A Journey of Names

There is a line in the Quentin Tarantino film, Pulp Fiction, in which Bruce Willis’ character, Butch, is asked by a Latina taxi driver what his name means; his response is, “I’m American, honey. Our names don’t mean @#$%.”

This has always made me laugh, because of course every name has a meaning; however, our culture does not place an incredible amount of significance on the meaning of given names or place names. However, Hebrew culture seems to have had a deeper attachment to the meaning of names and places. Yet, because we do not translate place names or given names, the significance of the meaning of places and people in Torah are often lost on those less familiar with Hebrew. I’ve often wondered what a translation would look like if we actually translated names and places – so instead of referring to Yaakov establishing Beit El, we might instead refer to it as the Trickster establishing the House of God, for example. The meaning of the place names is actually very significant to certain aspects of biblical narrative. So, let’s try an experiment…

In Parashat Masei, we begin by getting the travel itinerary of B’nei Yisrael in their wandering through the wilderness for forty years. What would it look like if each of those place names and given names were translated? It would look like this:

These are the journeys of the Children of the God-Wrestler (Yisrael) who went out from the land of Straits (Mitzrayim) according to their hosts; by the hand of the Drawn-Out-One (Moshe) and the Light-Bringer (Aharon). The Drawn-Out-One wrote their goings-out for their journeys by the mouth of The-One-That-Is (YHVH); and these are their journeys for their goings-out. They journeyed from Born-of-Ra (Ramses) in the first month on the fifteenth day of the first month; the day after Pesah the Children of the God-Wrestler went out with a mighty hand before the eyes of all The Straits. The Straits were burying those whom were struck by The-One-That-Is, every firstborn; and with their gods The-One-That-Is made judgments. The Children of the God-Wrestler journeyed from Born-of-Ra; and they camped at Huts (Sukkot). They journeyed from Huts; and they camped at Short-Stop (Eitam) which is on the edge of the wilderness. They journeyed from Short-Stop and stayed by the Mouth of Freedom (Pi Ha’Hirut) which is next to Hidden Master (Ba’al Tzafon); and they camped before the Tower (Migdol). They journeyed from the Mouth of Freedom and traversed through the sea toward the wilderness; they went a three day path in the wilderness of Short-Stop and they camped at Bitterness (Marah). They journeyed from Bittnerness and they came towards the Binding (Eilim); and at the Binding there were twelve springs of water and seventy date-palms, and they camped there. They journeyed from the Binding and they camped at the Reed Sea. They journeyed from the Reed Sea and they camped in the wilderness of Clay (Sin). They journeyed from the wilderness of Clay; and they camped at Knocker (Daf’kah). They journeyed from Knocker and they camped at Kneading (Alush). They journeyed from Kneading and camped at Supports (Refidim), but there was no water there for the people to drink. They journeyed from Supports and they camped in the Clayish (Sinai) wilderness. They journeyed from the Clayish wilderness and they camped at the Tombs of Desire (Kibrot Ha’ta’avah). They journeyed from the Tombs of Desire; and they camped at Courtyards (Hatzeirot). They journeyed from Courtyards and they camped at Broom Bush (Ritmah). They journeyed from Broom Bush and they camped at Bursting Pomegranate (Rimon Paretz). They journeyed from Bursting Pomegranate; and they camped at Moonscape (Livnah). They journeyed from Moonscape; and they camped at Stopped-Well (Rissah). They journeyed from Stopped-Well and the camped at Communion-Site (K’heilatah). They journeyed from Communion-Site; and they camped at Mount Beauty (Har Shafer). They journeyed from Mount Beauty; and they camped at Trembler (Haradah). They journeyed from Trembler; and they camped at Crowds (Mak’helot). They journeyed from Crowds; and the camped at Bottom (Tahat). They journeyed from Bottom; and the camped at Chamois-Goat (Tarah). They journeyed from Chamois-Goat; and they camped at Sweetness (Mitkah). They journeyed from Sweetness; and they camped at Ambassador (Hashmonah). They journeyed from Ambassador; and they camped at Harnessings (Mosei’rot). They journeyed from Harnessings; and they camped with the Twisted Children (B’nei Yaakan). They journeyed from the Twisted Children; and they camped at Scorched Troop (Hor Gidgad). They journeyed from Scorched Troop; and they camped at Pleasantness (Yotvata). They journeyed from Pleasantness; and they camped at Passageway (Avronah). They journeyed from Passageway; and they camped at Mighty Tree (Etzion Gaver). They journeyed from Mighty Tree; and they camped in the Thorny (Tzin) wilderness, which is Assign (Kadesh). They journeyed from Assign; and they camped at the Mountainous Mount (Hor Ha’Har) at the edge of the Red Land (Edom). The Light-Bringer Priest ascended to the Mountainous Mount by the mouth of The-One-That-Is and he died there; in the fortieth year of the Children of the God-Wrestler having gone out from the land of Straits, in the fifth month, on the first of the month. The Light-Bringer was 132 years old, at this heath on the Mountainous Mount. The Merchants (Kena’ani) heard, the Fugitive (Arad) King, who dwelled in the Dryland (Negev) in the Merchant land; at the Children of the God-Wrestler came. They journeyed from the Mountainous Mount; and they camped at the Shadowland (Tzalmonah). They journeyed from the Shadowland; and the camped at Cornered (Funon). They journeyed from Cornered; and they camped at Wishes (Ovot). They journeyed from Wishes; and they camped at the Ruined Crossroads (Iyei Ha’Avarim) at the border of From-Father (Moav). They journeyed from the Ruins (Iyiim); and they camped at Whispering Coriander (Divon Gad). They journeyed from Whispering Coriander; and they camped at Youthful Convocation (Almon Divlotaimah). They journeyed from Youthful Convocation; and they camped at the mountain passes near Hollow (Nevo). They journeyed from the mountain passes; and they camped at the plains of From-Father at Descender Moon (Yarden Yeriho). They camped on the Descender between House of Waste (Beit Yeshimot) until The Acacia Mourner (Avel Ha’Shittim) on the plains of From-Father. (Num. 33:1-49).


Sharing is caring

Check out the "Rabbi's Study" archive for Rabbi Goldstein's previous posts.