Forward Thinking

The Next Pope and His Name

By David Gutterman

Far be it from me, a Jew and a rabbi yet, to get involved in the internal decision making of the College of Cardinals as they ponder this most weighty decision of the election of a pope. But I do want to make a comment about the poignancy and power of names as well as make a prediction as to what the name of the 267th pontiff will be.

getty images
Pope John XXIII

“What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” Juliet opines. Let’s put this proposition to the Biblical test, shall we?

According to our Hebrew Bible, which is essentially accepted by 3.5 billion people on the planet as the nonpareil inspired, sacred text for humanity, the first conscious activity of created man was the assigning of names.

Think about it. The first creative gesture of humanity as represented by First Man, adam harishon, was the act of naming. With the truism and axiom that suggests: ‘you’ve got one shot to make a first impression,’ it would seem that our Tradition is making a rather searing and profound one!

Not yet convinced? Consider. When Moses had his fateful encounter at the burning bush with the Eternal One, he was told that his people, the Jewish people, would be redeemed.

Here, the context adds depth and dimension which cannot be ignored. After 210 years of languishing in Egypt, after 210 years of suffering the spiritual ignominies of subjugation and the moral debasement of slavery, after 210 years of bearing the excruciating physical pain of bondage, the Jewish people were to be liberated.

But rather than blindly accept this longed for hope, our preeminent Biblical leader Moses asks a question of the Divine. When I go back to my people and share the news of imminent redemption, he says, they will ask me but one question. “Ma Sh’mo? What is His name?”

A name is just a name, you think? I think not.

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