.  Turning to God during times of crisis means that we view God as our father, who is there to comfort us at all times, even during the month of Av.

My wife and I hope and pray that our new granddaughter Aviah Devora lives up to her name that pays tribute to a righteous woman and that highlights her special relationship with her Father in Heaven.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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