Our New Daughter’s Name, Rimon Hadasa, OR, What Do Purim, Pesach, Circumcision, And Wood Skewers Have In Common?

Thank God, we have another daughter. Everyone is healthy and the birth went well, though there was a scare that turned out to be nothing in the end, caused by a broken monitor that had a team of doctors rush in to do an emergency C-section. But the midwives stopped that and got control of the situation, got a new monitor, everything was fine, and 10 minutes later she was born. I was sitting at home working when my parents called to say Natasha was in labor and I should get to the hospital. So I leisurely started putting on my shoes and was starting to head out. By the time I got to the car my father came around the corner and asked me how many pounds is 2.8kg.

“Huh?” I said, “Already??”

She came out fast. It was the first birth I actually missed, but it’s OK. It was a good thing I wasn’t there during the emergency C-section scare. I would have freaked out. My mother and mother in law handled it all pretty well.

We named her on Shabbat, Rimon Hadasa Farber רימון הדסה פרבר. Here’s the story and meanings behind it.

Natasha’s grandfather (poppy) Murray, משה בן אסתר, passed away last year. He was 90. About a day or two before he died, we found out that Natasha was pregnant. It was a surprise for us, but a pleasant one. It was way too early to tell anyone. We had just found out, but we decided to tell grandma and poppy anyway because we all knew he was slipping away and he should know before he died. So on his deathbed, through Skype, we told him that we would name the baby after him.

We wanted an ‘R’ and ‘M’ sound in the name for Murray, and picked Rimon, Hebrew for pomegranate. I myself am named for two great grandmothers Raizel and Feigle, hence the R and F in my own name, so we did a similar thing here. Hadasa, Rimon’s middle name, is Queen Esther’s Hebrew name. Esther was her Persian name.

We were quite hesitant about the name Rimon at first. We liked it personally and it sounds nice to an American ear, but we both knew that to an Israeli it sounds like “hand grenade” which is another modern meaning. That wouldn’t have been a problem by itself but we also have a daughter named Serach (שרח) which is a name I love because I love the character and the story behind her. She is Asher’s daughter, Jacob’s granddaughter, who is mentioned in the list of 70 people going down to Egypt in Breisheet and also coming out of Egypt in Bamidbar. According to some sources, she – not Ruth – is the first convert, adopted by Asher. Given that she’s mentioned both going in and coming out of Egypt, she lived at least 210 years, and some Midrashic sources say she never died.

Anyway, we call her Serri and she is beautiful, I mean really. Many times Israelis stare at her and tell me that, and then ask her name. And I say her name is שרח. Then what usually happens is that they correct me and say something like “In Hebrew it’s pronounced Sarah, not Serach.” And then I have to insist that her name is not Sarah, and that I know my daughter’s name, thank you very much. I’ve had to do this many times, and those are the easy encounters. At worst, they look at her, tell me she’s pretty, and ask me her name, I tell them שרח, and they say, “Why did you give her such an ugly name?” Those are the really “Israeli” Israelis.

See, in Hebrew, Serach sounds like מסריח , which means “stinky”. We knew this. It has absolutely nothing to do with the name though, and we weren’t going to let that stop us from giving her a name that we actually wanted and admired.

Anyway, two days after Rimon was born, before she was named, I was at the post office with Serri and the same thing happened. We were the only ones there and the two clerks, both women, commented that’s she’s pretty and asked her name. I tell them Serach. And again, they correct me and say it’s not pronounced Serach, it’s Sarah. And again I insist that I am not a stupid American who doesn’t know Hebrew, I know what my daughter’s name is, and her name is SERACH. Asher’s daughter. It’s in the Tanach, in Hebrew.

“How do you spell it, with a ה or a ח?” one of them asks.

“A ח. שרחחחחחח,” I emphasize and extend the ח.

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

Then I made a mistake. They ask me if she has any other sisters. Absentmindedly I say that she just got a new sister two days ago.

“And what’s her new sister’s name?” they ask.

Not thinking, since you’re not supposed to tell people the name before the naming, I tell them “Rimon”. And they look at me weird, saying with their eyes, “Well here’s a crazy American naming his daughters ‘Stinky’ and ‘Hand Grenade,’ like one of those postmodern hippieish people who are into homeopathics and whatnot.“

A lesson – not telling people the name before the naming is important, because it can create doubts.

We were going to name her on Thursday but I didn’t wake up early enough for the 6:15 minyan, thinking that subconsciously maybe I was having second thoughts. So we thought it over again Natasha and I, and we decided, definitely Rimon. Here’s why.

I’m not the kind of person that looks into “signs from heaven”, but I don’t discount the possibility of them, or of God trying to tell me something, just an ordinary person. So the following I’ll just say that maybe God was trying to get me to name her Rimon, and maybe I’m just reading into things, but then these are pretty crazy coincidences. Interpret however makes you feel comfortable, but this all happened.

