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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Ariel Tal

Yardena Tal - The Meaning Behind the Name: Crossing the Jordan River in your life!

Updated: Oct 10, 2021

Yardena Tal - Why We Chose her name

Rabbi Ariel Tal

Some people ask me why I chose to have more kids? Is it because I love kids. No, I sometimes say sarcastically, it’s because I hate sleep. But, in truth, it is a Mitzvah to have kids and a blessing to expand our family, now having 5 girls and our dog, Muksa. I am in “rare air” as a father of five girls - I share this achievement with Tslofchad, whose daughters are famous for being the source for the laws of inheritance and a story of empowering feminism in the book of Bamidbar. I am just shy of Yitro, who had seven daughters, and I think that I draw my “inspiration” from my Rabbi in Year one in Yeshiva, Rav Tzion Tawil, who had seven daughters himself at the time. Baruch HaShem!

Rachel and I chose the name Yardena, named after the Jordan River itself, or Nahar HaYarden in Hebrew. The symbolism of the Jordan River is very powerful, and I would like to share some of the insights we had that led us to choose Yardena’s name. On a lighter note, all of our girls have Hebrew names, but also English names. Their English names are not on any of their official documents, rather they are the English meaning of their names. Our daughters are Nechama, Shlomit, Emunah Shira, Aliza Shoshana, and the newest edition - Yardena. Good, solid Hebrew names. However, when translated into English they sound like our family should be in Woodstock in the 1960s with a VW Van and sharing Peace & Love to all. Their English names are Comfort, Harmony, Faith Song, Joy Rose, and the newest edition - River. So, we’re just a bunch of hippies, really.

On a deeper note, the name Yardena reflects our trajectory as a family, the mission we chose as Rabbi and Rebbitzin of a Jewish community, and how we live our life. Yardena was born on Shemini Atzeret - the Chag (Holiday) that immediately follows the seven days of Succot and the day that we ask for rain in Israel and introduce the blessing of Mashiv HaRuach U’morid Hageshem in our Tefilla. It is also a day that

we say Hallel during Shacharit. In the Hallel itself, we say chapter 114 of Tehillim (Pslams) :

הֶהָרִים רָקְדוּ כְאֵילִים גְּבָעוֹת כִּבְנֵי צֹאן. ה מַה לְּךָ הַיָּם כִּי תָנוּס הַיַּרְדֵּן תִּסֹּב לְאָחוֹר

The verse refers to the miracle where Hashem reversed the Jordan River when the Nation of Israel was crossing from the East to the West side of the Jordan River, entering the land of Canaan. The miracle is held to the same regard as the famed splitting of the Red Sea, Yam Suf. There are, however, two major differences between the two miracles. One, the Torah describes the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea in great detail, versus the crossing of the Jordan River, where the miracle itself has very little detail in Joshua chapter 3. Second, and most interestingly, is where Israel ended up after crossing each body of water. After walking through the Red Sea, the nation of Israel ended up on the same bank of the Red Sea as before, effectively making a semi-circle, whereas when Israel crossed the Jordan, they actually crossed from the East Bank to the West Bank of the Jordan River. Analyzing these two key differences, the Torah is telling us that the goal of the miracles was different in each case. The goal of the splitting of the Red Sea was for Hashem to show His miracles to the People of Israel, and for Israel to cement their belief in Hashem and Moshe, their appointed leader. When Yehoshua led the People of Israel crossing the Jordan River, the focus was not on the miracle, rather on the journey - the crossing of the River itself. Crossing into the Land of Israel.

In the Tanach, the term “Eiver HaYarden” or the Side of the River Jordan, is a key term to describe the border between the land of Israel (Canaan) and outside of Israel. In fact, rivers are important There are four rivers that make up the borders of the Garden of Eden, and in the finale of the book of Bamidbar the Torah, the and Jordan River is the main landmark of the eastern border for the Land of Israel. That resulted in there being two sides of the River for purposes of the borders of the Promised Land, Halachic implications (with Shemita, Terumot and Maasrot and other issues), and for allocations for the Tribes. Moshe conquered the Eastern Side of the Jordan and Reuven and Gad campaigned to settle their families in that area, outside of the borders of the Promised Land. Moshe then appointed the tribe of Menashe to bridge the gap between Reuven and Gad on the Easter Side and the 9 other tribes on the Western Side of the Jordan. The Jordan River is the divide between Israel and the Diaspora, and Menashe bridges that gap.

When I was 17 years old, and about to start Yeshiva in Israel, in the Golan Heights, which was part of the tribe of Menashe’s plot, Rabbi Shmuel Veffer of the Village Shul in my final Shabbat in Toronto gave a Dvar Torah that resonates me with even 22 years later. Rabbi Veffer said that the Tal family are like the Tribe of Menashe - the ability to bridge the gap between Israel and the Diaspora. They were words of inspiration that have driven me to take the Torah knowledge and experience of living in Israel to my various roles in the Diaspora - in Canada and now in New Zealand for the past three years. Rachel and I endeavor to connect Jews in the Diaspora to Israel, be a home that welcomes Israelis in their travels, helps engage with Israelis living in the community, and promoting Israel in the general community as well. We believe that the tribes on both sides of the Jordan River can succeed. In other words, the Jewish communities in Israel and in the Diaspora can succeed in parallel, and my wife and I believe in that wholeheartedly. Yardena’s name has very much to do with that message that Rabbi Veffer gave me 22 years ago.

There is a deeper connection as well from a different angle - Avraham Ha’Ivri, Abraham the Hebrew. Avraham is known as “Ivri” - a metaphor for him going against the grain and being on one bank of the river when everyone else was on the other side. Avraham stood for monotheism against the grain of idolatry, which was the overwhelming popular belief of his times. The symbolism of being on one side of the river is literally the origin of the name “Ivri” - Hebrew, the original name of the Nation of Israel, and the name of our official language. Avraham realized that there was a God, a God that is One, and that idolatry was a fallacy. He came to this conclusion by observing reality and being authentic. Yardena symbolizes fighting for what we believe in even when going against the grain. The strongest fish swim upstream, and being Jewish is essentially being an Ivri - standing our ground for Torah, Sanctifying God’s name and morality despite popular beliefs that are an antithesis to the Torah’s messages. Standing up for spirituality in a generation that may reject spirituality and religion altogether.

One final thought was taking all of these messages and bringing it home on the micro-level. My wife’s mantra in life is to “Live Life on Purpose”. It’s a beautiful and empowering message - we should be proactive in life, and choose our direction, and not let life “happen” to us. Crossing the Jordan River symbolizes making a choice about our lives - make the decision, cross the Jordan River in your life and take control of the areas of life where you have a choice. How do you want to live your life? What do you want to achieve in life? I have always wanted to be a Rabbi, and I chose a path that would give me that opportunity. We may not have control over reality, but we have 100% freedom of choice. Let’s live life like Avraham and act out of true authenticity. Let’s open our eyes and live life on purpose. We are so blessed to have our Yardena in the world and hope that these messages resonate with her in her life and with everyone in our family and Kehilla. Mazal Tov!

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