February 19, 2016 admin


We carry names in all kinds of ways.
The Torah describes Aaron the High Priest as bearing names. Two stones are attached to the shoulders of one of his special garments, the ephod, each carved with the titles of six of the tribes of Israel. Aaron wears these ‘stones of memory…as a memorial before God’ when he enters the Temple (Exodus 28:12).  In this way he ‘carries the judgment of the Children of Israel on his heart before God at all times’ (28:30).
I found these garments and their meaning simply strange, – until I began to think of them as a kind of jewellery.
I took my grandfather’s wedding ring out of its small blue box to remind myself: it’s carved on the inside with his and my grandmother’s initials. He told me how he wore that ring every day of their almost sixty years of marriage, – except when the Nazis took it from him in Dachau.
But most of the names we carry are not born by us in physical form. They are in our memories and our hearts. We carry them chiefly out of love. They are tokens of our attachment to worlds beyond place and time. We do not cease to wear them when those we love cease to live in this world, just as that love does not stop flowing in our thoughts and feelings.
They are also symbols of our responsibility. An unnamed commentary observes that ‘the second reason Aaron wears the names [of the Children of Israel] on his shoulders as that ‘he bears them as a father carries his children on his shoulders to protect them and save them from stumbling, lest their feet trip over a stone’.
Who are the named, and the unnamed, whom we carry in our hearts? I came across the Greek word for ‘unnamed’ many times this week: agnostica, in the feminine form. It was in a clearing amidst olive groves not far from Mitilene, not far in turn from the rocky beaches where the dinghies bearing fifty or more frightened refugees were coming ashore day and night, as close as they could to where the flags and bonfires of rescuers awaited them.
These were the graves of the drowned: ‘unknown woman’, ‘unknown baby, age 3 months’, with the date of the disaster. A man named Mustafa explained that, when he learnt how many of the dead were left unburied for weeks, he took upon himself to create this small, peaceful cemetery where they could be laid to the rest they never found in their lives.
He carried their names, and the loss of their names, in his heart, together with the names of the relatives who called him from different countries to enquire: ‘Was my relative laid to rest by you? Do you know what became of him?’
Whom do we carry in our hearts? First and foremost it is those we love. Next are the names of our communities and our people. And then we carry, or should do, some of the names of those who have no one to bear or care for them on this earth. We carry them in our hearts, lest they be forgotten, lest they receive no justice, before humanity and God.

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