When we were first settling on Rimon, Natasha asked me where the word appears in the Torah. I remember it is featured a lot on the clothes of the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, and remembered part of the verse describing his tunic because it repeats. פעמון ורימון פעמון ורימון are the words I remembered specifically, and that the pasuk must be in Tetzaveh or Pekudei, or both, which describe the whole priestly wardrobe. So I looked it up and sure enough, it’s there, in both places, slightly different in each place. Here’s the one from Pekudei:

וַיַּ֛עַשׂ אֶת־מְעִ֥יל הָאֵפֹ֖ד מַעֲשֵׂ֣ה אֹרֵ֑ג כְּלִ֖יל תְּכֵֽלֶת׃ וּפִֽי־הַמְּעִ֥יל בְּתוֹכ֖וֹ כְּפִ֣י תַחְרָ֑א שָׂפָ֥ה לְפִ֛יו סָבִ֖יב לֹ֥א יִקָּרֵֽעַ: וַֽיַּעֲשׂוּ֙ עַל־שׁוּלֵ֣י הַמְּעִ֔יל רִמּוֹנֵ֕י תְּכֵ֥לֶת וְאַרְגָּמָ֖ן וְתוֹלַ֣עַת שָׁנִ֑י מָשְׁזָֽר׃ וַיַּעֲשׂ֥וּ פַעֲמֹנֵ֖י זָהָ֣ב טָה֑וֹר וַיִּתְּנ֨וּ אֶת־הַפַּֽעֲמֹנִ֜ים בְּת֣וֹךְ הָרִמֹּנִ֗ים עַל־שׁוּלֵ֤י הַמְּעִיל֙ סָבִ֔יב בְּת֖וֹךְ הָרִמֹּנִֽים׃ פַּעֲמֹ֤ן וְרִמֹּן֙ פַּעֲמֹ֣ן וְרִמֹּ֔ן עַל־שׁוּלֵ֥י הַמְּעִ֖יל סָבִ֑יב לְשָׁרֵ֕ת כַּאֲשֶׁ֛ר צִוָּ֥ה יְהוָ֖ה אֶת־מֹשֶֽׁה׃

The robe for the ephod was made of woven work, of pure blue. The opening of the robe, in the middle of it, was like the opening of a coat of mail, with a binding around the opening, so that it would not tear. On the hem of the robe they made pomegranates of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, twisted. They also made bells of pure gold, and attached the bells between the pomegranates, all around the hem of the robe, between the pomegranates: a bell and a pomegranate, a bell and a pomegranate, all around the hem of the robe for officiating in—as God had commanded Moses.

Now, about two weeks before she was born, when we were already mostly set on Rimon but I was still having some doubts, our community was honoring the חברה קדישא, the “Holy Gang,” volunteers who clean and dress the dead for burial. Thanks to my friend Ezra, I am on the Chevreh Kadisha. The week the shul was honoring the Chevreh was Parashat Pekudei, the Parasha about the Cohen Gadol’s clothing. They gave me שלישי, the third Aliyah, which begins with that exact passage about pomegranates and bells all around the Kohen Gadol. In no other place in the Torah does the word Rimon appear so frequently, five times in three psukim! I am imagining that God is ringing off the pomegranate bells that this is her name. Ding ding! Use it! פעמון ורימון פעמון ורימון OK OK I get the point!

But it didn’t stop there. Thursday night the next week, our parents are both with us helping to watch the kids, waiting for Natasha to give birth. The city is hosting a dinner at a nice restaurant for the Chevreh Kadisha and their spouses, and Natasha and I finally get to go out on a date to a nice restaurant without the kids thanks to our parents.

We go out to the “Chevreh Kadisha Party” and they present a gift to each person on the Chevrah Kadisha. It’s a cutting board. Here’s a picture of it:

Pomegranate Cutting Board

Rimonim all over the place. I get the point. Her name is Rimon. Rimon is coming.

The pomegranate has plenty of Halachic and religious significance. It’s the fifth fruit of the 7 Biblical fruits of Israel, which is the most well known aspect of the rimon. I won’t go into everything here, but there is one obscure importance to pomegranates that most people are not familiar with. Mishnah, Psachim 7:1

כֵּיצַד צוֹלִין אֶת הַפֶּסַח, מְבִיאִין שַׁפּוּד שֶׁל רִמּוֹן, תּוֹחֲבוֹ מִתּוֹךְ פִּיו עַד בֵּית נְקוּבָתוֹ, וְנוֹתֵן אֶת כְּרָעָיו וְאֶת בְּנֵי מֵעָיו לְתוֹכוֹ, דִּבְרֵי רַבִּי יוֹסֵי הַגְּלִילִי. רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא אוֹמֵר, כְּמִין בִּשּׁוּל הוּא זֶה, אֶלָּא תוֹלִין חוּצָה לוֹ

How is the Pesach offering roasted? We bring a skewer of pomegranate wood and stick it into the mouth and through the anus, and place its legs and entrails inside of it according to Rabbi Yosi Haglili. Rabbi Akiva says “This would be a kind of boiling. Instead we hang the entrails outside of it.”

