We have a tradition that each person has their own freewill and point of where their challenges lie. Where that point lies is between each person and Hashem and that is our place of responsibility (Rav Dessler, Nekudas Habechira essay). At the same time, Chazal (Berachos 7b; Yuma 83b) tell us that sh’ma garam, one’s name can influence who he or she is. How do we reconcile these seemingly opposing rules?
A careful study of the passages reveals that names do not cause one to act a certain way, but like temperament, they cause one to have a certain leaning. We find this illustrated in our parsha. The meraglim went to Eretz Yisrael and came back sinfully reporting that the land was bad and that the nation should lose hope in Hashem. Yalkut Reuveni quotes a Midrash Tanchuma (Haazinu) as follows.
A person should always choose an appropriate name for his child that will influence him to be a tzaddik. Sometimes the name adds a positive or negative tendency. Just as we see from the evil meraglim, their names influenced their rebellious actions. Shamo ben Zachor, he did not listen (shamo) to God and tried to disempower the strength of God (zachor, masculine prowess, so to speak). Shafat ben Chori, he didn’t wage a battle (shafat) with his yetzer hara and instead made a hole (chor) in the ability to get the land. (See there where the Midrash elaborates there on all the names of the ten sinning spies)
Its interesting that specifically in this case, we find that Moshe changes Hoshaia’s name to Yehoshua, ensuring that his name would mean salvation from the influence of the spies.
Back to Original Sin
Yalkut Reuveni quotes another Midrash that says, “that which it says that the spies arrived in the time of the harvesting of the grapes, this is referring to the sin of Adam, who ate from the grapes in his original sin with the Eitz Hadaas.
The truth is that Adam’s name itself foretells his failing as he is called after the adama, dirt, connoting lowliness and sin. However, the seforim say that Adam also means “adameh lelyon, I will emulate God.” Man must use his name to elevate himself to godliness and purity instead of earthly lowness.
Yalkut Reuveni (Shemos p.4) quotes the Maggid Chadash who lists off the names of the Avos and 12 tribes and some possible tendencies which a bearer of that name may have:
Avraham- a tendency to chessed, kind acts
Reuven – kind, like Avraham
Shimon- passionate, must keep violence (like in Shchem) in check
Levi – balance and Torah
Yehuda – regal royalty
Yissachar – power of binah, intuition and extrapolation
Zevulan – wisdom
Dan – beauty
Naftoli – resilience (netzach), strong willed
Gad – yesod
Asher – royalty
Yosef – creative, either for the good or the bad, to provide for others
Binyamin – keser, elevated thinking
Merit of Mitzvos
There is a beautiful comment by Rabbeinu Bachya that Yalkut Reuveni quotes. When Yehoshua and Kalev tried to persuade the nation hearts back to Hashem, they said (Bamidbar 14:7-9, “Hashem is capable… do not be afraid of the people, for they are our bread and their shade (ie, protection) has been removed from them.” R. Bachya says these two items hint to the Jew’s great merit which would warrant their successful conquest of the land. ‘Bread’ hints to the matza that the Jews ate, showing their reliance on Hashem. ‘Shade’ refers to the sukkos which they lived in, showing once again their dependency and connection with Hashem. The Jews did not heed the message and instead cried and were punished for this acceptance of lashon harah against Hashem.