After the debacle of the deluge, G-d sought to rebuild mankind through Noach and his descendants. However, after the misguided united effort to build the Tower of Babel in defiance of G-d’s dominion, once again G-d was forced to play His hand by dispersing the populace to the far corners of the globe, foiling their rebellion. The stage was now set for one man to establish a family that would lead the world back to its former hope and glory, by promoting the unadulterated truth of G-d’s oneness and absolute benevolence.
Before Avraham Avinu sets out on that journey the Torah details the family of mankind, zeroing in on the objective of all creation, the descendants of Terach. It first details his three sons, Avram, Nachor and Haran, adding that Haran was the father of Lot. It then makes reference to Nimrod’s challenge to Haran, after his having observed Avram miraculously survive the fiery furnace, as to where he stands, where he affirms his allegiance to Avram, then being thrown into the fire becoming the very first person in history to sacrifice one’s life for G-d.
The Torah then records a very puzzling verse:
ืืืงื ืืืจื ืื ืืืจ ืืื ื ืฉืื ืฉื ืืฉืช ืืืจื ืฉืจื ืืฉื ืืฉืช ื ืืืจ ืืืื ืืช ืืจื ืืื ืืืื ืืืื ืืกืื, And Avram and Nachor took to themselves wives; the name of Avram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nachor’s wife was Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah and the father of Yiscah (ืืจืืฉืืช ื ืื)
Upon the superficial reading of this verse it would seem that Avram selected a wife by the name of Sarai, without any mention of her parentage, while Nachor took one of the daughters of the deceased Haran, whose mother was Milcah and also had a sister by the name of Yiscah. There is absolutely no evidence within the verse itself that Sarai and Yiscah are one and the same.
Yet we are taught that indeed Sarai is Yiscah. Why all the confusion? Why does she go by the name Sarai if her father evidently called her Yiscah? Did Avram confer a new name for her upon taking her as his wife? What was wrong with her original one?
Rashi quoting the Talmud elucidates the deeper meaning behind her initial name. Firstly we are told that ืืกืื, relates to her status as a prophetess, being able to, ืกืืื ืืจืื ืืงืืืฉ, see with divine inspiration. Rashi adds, without asserting as he often does that this is an alternative interpretation, that at the same time it also intimates ืฉืืื ืกืืืื ืืืคืื, that everyone gazed at her beauty. Tradition has it that Sarah was one of the four most beautiful women who ever lived.
Based on these interpretations in identifying the qualities of Yiscah we certainly know that Yiscah was indeed the woman we know as Sarai. But why the name change?
Rashi goes on to offer a novel idea, clearly his own, as it is not sourced anywhere in the Midrash or the Talmud. ืืกืื, he claims, is rooted in the notion of ื ืกืืืืช, princedom, ‘similar to ืฉืจื, which is a language of ืฉืจืจื, dominion.’
Rashi seems to be addressing our question by explaining that by Avram calling her Sarai he was actually keeping within the spirit of her original name which extolled her regal and noble qualities, the very first Jewish ‘princess’.
Perhaps Avram sought to downplay the implication of her beauty being gazed upon that is implicit in the name Yiscah and preferred to accent her majestic personality by calling her Sarai.
Yet the question still begs as to why the Talmud interprets Yiscah as referring to her captivating beauty, is that a Jewish value? Furthermore, what was Haran’s intent in bestowing the name Yiscah upon his child, could he possibly have foreseen her role as a prophetess? Could he have known what stunning beauty she would possess as an adult to emphasize it at her birth?
Even more intriguing is the Talmud’s assertion that her name is rooted in the word ืกืืื, implying gazing or seeing, since nowhere in all of Tanach is this word utilized in that context. In fact the word is Aramaic in origin and not even a Hebrew word.
It is remarkable to observe that the composite of the Jewish nation as fathered by our illustrious Patriarchs and Matriarchs all trace back to Avraham and Haran. Sarai was the daughter of Haran. Rivkah the wife of Yitzchok was the daughter of Besuel who was the child of Milcah, the daughter of Haran. Rachel, Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah, the wives of Yaakov, were all fathered by Lavan the brother of Rivkah, a son of Besuel, a grandson of Milcah and a great grandson of Haran.
May I boldly suggest that Haran possessed greatness as evidenced in his forfeiting his life in G-d’s name. Although secondary to Avram, he sought greatness and truth hoping that from him would descend children of nobility who would foster morals and values for the betterment of mankind. He thus named his two daughters in that spirit, the first one Milcah rooted in the sentiment of ืืืืืช, royalty, and his second daughter, Yiscah, a ื ืกืืื, a princess. He sensed these special souls would instill a nobility within their progeny. Perhaps that is indeed the ืคืฉืืื ืฉื ืืงืจื, the simplest meaning of the text, as Rashi so brilliantly suggested with nary a need for any source, for that is its obvious and self-evident interpretation.
The root word ืกืื, in Hebrew alludes to a protective cover. Perhaps when the Talmud attests to Sarai being ืกืืื ืืจืื ืืงืืืฉ, it implies that she ‘clothed’ herself in the spirit of holiness, she found her definition not in the manner by which people perceived her but rather by the truths she lived by, uninfluenced by the forces of instinct and self-interest that surrounded her. Taking this a step further, might that also explain the other side of this coin, as Rashi presented it, ืืื ืกืืืื ืืืคืื, not that they gazed in reflexive admiration of her shallow physical beauty, but they felt ‘safe’ in the presence of her attractiveness. Her sterling inner and selfless confidence in her constant connection to G-d, the holy inspiration, stifled any taint of inappropriate attraction to those who observed her. Only one who promotes artificial value must fear the ‘gazing’ eyes of immorality. The result of her exalted stature conveyed a powerful and positive influence on all who entered her ‘holy realm’. The word ื ืกืืืืช, princedom, is also rooted in that same word ืกืื and its deeper meaning. True nobility radiates outwardly in encompassing all those who enter its domain to feel secure, elevated, and inspired by the persona of devoted greatness.
This ‘regal’ quality of Haran filtered down through his son Lot as well. Wasn’t it the daughters of Lot who mothered those two children, Amon and Moav from whom stemmed Naamah, the wife of Shlomo HaMelech and mother of his heir Rechovam, and Rus, the wife of Boaz, the great-grandfather of Dovid HaMelech?
Haran had two daughters, Milcah the elder one and Yiscah. Avram despite being the older brother to Charan and logically the one to be paired with the elder niece, Milcah, chose Sarai/Yiscah instead.
Milcah/Malchus relates more to the goal of leadership in leading the people as the word ืืื sourced in ืึถื, to ‘go’, with the king being the ืึถืึถื, the one that assures things move forward.
Yiscah/Nesichah, focuses on the key to possessing that ability, to first reign over oneself, living inspired solely by the ‘holy inspiration’, becoming immune to outside influence. That healthy self-assuredness that needs not the admiration of outsiders that thrives on one’s sensing being embraced by G-d alone, creates the aura of royalty that inspires and exalts all who enter its atmosphere. One must first possess princedom before one can reign effectively.
The lesson therein is not only for princesses but for princes as well. The very name of our nation ืืฉืจืื, Israel, bestowed upon us when Yaakov conquered the angel and was told ืฉืจืืช, you have prevailed accentuates his becoming a ืฉืจ, a master, a prince. The Rokeach HaGadol indeed says that it finds its source in Sarah, the first ‘princess’, who instilled the nobility that permits us to rule.
May we each portray this noblesse in all our actions and in its merit bring about the rule of the Melech HaMoshiach speedily in our days.