What’s in a Name?

The chaos as I push into my house at the end of the work day, as little hands grab for me, slightly bigger voices call to me, telling me the details of their day, complaining, laughing, requesting, about events, teachers, lost toys, tests, projets, food, friend challenges. Toddlers wrestle. Some days it is almost enough to make me want to go back out. But then I remember 19 years ago. For each year as the 7th of Cheshvan approaches, it is a time of introspection. V’nahafoch hu. How quiet it was until that one cry pierced the morning.

I will retell the story of that time. I need inspiration, reconnection. Hashem may not always answer us. As Racheli Fraenkel told the world, “HaShem does not work for us.” But to forget that our teffilot are heard and can be answered is unfathomable.

So, I present the story, my story, as I wrote it over 15 year ago with changes in place only to streamline. And to thank my husband for the love that fills our house. And with the hope that this story, his story and our story will become a lifelong gift to my son.

Rosh HaShannah was approaching again. My husband and I were facing them as we had the two previous years, without children. Over the last year I had suffered through three miscarriages. We had sought brachot and advice from rabbies around the world and were told that sometimes these things take time.

Between Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur, my husband became ill with what we assumed was a bad cold or perhaps the flu. By Yom Kippur he was so sick that he could barely make it to shul for Kol Nidrei and barely made it back for neila.

We already had plane tickets to go to my husband’s parents for the first days of sukkot. We would then return home for my husband to teach and then head out again to my parents for the second days.

Although my husband went to two doctors, they both said that they thought the cough was nothing serious. By the time we arrived at my in-laws, it was obvious that he had made a turn for the worse. We summoned a doctor on yom tov who prescribed anti-biotics and cough medicine. By the time we left the first day for our early morning flight home, my in-laws were worried as well. They had heard their son lying awake for hours coughing and coughing. My husband’s father asked us to take him for an x-ray when we landed.

While my husband taught that day, I scheduled an appointment for him. He did not think it was necessary but did so to fulfill kibud av. After a look at the x-ray, the doctor told us that he saw pnemonia but something “looked funny” and that we should go to the radiologist. Immediately.

The second x-ray confirmed an unidentifiable mass. A biopsy was scheduled for the next morning. The results were not available until Friday. We pulled over to find a pay phone to call into to the doctor for the results. I took notes as my husband spoke. Soft tissue mass, lymphoma, thymic hyperplasia and other medical terms filled the page. The frum doctor told us not to cancel our trip for simchat Torah. What ever was there had been there for a while. Another biopsy was scheduled for the following week.

Keeping up the yom tov spirit was challenging. Only my family knew and my husband said that we should tell no one else until after the chag. “Only simcha on a chag,” he said and we obeyed his wishes. I was worried but he seemed calm. I could not understand how he maintained his serenity. The doctors told him that he might have cancer but he just kept saying that it would be alright.

The details of the next few weeks are relatively unimportant. The CT Scan guided biopsy was inconclusive so surgery was necessary but the pneumonia would not clear up which prevented the surgery.

The one detail that does stand out in my memory is perhaps the most significant. One night as I sat teary-eyed with worry, my husband revealed something extraordinary. He had not wanted to tell me but now he would to eliminate my concern.

On Rosh HaSHannah, he had davened to HaShem and said that he felt I had suffered enough with the miscarriages. Apparently there was some amount of kapparah we needed before we merited to have a child but he felt that I had already experienced my share. He said to HaShem that he wanted to take what ever remained of the kapparah upon himself. He beseeched HaShem to give him the physical suffering that was left and to afflict me no longer. And so he felt that this illness, what ever it was, would be the final step before we would have a child.

As you can imagine, I was surprised by this confession. And touched. He faced grueling biopsies, a horrible case of pnemonia, and what ever was yet to come with joy knowing that he was experiencing it in my stead.

Ultimately, surgery was scheduled. We were warned that is was a 99% chance of being cancer. Since the tumor’s location was less than 1cm from his heart, they had to saw open his sternum. People around the world stormed the heavens with prayers. Finally, after hours of waiting, the doctor called me from the waiting room and gave me the good news. Benign! After four days in the hospital, he was released.

A few weeks after surgery, the kollel in our community had an Hachnasat sefer Torah and Rav Yaakov Weinberger zt”l attended. After the ceremony, my husband’s first public appearance in weeks, he waited until everyone was done speaking to Rav Weinberger and approached. He told of the miscarriages and his recent surgery. Rav Weinberger took his hand and said, “Don’t worry. Be’ezras Hashem, within a year you will have a (child.)” That was the end of Chesham.

In sh’vat we received the long awaited news that I was expecting. We were concerned because of our history but we were bolstered with the thoughts of all that had transpired. As we began to approach the due date, which I knew to be 7 b’Cheshvan, I decided to look back to see what the date of the surgery had been a year before. I was shocked to see that the surgery was performed on the seventh of Cheshvan.

On Shabbat morning, the day before I was due, I woke up feeling like labor had begun. After Shabbat we went to the hospital only to be sent home. I was disappointed. This seemed like it was the right day. Apparently Hashem agreed because at 8:21am on the seventh of Cheshvan, our son was born.

So that is the story of the7th of cheshvan. But maybe there is one more piece. And this part is the present to our bechor. When we wanted to name our son, we wanted to capture our emotion. His first name, Yehuda was obvious. His middle name was inpired by a pasuk in Tehillim. “Odecha, ki anitani….” became Yehuda Otniel. We were thankful that Hashem aswered us. But the double entandre sealed the deal. One explanation renders the word “ki eneetani,” explaining the phrase to be “thanks that you afflicted me.” The trials and tribulations that we experienced were not meaningless. The created us anew, bringing us to where we arrived spiritually by the time of his birth.

Although 18 long and short years have passed since we met him, I hope that this message conveyed by his name will stand him in good stead. The paths that we all travel in life are filled with trials, but they are formative. And only at the end of those most challenging journeys do we find that we have arrived, improved, and are ready to give thanks not only for the outcome but for the journey as well.

About the Author
I am a mom, teacher (is that redundant?) and wife trying to serve Hashem in Galut. The rest is just commentary