| Second Thoughts |

What’s in a Name?

Most people seem to be calling it quite simply “the October 7 War”


What is the official name of this Israel-Hamas war? So far, it is Swords of Iron. But according to media reports, some among Israel’s security cabinet find this unsatisfactory and are searching for a new name. It is really not of crucial importance what we name it, but most people seem to be calling it quite simply “the October 7 War.” Others argue that since we already have the “Yom Kippur War,” why should this one not be called the “Simchas Torah War”?

While there is a certain macabre symmetry in this label, most people seem to be avoiding it. Perhaps this is because the juxtaposition of war with Simchas Torah is simply too wrenching, whereas the twinning of Yom Kippur with war — while incongruous — is not as painfully contradictory. The happiness of Simchas Torah, the singing and dancing, the joy of completing the Torah and beginning once again, children parading with mini-Torah scrolls and colorful flags, the candies being tossed, the parallel Torah readings, the gathering of the children under a huge tallis to recite “asher bachar banu mikol ha’amim — Who hast chosen us from all the nations,” the festive kiddush in Shul and at home, the climax of our annual reunion with G-d that began with Elul, continued with Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Succos, and reached the summit of re-embracing our Creator on Shemini Atzeres–Simchas Torah — somehow to juxtapose all this with a bloody struggle by naming it the “Simchas Torah War” is too discordant and cacophonous to bear — especially when the massacre was taking place at precisely the same moment just a few miles away.

In general, one wonders: Why in our times do we feel the need to give dramatic titles to wars? It was not always so. The American Civil War is known simply as the War Between the States. That was accurate and adequate. The first world war is World War I, the second world war is World War II, The wars in Vietnam and Korea are the Vietnam War and the Korean War. No fancy nomenclature, no picturesque titling, no bombast.

The histrionics seem to have begun in the 1990s. The Gulf wars became transformed into Desert Storm and Desert Shield, the Iraq war in 2011 became Iraqi Freedom; Israel’s (too many) wars have begotten Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense, and Protective Edge. These are all imaginative and reflect careful thought and even Biblical allusions, but ultimately they become irrelevant. Few people remember them or can distinguish one from the other.

Certainly war is not just another dramatic presentation, a spectacle with actors being killed and wounded, advancing and retreating, winning and losing, while the rest of us are the audience in the theater and the spectators in the stadium who applaud and keep score, and thus, like any drama, requires a good title.

When dealing with inanimate things or events, Shakespeare had it right when he asked, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” But he was wrong about the names of human beings, for these are highly significant. The Torah carefully explains, for example, why Adam’s mate was called Chavah, and why Avram was changed to Avraham, and Sarai to Sarah, and why the children of Rachel and Leah were given certain names, and why Moshe Rabbeinu was called Moshe. And the Second Commandment forbids us “to take G-d’s Name in vain,” which is why that Name — the four-letter Tetragrammaton — is never pronounced as written, and we refer to G-d as Hashem, “the Name.” But indiscriminate use of names and titles for inanimate things and not people is uncommon in Tanach.

The security cabinet has more pressing concerns, but if, despite everything, they insist on finding an appropriate name for this war, here are some unsolicited suggestions: Operation G-d Protects; Operation Return to Basics; Operation Humility; Operation Lessons Learned.

My personal favorite?

Operation Psalm 20:8-9. That says it all.

Look it up.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 994)

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