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Who Am I?

July 18, 2020

“I don’t understand, are you moving to Glenbrook or Northbrook? Which one?” my friends asked me when I informed them of our move a couple of years ago. “Honestly, I’m not sure. I also can’t figure it out, but I’ll let you know when I do,” would more-or-less be my usual response. It took some time, but by now, I’ve become more knowledgeable and comfortable explaining all about the mythical city of Glenbrook, why you’ll never find it on a map, and why, in fact, the shul I’m a part of is Darchei Noam Glenbrook… in Northbrook. (I can’t wait until they find out that I live in unincorporated!)

At the end of Parshas Matos, we read of the naming of some cities on the eastern side of the Jordan, which, at first glance, seems about as important as whether you call it Glenbrook or Northbrook. In fact, regarding a bunch of cities, the Torah writes, “ויקרא בשמת את שמות הערים אשר בנו, and they called them by names other than the ones that they had built. (Bamidbar 32:38)” In other words, as Bnai Yisrael conquered and built up these new cities, they renamed them, but their exact names are not significant enough for the Torah to inform us of each one specifically.

However, the parsha concludes by mentioning two specific cities:

ויאיר בן מנשה הלך וילכד את חותיהם ויקרא אתהן חות יאיר. ונבח הלך וילכד את קנת ואת בנתיה ויקרא לה נבח בשמו.

Yair the son of Menashe went and captured their villages, and called them Chavos-Yair. Novach went and captured Kenas and her suburbs, and called it Novach, after his name. (Bamidbar 32:41-42)

And although these two cities, Chavos-Yair and Novach, seem to just be two regular names, there is a profound message hidden within them.

Rashi notes that the word לה (referring to the city of Novach) in this context would should grammatically contain a מפיק, or a dot inside the ה, but here it’s missing. And he explains:

ויקרא לה נבח- לָה אֵינוֹ מַפִּיק הֵ"א, וְרָאִיתִי בִיסוֹדוֹ שֶׁל רַ' מֹשֶׁה הַדַּרְשָׁן לְפִי שֶׁלֹּא נִתְקַיֵּם לָהּ שֵׁם זֶה לְפִיכָךְ הוּא רָפֶה, שֶׁמַּשְׁמָעוּת מִדְרָשׁוֹ כְּמוֹ לֹא.

And He called it Novach- The word לה has no mappik in the ה (as the word לָהּ, “to it,” usually has). Now I have seen the following in the work of R. Moshe HaDarshan: Because this name did not remain permanently to it, therefore the letter ה is weak (without a mappik), the implication of his explanation being that it (the word לה) is the same as לא “not.” (Rashi Bamidbar 32:42)

Meaning, Yair conquered cities and named them Chavos Yair, or the villages of Yair. This name lasted, as is apparent from a description of Yair’s wealth many years later:

ויהי לו שלשים בנים רכבים על שלשים עירים ושלשים עירים להם להם יקראו חות יאיר עד היום הזה אשר בארץ הגלעד.

He had thirty sons, who rode on thirty burros and owned thirty boroughs in the region of Gilead, these are called Chavos-Yair. (Judges 10:4)

We learn two things from this passage: Yair was a very wealthy man, and the name of his conquered villages, Chavos-Yair, stuck. On the other hand, Rashi teaches, Novach conquered villages and named them Novach, but that name did not last. Those cities are not mentioned again later in Tanach.

The question is why this is so, and why any of this matters. What can we learn from the fact that the name Chavos-Yair stuck, and the name Novach didn’t? R. Shimon Schwab, in his Maayan Beis Hashoeva, explains that the answer can be found in the names themselves. Both Yair and Novach were very wealthy people. Both were successful in leading military missions to conquer their cities. And both named their new territories after themselves. But there was one very significant distinction. Yair names his area Chavos-Yair, the villages of Yair. He used his own name, memorializing that these villages are his. Novach, however, chose not to name his area Chavos-Novach, or the villages of Novach. Rather, he named them Novach, his very name. This, R. Schwab explains, indicates that Novach defined his very essence by his possessions. He didn’t view his assets as merely something that he owned, something that can come and go, a gift to be appreciated, but not taken for granted. Instead, he viewed his possessions as part of him, as his identity. When one understands that his wealth and resources are something he owns, but not a part of him, then it can last. But when Hashem saw that Novach named his city with his same name, indicating that he saw his land as a part of him, He made sure that it would not last, but be recorded merely as a lesson to learn from.

Every day in Shema, we say, “ואהבת את ה' אלקיך בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך ובכל מאדך, And you shall love Hashem, your G-d, with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your מאד. (Devarim 6:5)” Rashi explains what it means to love G-d with your soul and with your מאד:

ובכל נפשך- אפילו הוא נוטל את נפשך. ובכל מאדך- בכל ממונך יש לך אדם שממונו חביב עליו מגופו לכך נאמר בכל מאדך.

With all of your soul- even if He takes your soul. With all of your מאד- with all of your money, as there are some people whose money is more beloved to them than their body, and therefore it says, “with all of your money.” (Rashi Devarim 6:5)

Rashi translates מאד as money, and thus seems to be bothered by a very simple question. If the Torah had just taught that one must love Hashem even if it means giving up his life, then isn’t it obvious that he has to be willing to give up his money for Hashem?! What’s more important- your life or your money?! And Rashi answers that there are, indeed, some people who would sooner give up their life than their money. Like R. Schwab explained, there are some people whose possessions, money, or wealth is so intricately connected with their essence and identity that the idea of losing money can feel like the loss of a part of one’s being.

Of course, wealth has its place and can be used for so many good things. Yair used his power and resources to help Bnai Yisrael conquer parts of the land of Israel, and to provide for his family and others. He understood that he was fortunate to have all of it, but that it remained something separate and external from who he was. And that’s why Hashem helped him succeed, and it lasted. We live in a world where money speaks, and where many people spend most of their waking hours at work or dealing with financial matters. Let’s make sure never to forget the difference between the things that we have, and who we truly are. 

Have a good Shabbos!

Rabbi Fox

Fri, September 29 2023 14 Tishrei 5784