nd Yaakov asked and said, ‘Now tell me your name,’ and he said, ‘Why do you ask for my name?’ And he blessed him there.” (Bereishis 32:30)


The Midrash says that the angel of Eisav that fought with Yaakov was actually the Satan, the yetzer hara.

At the end of their struggle, Yaakov asked the angel, “What is your name?” To which the angel responded, “Why do you ask for my name?” and ended the conversation without revealing his name.

The Midrash says that the angel’s response of “Why do you ask for my name?” was actually his name! But what kind of name is that? (Rav Yehudah Leib Chasman, Ohr Yahel)

When Avi was younger he went through a stage of identifying every car on the street, its make and model.

“Look, Ma! There’s a hybrid Honda Civic! That one’s a Fiat Panda. But my friend’s uncle has a Jeep Cherokee! Now, that’s the type of car we need!”

I had no idea what a Jeep Cherokee looked like, but I was pretty sure we didn’t need it.

Avi and his friends collected pictures of car logos and traded them accordingly. Ferraris were worth ten measly Hondas. Then my father-in-law gave him a photo of Lamborghini’s icon. Avi was king of the cars.

I tried to take an interest in his interest.

“See that Mazda, Ma?” he’d point out the window as we were driving. All I saw were lines of cars contributing to the traffic jam I was sitting in. “It’s a Mazda Six.”

I couldn’t identify the Mazda or the BMW or even a Toyota similar to the one I owned. Avi was patient with me, but the names simply wouldn’t stick in my brain. I had a mind block when it came to the many models.

It reminded me of one year in camp. Several of my bunkmates were into baseball and they’d discuss players endlessly, while all I wondered was why the Red Sox didn’t wear socks that color.

They’d try to include me in the discussion. “You even have Cal Ripken!”

I do? Was that good?

Despite their efforts, the names eluded me. It was obvious that names just weren’t my thing.

A name symbolizes the essence inherent within. Therefore, when the Satan responded, “Why do you ask for my name?” he’s saying that he has no name — he has no essence. The yetzer hara may look appealing, but that’s our imagination. When you delve into the yetzer hara, deep down it’s worthless, empty.

But names really are my thing. When I was teaching, remembering names was my specialty.

The first day of school I’d walk into class having memorized my lesson, so that I’d be able to teach effortlessly while paying attention to my students’ names.

“So why do we learn Navi?” I asked a cute redhead sitting three rows back. “Before you answer, what’s your name?”

As she added to the discussion, I was thinking, Chani Klein — redhead.

By the time I finished the lesson, I had mental notes on each girl’s name. I quickly recorded them and reviewed them that night. Despite having some 75 names to learn, by the second day of school I had them all down pat. It felt so good to call a girl by her name and watch her face light up.

Torah is truth. It has inherent essence and value, as opposed to the matters of the physical world, which are worthless and empty. No matter how much a person tries to accumulate physical items, he’ll never be satisfied, because they have no tangible essence that will fill him.

At the moment of desire, he’s sure that fulfilling this need will provide complete satisfaction. But once he fulfills his desire, he realizes how empty they are.

Recently I came across Avi’s old car album. As I flipped through the pages, I once again felt the old sense of bewilderment engulf me. They all looked like… cars. Nothing unique. I tucked the album into his drawer, knowing he’d be happy to drive down memory lane with Mercedes-Benzes and Corvettes.

As for me, I’ll probably go on thinking Cadillacs and Rolls-Royces are similar — after all, I don’t own either one. But ask me about Shoshi Kaplan. She was a seventh-grader with braces who sat in the second row next to Sora Katz of the long blonde ponytail. I probably wouldn’t recognize them nowadays, but their names are driven into my memory. (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 618)