Not a difficult question but the answer is interesting!
Is it Chaye Sara or Chaye Soro?
The answer of course is that it is both, it just depends on your Hebrew pronunciation. There are so many examples in our daily lives – Yisrael or Yisroel, Kashrut or Kashrus, Amen or Omein – you get the idea.
When it comes to names, most have different ways of pronunciation. You can have Abraham, Avraham or Avrohom, Moses, Moshe or Moishe etc.
It doesn’t bother us and we don’t even think about it.
So why does Epshtein bother us? It is one of the ways of pronouncing the name.
I will be honest – I was watching the debate and couldn’t believe my ears. I didn’t hear the first time he said Epstein (he pronounced it Epstine not Epsteen) – there was clapping. However, the second time was clear and quite chilling.
We certainly can’t prove it, but by saying the Germanic Jewish pronunciation, many believe that Yirmiyahu Corbyn was trying to stress the Jewishness of the perpetrator of the horrendous crimes. If true, that would be classic anti-Semitic behaviour. Whatever it was, it highlights for me both the Chillul Hashem and the Kiddush Hashem one can achieve if one is known as a Jew.
Part of the problem we face today is many famous Jews with very Jewish names don’t act Jewish in the slightest way. And it is not just famous Jews – all of us could do more, learn more, connect more, basically act more Jewish.
It is not easy in today’s day and age – luckily we have role models who can inspire us, the one I am thinking of is the focus of the start of the sedra.
We all know the Rashi:
And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years: The reason that the word “years” was written after every digit is to tell you that every digit is to be expounded upon individually: when she was one hundred years old, she was like a twenty-year-old regarding sin. Just as a twenty-year-old has not sinned, because she is not liable to punishment, so too when she was one hundred years old, she was without sin. And when she was twenty, she was like a seven-year-old as regards to beauty. (Rashi – Bereishit 23:1)
However, I want to take this idea further using a stunning understanding of the Rashi from Rav Soloveitchik.
Most people pass from one stage to the next leaving the previous stage behind, i.e. as we move from childhood to adulthood to old age, we just take some memories.
Rav Soloveitchik explains that Sarah RETAINED each stage, even when she moved on. A 7 yr old has innocence, a 20 yr old strength, 100 yr old wisdom. She was always 100 and 20 and 7.
She was always as innocent as a seven-year-old with the strength of a 20-year-old with the wisdom of a 100-year-old.
You see innocence is needed for prayer, we really need to feel that God is listening. Adults often become cynical, we lose the ability to stand before God and share our innermost secrets and dreams, a child has that. Sarah always felt that.
A 20 yr old has physical strength, idealism. At that age one feels that they can change the world, there are no limits, only potential. Then middle age hits, then reality hits, we lose that passion, that idealism. Sarah never lost it.
At 100 yrs old – or the latter stage of our life, we have wisdom, perspective. So many of our great sages are and were older people. When we say to someone ‘you are old before your years’, it is praise. Sarah always had that wisdom even when young.
She was 100 and 20 and 7 – throughout her life she possessed all these skills.
It famously says in Pirkei Avot 4:13 ‘Rabbi Shimon said: There are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of royalty, but the crown of a good name supersedes them all.’
Whatever name we are given and whatever way that name is pronounced – our job is simple to make sure that our name is synonymous with goodness, kindness and other Torah ideals.