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The Popular Names of the Town’s Kids

The Popular Names of the Town’s Kids


Moshe Shlomo, a village merchant, was a simple, good-hearted person, as was his wife Rivkah. They always gave generously to worthy charitable causes. One thing only distressed them. Although they had been married for fifteen years they didn't have any children.

Many times Moshe Shlomo had gone to Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov and entreated him to pray for them to have children. The Baal Shem Tov always showered him with blessings — for wealth, for long life, for health, for happiness — but never for what he so dearly hoped to hear.

The Baal Shem Tov's close disciples also asked their master for this blessing for the popular Moshe Shlomo, but he never responded to them.

Ten more years went by. The Baal Shem Tov's blessings all came to fruition. Moshe Shlomo's business affairs prospered and expanded. The couple, however, grew even more unhappy. They still had no children, and no encouragement from the Rebbe.

One day, they both went to see him. "Why do you two look so sad?" asked the Baal Shem Tov. "Hasn't G‑d blessed you with great prosperity, good health, and pleasant dispositions? And you have made the most of these blessings to do many mitzvot and good deeds."

"It may be so," they both answered, "but we have no children. What do we need all of this wealth for?" They burst into tears. "After 120, we shall have no namesake, and no one to remember us."

Instead of replying, the Baal Shem Tov said: "Tomorrow I'm leaving on a little journey with a few of my students. Why don't you two come along also?" The couple were surprised by the invitation but quickly agreed.

The travelers set out the next morning. For two days they were on the road, until finally they arrived at a certain town. After a short rest, the Baal Shem Tov suggested that they all go out and have a look around.

As they walked, they came across a group of children playing in the sand. The Baal Shem Tov went over to them and said to the nearest one, "What's your name?"

"Baruch Moshe," the boy answered.

The Baal Shem Tov then asked another boy, and his name was also Baruch Moshe. The third one was Moshe Avraham, the fourth, Baruch Mordechai, and the fifth Baruch Moshe again. A little girl piped up, "And my name is Brachah Leah."

As they walked on, they came across a group of little girls. The Shem Tov asked them their names, and most of them turned out to be Brachah Leah, too.

Next they entered a cheder school. Six of the little boys were named Baruch Moshe, while most of the rest were Baruch or Moshe or one of those two names in combination with another. They went into a few more schools, and also a yeshiva that had students from all the surrounding villages, and found the same pattern of names. And the girls they encountered along the way were mostly named Brachah Leah, or one of those names singly or in combination with another.

By now it was time for Minchah. The men went into a local synagogue. As soon as the prayers ended, the Baal Shem Tov asked one of the local men why all the children of the town had the same names. The man answered obligingly that he would be happy to tell them the whole story. The disciples craned their necks in eager anticipation, expecting to hear about a great tzaddik or outstanding scholar who had lived in these parts.

"Baruch Moshe was born in this town nearly one hundred years ago," their informant began. "His father was an accomplished Torah scholar who made a good living as a butcher. He was known for his generosity.

"His one frustration was that his son, Baruch Moshe, seemed to have no facility whatsoever for learning Torah. In consequence, he left yeshiva after a short time and began to help his father in his butcher shop. This work he picked up quite quickly and easily. As he grew older, his father turned over more and more of the business to him, and after seeing his son succeed, retired to devote most of his time to Torah study.

"When he attained marriageable age, Baruch Moshe wed Brachah Leah, whose good nature and kindheartedness were similar to his. Years went by. The couple was not blessed with offspring. When Baruch Moshe's parents passed away, he wanted to study Mishnayot for the benefit of their souls, as is the custom, but he didn't know how. He hired a tutor, but it didn't help. He just couldn't seem to assimilate the minimal necessary skills.

"He felt terrible. He wasn't able to learn Torah for his dear departed parents, and he didn't have any children that would be able to do so for him and his wife after 120 either.