Why pomegranate wood? Because the lamb must be entirely roasted by fire, and not by a material that the fire heats up, like a skewer. So we can’t use a metal skewer, which would get too hot and cook the meat that was in direct contact with the skewer. We also can’t use just any wood, because wood tends to sweat moisture when heated, and the escaping water would boil the meat at the point of contact rather than the fire roasting it. So pomegranate wood specifically is used because pomegranate wood is dryer than other woods and doesn’t sweat when heated.

Now, consider this. Every Pesach sacrifice needs a fairly long pomegranate wood skewer. That’s a lot of skewers. What must that have been like? Well, on Succot in Israel there these big open markets of the four species lulav, etrog, hadas, and arava and there are different kinds, different levels. Mehudar (pretty), super mehudar (super pretty), plain kosher, really big etrogs for those who want an extra beautiful one, etc. Hiddur mitzvah, getting the biggest and most beautiful, is a big thing with the four species. People are really into it. I’ve even seen a guy with what must have been at least a 10 foot long lulav. (Haha, yeah yeah, laugh it out.)

Imagine what Pesach would have looked like during the time of the Beit HaMikdash when everybody did the Korban Pesach. There must have been huge markets selling long sticks of pomegranate wood, some of them decorated maybe, carved with shapes in them, maybe pomegranates, plain kosher, mehudar, super mehudar, all that stuff. These things were probably given as gifts also. I can imagine in people’s homes at that time beautiful decorated pomegranate skewers for each Korban Pesach hung up on walls and such, one for each year, burnt edges, clean middle. This is what Pesach would have actually looked like, and very few people are aware of it, that pomegranate wood skewers were such a big part of the Passover holiday. The pomegranate to this day remains a very popular decoration in shuls and Jewish homes. (Cutting board case in point.)

Essentially, you cannot do the mitzvah of Korban Pesach correctly without a skewer of pomegranate wood. It’s there in the middle of it all, hanging it all up, stabilizing the whole animal, but not influencing or interfering with the process of the roasting at all. It knows its place. Unassuming, humble, but central to the whole mitzvah. Doing its part by staying cool, not sweating, and letting what needs to be done, get done, so the mitzvah can be completed. I hope Rimon ends up being just like that.

One last thought. We have one son, Efraim. We call him Fry. I struggled doing a brit milah (circumcision) on him, because that violates the non aggression principle, the holy of holies of libertarian halacha. This is what I wrote about that:

And in the end, Judaism forces me to be a minarchist, of a sort. To draw a line from my own personhood instead of from something outside myself. To have just a little intuition of my own. I circumcised my son without his consent, and thereby broke the NAP, the holy of holies of libertarian law. I hated it. I cried. And then even I, the uncontrollable libertarian radical teeming with hatred of the State, drew a line from within to circumscribe power. I did, and will do brit milah, and that’s it. I can’t explain why in any logical terms other than God told me to. And I will not go any further than that into the realm of power over other men. Not ever. Not one inch.

I didn’t want someone else to be my messenger for an act that I found problematic. It felt cowardly, so I did the cut myself. (The mohel did the setup obviously. I just did the cut.) After that, though maybe I shouldn’t have in retrospect, I asked God not to give me another boy because I just didn’t want to do that again. (Yes, I would have done it again if it came to that.) I only circumcised because I believe God told me to do it. That’s it.

What does this have to do with Rimon? Well, there are only two positive mitzvahs that failure to do them results in Karet, spiritual excision from the Jewish people. Very bad punishment though I don’t really know what it means. It’s just below the death penalty. One mitzvah is Brit Milah, circumcision. The other is Korban Pesach. They are both blood mitzvahs, the blood of circumcision, and the blood of the Pesach lamb that was smeared on the door posts in Pesach Mitzrayim. These two mitzvot tie the Jewish people to God in blood. This is what is referred to at a Brit in the pasuk בדמייך חיי, בדמייך חיי. By your blood you will live, by your blood you will live, repeated. One blood for circumcision, one blood for Korban Pesach.

Just like פעמון ורימון פעמון ורימון. A bell and a pomegranate, a bell and a pomegranate, all around the Kohen Gadol, who actually executes the Pesach sacrifice. I’ve done the first blood in Brit Milah. And we named Rimon after the second, and after Murray, and after Murray’s mother Esther, Hadasa.

To an Israeli ear, Rimon is a boy’s name, another reason we were initially hesitant to name her that. I know two women named Rimon though, so I knew it wasn’t exclusively a boy’s name. Perhaps though, the fact that it is seen as a boy’s name is appropriate in retrospect, since she is named after the Korban Pesach, the parallel to a Brit Milah.

Born between Purim and Pesach, she has a name related to both, Rimon Hadasa. Related to circumcision, related to Murray, משה בן אסתר, and related to the blood mitzvot that tie all Jews together and to God.

And there is no fruit juice more deeply blood red than the blood of a pomegranate. Another Jew has come into the world. Thank God.