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The Meaning of “Aish”

My name is Judy Aish. My sister and I are doing some research on our family background. I entered our last name – Aish – into a search engine and your website came up.

I've never written to a rabbi before. I wonder if you could give me some information about what “Aish” means. There has always been some confusion about where our surname comes from. Any insight you have would be a big help.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

We get thousands of questions, but this one is a first!

I can't say for certain where your last name derives from, but I can tell you about the origins of our organization, Aish HaTorah.

The name Aish HaTorah, literally "Fire of Torah," was inspired by the Talmudic story of Rebbe Akiva, a 40-year-old shepherd who could not even read the Aleph-Bet. One day, he came across a stone that had been holed out by a constant drip of water. He concluded: If something as soft as water can carve a hole in solid rock, how much more so can Torah – which is fire – make an indelible impression on my heart.

Rebbe Akiva committed himself to Torah study, and went on to become the greatest sage of his generation, with 24,000 students learning under him at one time.

"Aish" means "fire" in the positive sense of inspiration and passion. The name was chosen because we believe that each human being, if given the chance, can achieve similar results. All it takes is a passionate study of Torah, borne out of an appreciation of how precious one's involvement can be in repairing the world.

Further, the story of Rebbe Akiva teaches that every drop of Torah makes an impact – even though the results may not be apparent until many years later.

By the way, the story of Rebbe Akiva is beautifully depicted at the Aish Center in Jerusalem in a modern glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly, the most successful and talented glass artist in the world. Entitled, “Fire and Water,” the multi-dimensional, two-story-tall sculpture took four months to create in Chihuly‘s Seattle studio, and was delivered to Jerusalem in hundreds of boxes. (See a short film of the sculpture being installed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hW18CBPGFT0.)

As Elie Wiesel once said: “Aish HaTorah means to me the passion of teaching, the passion of learning. The study of Torah, the source of Jewish values, is the way to Jewish survival.”

Good luck in your genealogical research!

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