Sunday, November 21, 2010

Names and Titles

The following question was submitted anonymously using the form on the right.

Why do we call the Avos or others from tanach by their first names and we call our Rabbis by a respectful title?

What a great question! I love hearing the questions you readers have and seeing how you think things through! You sound like someone who has a true desire to give the proper respect to all people - that is a middah we should all learn from and try to emulate!
Although I have not seen a source for this answer, I am taking the liberty to write up an answer that I thought of on my own.

Our Avos are called with the title father, Avraham Avinu, Yitzchok Avinu and Yaakov Avinu. This should remind us that they can be compared to our father in a very real way. We can and should learn practical lessons for life from the things we read about them in the Torah. Hashem wrote each thing down for a reason - because there is a message for us, the future generations to take from what happened.

They are not meant to be Avos in an unrealistic way. We are supposed to be able to view them as our REAL fathers. The things they went through and the challenges they endured are meant to give us strength - that we can go through these things too.

I remember when I was in Eretz Yisroel davening at Me'oras Hamachpeila, the place where Adam and Chava, Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchok and Rivka, Yaakov and Leah, are buried. It was such an overwhelming feeling when it hit me that this is where they are really buried! This is the place where our Avos - the ones we heard all those stories about - they are HERE! It's not just a joke, it's a REAL THING!! And then I thought about the different things I learned about them in the past, in school, things I've read about their nisyonos...and I davened, I said, "Hashem, please, give those people who are struggling with the same things our Avos struggled with, give them strength to go through and overcome their challenges..." I thought about each of the Avos and Imahos - Avraham and Sarah had so much to deal with - waiting for children, having to raise two different children - Yitzchok and Yishmoel...the Avos dealt with so many challenges that people in our generation are going through - shidduchim, parnassa (Yitzchok and the wells - every time he dug underground and found water, he was chased away and had to start all over again...) think about what each of our forefathers went through and realize that this is not just some story that we learn year after year - this is something real and true that happened!! And this should help us realize that Hashem gives us the strength to overcome any challenge we might face - because He has been with us from the beginning!! And He will be with us throughout our lives - there will never be a time that He wont be with us!!

So perhaps this is one of the messages you can take from the fact that we call our Avos by their names - this makes it much more personal and closer to our hearts. They were our fathers and we can learn from the things that happened to them, gather strength to go through our challenges - because Hashem will pull us through each time!

Another thing is that maybe our generation needs to call our own Rabbis by more respectful titles so that we respect them more. If we look back towards our Avos, of course we will view them respectfully and on a much higher level than us! But the Rabbis in our generation, we might think to ourselves that they are just like us (or almost on our own level). So we need to call them by respectful titles not for them - but for ourselves. So that we always remember to honor them, treat them properly and never to forget that they are much higher than we are and much greater than we are and they deserve the respect that we give them.

I hope this helps you!
Also, please can the person who submitted this question comment to let me know that you read this answer and if you still have a question about what I wrote?


  1. You are right on the mark - I remember learning in high school that at a certain time period (somewhere around the time of the gemara), Bnei Yisroel started calling their leaders with a title since the level of the nation had gone down and they needed that extra element of respect. This is why we have, say, Hillel and Shammai, but later on R' Yehudah HaNasi and R' Shimon bar Yochai.

  2. that's brilliant, thanks!! I;m really going to try, b"N to always tack on the Avinu, or Rabainu to the Avot, and Moshe's names cuz the question is so true. and anonymous that's such an interesting concept. id love to learn more about it...

  3. im a lil confused u said because they should be like real father but we would never call our father by their 1st name how can we call our fore father by their 1st name. thanx anon 4 explaining a lil better

  4. 1st Anon-thanks for adding that!

    Tamar-thank you.

    2nd Anon-What I meant to say is that when we call our forefathers with the title Avinu after their first name, it's a reminder for us that they are not meant to be people from the distant past but we should feel as if they are as close to us as our fathers!

    I think it is still respectful because we call them with a title after their names. Not just Avraham but Avraham Avinu and the same with all the other avos. That's what makes it okay.

    And the second part of the answer also shows that since we need to have more respect we to call our leaders with the titles of Rav or Rabbi. It's because of the level of our generation. (Also like what the 1st anonymous said.)


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