What’s in a name?

The Talmud in Bava Batra 119b quotes a Braita which teaches:

The daughters of Tzelophchad were wise, they were expounders of the Torah and they were righteous.

We see from here, that the rabbis gave the daughters of Tzelophchad a lot of credit for approaching Moshe and asking if they can inherit their father’s land as they had no brothers to inherit it.

What we don’t see in the Tanach or in the Midrash is an explanation of the meaning of the names of the daughters of Tzelophchad (who are mentioned four times in the Tanach), and listed in Parshat Masei (Bamidbar 36:11) in the following order: Machla, Tirtza, Hogla, Milka and Noa.

Ba’al HaRokeach, Rabbi Elazar of Germaiza (12-13th c.), one of the greatest scholars of Hasidei Ashkenaz, came up with his own interpretation of what their names mean. Professor Ephraim Hazan interprets Ba’al HaRokeach’s commentary:

Machla and Noa mean song with dance. He sees in the names, Machla and Noa movement within song and dance, prayers to God and trust in Him as it says in Tehillim 37:7 “Wait silently for the salvation of God and wait longingly (vehitcholel) for Him…” He adds another explanation for the name Noa, she moves like an instrument that you shake, like it says in Shmuel Bet, 6:5 “And David and all of B’nai Yisrael were rejoicing before God with all kinds of cypress wood instruments, with harps, lyres, drums, timbrels (b’mina’anim) and on cymbals”, in other words, an instrument which is used to praise God. Milka, (from the root melech, king/queen) caused Moshe to be coronated as king by God. When she and her sisters asked the question about their inheritance, Moshe had to consult with God. Hogla, means a circle dance. Tirtza, happy (merutza) and wants (rotza) what God wants (retzon kona), these are all plays on the root (ratza) in her name. She is happy with what she has and respects what God gives her.

Ba’al HaRokeach teaches us that from their names, we learn about their love of God, connection to Him, wisdom, joy, and appreciation of themselves and of God. We can also learn about their agility, diligence and accomplishments.

Unfortunately, Rabbi Elazar’s wife, Dolcea of Worms, whose name means agreeable, pleasant and kind in Latin and their two daughters were murdered in their home, right in front of him. Dolcea was a true woman of valor who ran the home, was a businesswoman and a Torah scholar. In Dolcea’s honor, Rabbi Elazar wrote a tribute to her and her accomplishments.

May we gain strength from learning about the daughters of Tzelophcahad and Dolcea and may there be many more female leaders in Israel.

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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