The Name "Eliezer": Names Response on Ask the Rabbi
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The Name "Eliezer"

My Bar Mitzvah is coming up in a few months, and I have to prepare a speech to say in front of the whole congregation. The rabbi suggested that I talk about the meaning of my Hebrew name, Eliezer. Can you help?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The first biblical record of the name Eliezer is in reference to Abraham's servant (Genesis 15:2). It is a beautiful name, meaning “God is my helper.”

Here is an inspiring Talmudic story about Rabbi Eliezer Ben Hurkenas, which you may enjoy incorporating into your Bar Mitzvah speech.

One day, Eliezer was plowing on the mountain, and began to cry. Eliezer's father, Hurkenas, a leading rabbi of his generation, said to him, "Why are you crying? If it's hot up on the mountain, I'll move you down to the plain." So Eliezer began to plow in the plain and cried there too.

"My son, why are you crying?" Hurkenas asked.

"I want to learn Torah."

"Study Torah? Come on Eliezer, you're 28 years old! It's time to get married and start a family!"

But Eliezer would not stop crying. He cried until Elijah the Prophet came to him and asked, "Eliezer, why are you crying?"

"I want to learn Torah."

"Very well. Go to Jerusalem and seek out Rebbe Yochanan Ben Zakkai."

So Eliezer went to Rebbe Yochanan Ben Zakkai, the greatest sage of his generation. And you guessed it – Eliezer was crying.

"Why are you crying?" Rebbe Yochanan asked.

"I want to learn Torah."

"Didn't they teach you to say the Shema, the Amidah and Grace After Meals?"

"No."

"Come, I'll teach you."

And so the great sage, Rebbe Yochanan Ben Zakkai, taught Eliezer the ABC's of Judaism. Then he said, "Very good, Eliezer. We were successful. Now it's time for you to go."

When Eliezer heard this, he cried.

"Why are you crying?"

"I want to learn Torah."

"Alright, I'll teach you more Torah."

(Meanwhile, since Eliezer had failed to return home, Hurkenas got angry and cut off his inheritance.)

Rebbe Yochanan taught Eliezer the Five Books of Moses and the Oral Law. After this, Rebbe Yochanan said, "Eliezer, it is time for you to go."

Eliezer cried: "I want to learn Torah!"

And so it went, until one day... Eliezer was learning in the back of the yeshiva study hall, when unexpectedly, his father Hurkenas walked in. At which point, Rebbe Yochanan Ben Zakkai told Eliezer to move to the front and recite his Torah aloud.

After Eliezer had finished, Hurkenas stood up, and beaming with pride, said: "Eliezer, at first I wanted to give my property to all of my sons but you. Now I am going to give everything I have to you and you alone!"

Eliezer replied, "My father, if I wanted gold and silver, I would have stayed working on the farm. All I want is Torah." And Rabbi Eliezer Ben Hurkenas went on to become the leader of his generation, and the teacher of the great Rebbe Akiva.

There are many difficulties with this story:

1) How could it be that Hurkanas, a great rabbi himself, did not teach his son Torah? Even the simplest Jew teaches his son the Shema, the Amidah and Grace After Meals. Furthermore, Hurkanas was a wealthy man. He could have hired the best teachers in the world for his son!

2) Why did Hurkanas make his son do the menial labor of plowing? He could have hired 100 workers to plow, and given his son a supervisory position.

3) Why did Elijah the Prophet tell Eliezer to go learn basic Judaism from such an esteemed rabbi as Rebbe Yochanan ben Zakkai? Any intermediate yeshiva student could have done that!

4) And finally, why was Eliezer crying all the time?!

There is only one answer that explains all of these difficulties. Rabbi Eliezer Ben Hurkanas had a head made of straw. He was extremely slow.

Of course, Hurkanas had hired a teacher for his son. He got him the best teacher there was. He was rich and could afford anything. But even the best teacher could not get Shema into the thick head of Eliezer. So what should his father do – make him a foreman? No way! Give him a plow. At least he'll be productive.

But Eliezer cried. He wanted to learn! His father told him, "We've tried everything, son. Forget it." The only option left was the leader of the generation. Only someone with such genius could stand a chance of getting through to Eliezer. That was why Elijah sent him to Rebbe Yochanan Ben Zakkai.

Rebbe Yochanan struggled and achieved a major accomplishment: He taught Eliezer the basics and was then ready to send him home. But Eliezer cried for more, and Rebbe Yochanan decided to take a chance. It had worked once, maybe he could teach him more. And so it went, until Eliezer Ben Hurkanas became one of the greatest scholars of his generation.

From all of this we see that even the slowest of the slow can achieve greatness. The secret? You have to want it so badly that you will cry for it. This was the merit of Eliezer Ben Hurkanas.

So remember: Reaching great heights does not depend upon our natural talents and capabilities. Everyone can become great. Everything we accomplish is a gift from God, and God will give us whatever we need to succeed. He is just waiting for us to make the effort.

Mazel tov on your Bar Mitzvah. I am certain that with the trait of persistence, you can become as great as the Talmudic sage whose name you bear.

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