In times gone by, it was common for our names to represent us in literal ways. Last names like Shoemaker and Taylor indicated a profession. Today we might be described with added adjectives like redhead Eve or little Jay. Perhaps our first names hold special symbolic meaning as they do for the characters in the best-selling trilogy by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games. Names also carry a great deal of meaning in – you guessed it – this week’s parshah, Lech Lecha.
In The Hunger Games, the main characters are Peeta and Katniss. These two take center stage through their experiences in the capital and at the games, and a keen reader is quick to understand who these people are by their identifying names. Peeta, while spelled differently from the bread we eat, comes from a family of bakers known for their delicious breads. The other main character Katniss even recalls being saved from starvation only because of a loaf of bread this boy gave her. Thus, the name Peeta stands for the giving of sustenance to others.
Parshat Lech Lecha, the portion for this Shabbat, tells the narrative of Avram as he heads out on his journey. Much like in The Hunger Games where Katniss and Peeta don’t know what is really before them, so too, Avram is on a journey without a known ending. As Avram’s journey begins, he receives a brand new name; he goes from Avram to Avraham. This new name holds in it a description of who he will be in the world, the father of a great nation.
The names that we carry help to connect us to who we are and where we’ve come from; they become our identity, but they can also become our salvation. In another moment of triumph in The Hunger Games, Katniss is again fighting for survival. This time it’s her father’s advice that comes back to her and gets her through. “If you can find yourself, you will always live.” This reminder to be true to your own self is also the foundation of Avram’s evolution.
Avram became Avraham as he left home and went on his journey to find himself and discover faith and belief in God. Like our forefather, the two Hunger Games protagonists discover themselves as well. Peeta makes a name for himself as a generous and nourishing soul. And Katniss, the strong, wild girl who stands up for herself and her family is only able to reach her full potential after she realizes deep down who she really is.
Life is a journey. It has its ups and downs, and most of the time, we aren’t completely sure what lies ahead on the path. What we learn from Lech Lecha and The Hunger Games is that the best way to make the most of this adventure is to be true to ourselves.
THIS TOO IS TORAH: What is the origin of your last name or first name? Is it from a profession? A location?