"Once, when he was sitting in synagogue, he overheard something in the daily Talmud class. The Rabbi read aloud, "If someone teaches his friend's son Torah, it is as if he gave birth to him."

"That made him feel even worse. Not only did he not have children of his own, but he didn't have the ability to 'father' disciples by teaching them Torah either. When the study session ended, Baruch Moshe requested of the Rabbi to speak with him privately, and poured out his heart to him.

" 'No, no, my friend,' the Rabbi said gently, 'you didn't fully understand. One doesn't have to teach the children directly in order to merit being considered as their parent; it is enough to arrange and provide for their education.'

"As the explanation sank in, the darkness in Baruch Moshes heart dissipated, replaced by a bright burning light. When he told Brachah Leah, she was also ecstatic. They went out and hired thirty teachers, for all the children in the town and surrounding villages who did not attend cheder for lack of means.

"Baruch Moshe's butchery prospered and he actually became quite wealthy, but he and his wife continued in their same modest lifestyle; all their money was dedicated to Torah education.

"I, my brothers, and all our friends attended the cheder of Baruch Moshe," the smiling man concluded his story, "and so did the Rabbi of the town. Out of deep feelings of gratitude and a desire to memorialize them, we all named our sons and daughters after this extraordinary couple, Baruch Moshe and Brachah Leah."

The Baal Shem Tov, his followers and the couple thanked the man and prepared themselves for the return trip. Everyone understood quite clearly the lesson of their journey, especially Moshe Shlomo and Rivkah.

The very day that they arrived home, Moshe Shlomo and Rivkah hired some teachers for the poor children of their town. Dozens of children became able to learn Torah as a result of their generosity and dedication.

In the next generation, if you were to have visited that town and encountered large numbers of children named Moshe Shlomo and Rivkah, surely you would not be surprised.

Based on a memoir by the sixth Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn; translated/ adapted by Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles.
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Anonymous Karmiel May 10, 2016

Answer Kashya,
It's important to understand in previous generations there was little in the way of beginners texts so even the Mishna could have been daunting for someone who had little background. Reply

Barb Wilson London, Canada August 18, 2011

Popular Names I was very moved in reading this story.
It helps me to be aware of those who are less fortunate, but are a treasure for us who can be of service to them. They say, when you point your finger at someone three fingers are pointing back, so when that pointing is positive and loving just think of how you are graciously blessed. I thank you. Reply

David Reghay Flushing, NY February 5, 2011

Kashya? I don't doubt the veracity of this story for a second (especially coming from the writings of none other than Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak!)
However, it is difficult for me to comprehend the idea of a man capable of running a business competently and yet being incapable of Torah study! Surely, in order to run such a business one must be literate, and not have to rely constantly on others to "manage the books". If so, what prevents one from Torah study? Reply

Alexandra Denver, Co via February 3, 2011

Popular Names My real name is NOT "Alexandra" -- but I sure wish it were. My parents gave me a biblical name. I am named after an aunt who died young, and she had a biblical name. I have always been embarrassed by my biblical name. It is, of course, from the Old Testament, and I have always felt it can attract anti-Semites like sugar attracts flies. I don't look Jewish...but I have had several anti-semitic incidents anyway. My sister has a name similar to "Elizabeth", which is an English equivalent to the name of Aaron's wife, Elishabah, in the bible. (Her real name is another Anglicization of another Hebrew name, but the situation is similar). She wants me to be more Jewish -- but I find Judaism, whatever it's good points, to be a hindrance in achieving my financial and personal goals.When my sister tries to make me more Jewish, I tell her to call herself "Elishabah" for a while, to know how I feel! The way I see it, Judaism demands too much, and gives far too little! Reply

Anonymous October 28, 2004

Parenthood What a wonderful story about parenthood. It never occurred to me that one can give birth by helping a child - or children - to learn. At times I overlook the most obvious things. Reply

Learn about the life and teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the 18th century mystic who permanently changed the Jewish landscape.
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