Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 6 June 2009 / 13 Sivan 5769

Name for Life

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Anonymous
Dear Rabbi,

I have a sensitive question that I’m embarrassed to ask rabbis I know, so I thought to ask through this medium. I hope that’s ok. The question is like this: Thank G-d I am expecting, and it looks like it will be a boy. Now my grandfather, unfortunately, is very ill and we don’t know how much longer he has. He has had a long, good life, is a wonderful person and is a very righteous man. I would very much like to name the baby after him, particularly since this may be my last child. So you see, I am in a dilemma because no matter how much he’s suffering, I want him to live as long as possible and I shudder at the thought of losing him. On the other hand, no one lives forever and I find myself thinking (and I’m really sorry to say this), that if he were to pass on before the birth, I could honor him by naming the child after him. I’m really torn by these feelings between wanting to do what seems right and honorable, but feeling guilty about anticipating what that would entail. Please help me deal with these feelings and give me advice, if possible, about what to do.

Dear Anonymous,

I am happy to hear of your pending birth, and simultaneously sorry to hear of your grandfather’s failing health. Because of this unfortunate dichotomy, I completely empathize with your feelings. You must be understandably torn between wanting to honor your grandfather while feeling guilty about wanting to do so.

But first and foremost you must be concerned with your grandfather’s life and hope and pray for his well-being. Every moment a person has here in this world has tremendous impact on his well-being in the next. This is not only true regarding the Torah and mitzvot one does, but even regarding the suffering one endures, and even (or particularly) towards the end of life, even if the person does not seem to be aware of what’s happening to him. You honor your grandfather this way in a more tangible and immediate way than by naming after him, particularly if you are able to visit him and care for him in any way.

Regarding the timing of the pending birth — may you and the baby be healthy — this is something that is in the hands of G-d. And just as He enabled conception, He will decide the proper and best time for birth, and you can rely on Him to take the naming into consideration as well. You have to make every effort, including prayer, to ensure that the baby will have a full and healthy term, irrespective of your grandfather’s condition. Similarly, just as you shouldn’t want to shorten life, you wouldn’t want to lengthen and complicate pregnancy either, G-d forbid.

So what should you do? Pray for your grandfather’s health and extension of life while praying for a full and healthy pregnancy and birth. This answer might seem contradictory, which is why you’re torn, but it’s really not. You have to do what’s right in each situation independently, simultaneously praying for the benefit of both your grandfather and baby, and leaving the rest up to G-d since neither outcome is in your hands anyway. In the end, if the situation results in your naming the baby after him, you will be honoring him. If not, his seeing your baby and knowing that his line is being continued through you will also be a great source of pride and honor for him, even if you aren’t able to perceive it.

A family once held a brit where a great rabbi was present. After a long wait, the family approached the rabbi apologizing for the delay by explaining that the grandfather of the infant was on his deathbed and they were waiting for him to breath his last breath in order to be able to honor him by naming the child after him. They thought the rabbi would understand and appreciate such an honorable gesture. They were taken aback when the rabbi abruptly ordered the brit to commence immediately and commanded that the grandfather’s bed be placed next to the chair where the brit would be performed. Not understanding what the rabbi was thinking, the family nevertheless followed his instructions and the brit took place next to the dying man.

Needless to say, the child was not named after his grandfather. After some time, something very unusual happened. The grandfather gradually became well. When the family told the rabbi, he explained that not only Eliyahu is present at a brit, but also Raphael, the angel of healing, comes to heal the infant. He said rather than wait for the grandfather to die, I ordered you to bring him into the brit so while healing the infant, Raphael would heal his grandfather too.

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