Names are always significant in Torah. In the case of Jacob’s wives, the sisters Leah and Rachel, names become a weapon in their rivalry. Although Jacob clearly prefers Rachel, it is Leah who becomes pregnant—multiple times—while Rachel is barren. To rub it in, Leah names her children Reuben (look, a son), Simeon (heard—as in, “G-d heard that I am despised and has given me this one too” Genesis 29:33), Levi (joined or attached, expressing her hope that the three boys will make her husband attached to her), Judah (thanks), Issachar (reward), Zebulun (exalt), and Dinah (justified). I can just imagine what it must have been like for Rachel to hear these children called home for dinner! Finally, G-d heeds Rachel’s prayers and sends her the first of her two sons, Joseph, whose name means “G-d will add.” I have been fiddling with this poem, for my nephew Joseph, since he was born, right around Thanksgiving day nineteen years ago.
When your uncle held me to his chest,
I thought I’d felt the final permutation
of love, that this same encompassing gesture
would extend to those we bore. Instead,
like the different postures they preferred
at the breast, each of my children made the mother
he or she required. Now, lifting you
from the crib, I think the name you bear—
“the Lord will add”—must be a prophecy.
Ask something of me, Joseph; make me new.