Everyone has two names. The one you are given, and the one you give yourself. My name is Debra Kay, and my Hebrew name is Devorah. I was born on November 22, 1963 in Denton, Texas, just a few hours before John F. Kennedy was assassinated. An auspicious day, some would say. My middle name is Kay, in honor of our fallen president, whom my family admired deeply. My name, Debra, is in memory of a dear family friend who died tragically and too soon. I always thought when I was a little girl growing up at Temple Emanu-El, that because we shared the same Hebrew name, I was named after Devorah the prophetess. I’ve always been drawn to her as my luminary. And what of it, anyhow? Why do I, or why do we, (Jewish people) constantly search for meaning, when all we need to do is put one foot in front of the other and move through our days?
Here’s a good reason. Because this simply worded prayer is waiting for me, every Friday night, when I sit down at services. It is found in our Mishkan T’filah Prayerbook and comes right before the Amida. It reads,
“In an envelope marked:
God addressed me a letter
In an envelope marked:
I have given my answer.”
– Langston Hughes
These words remind me in ways that are direct and sometimes uncomfortable, that it is time to begin my Shabbat conversation with God. To engage in this relationship, I need to reflect, and before I can reflect, I need to be grounded, and before I can become grounded, I need to know who I am, or even who or what I wish to become. Enter, once again, the prophetess Devorah.
Devorah lived during the period of Judges, about 2650. She, herself, was a judge, a prophetess, as mentioned, held in very high esteem. It is written that “She lead Israel at that time. She used to sit under the Palm Tree of Devorah…and the Israelites would come to her for judgement.” (4:4) It happened that a cruel king was oppressing the Jews (what are the odds?), and Devorah received Divine word that the Jews should assemble an army and go into battle. Devorah sent for Barak and asked him to command the Jewish army against the Canaanites. Barak agreed to lead, but had an unusual request. He asked that Devorah accompany them. “Very well I will go with you. However, there will be no glory for you in the course you are taking, for then the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” (4:8-9)
Victory was theirs. Devorah said, “So may all your enemies perish, O Lord.” Gulp. Devorah then returned home to her husband, Lapidot.
We study and learn from many women in the Bible, but Devorah is, perhaps, our strongest woman. She was highly regarded and respected, and spoken to directly by God. Moreover, she was willing to do the courageous work required to free the Israelites from oppression. For all these reasons, I am honored to share her name. I choose it for myself. In my intention, in my journey, I reach high for Devorah’s attributes and strength of character. I reflect on her courage, her independence, her confidence in her direct relationship with God, her ability to speak her truth to those who sought her counsel, and lastly, although I don’t know it for certain, her ease in being a unique woman in her time.
In Proverbs 22:1, we read, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, loving favour rather than silver and gold.”
My intention in my Yoga practice, and more importantly, in my daily life, is to weave together my sacred names. The names given to me and the names I choose for myself. To softly braid together the memory of a dear family friend, a beloved president, the wise prophetess, and my own spirit with many merits as well, into a woman who can stand before God and know herself in her own shoes. Amen.
You can find Debbi K. Levy practicing and teaching at the J and at her Dallas studio, Transformation Yoga. When you can’t get to a studio, you can follow Debbi for Yoga inspiration on Facebook TransformationYogaTexas, on Instagram at @thecompanyyogateacher, and on her website www.TransformationYogaTexas.
ABOUT THE PAINTING AND THE ARTIST:
Debbi’s daughter, the artist Caroline Rothschild, who is is pursuing her BFA from the University of Alabama, was inspired by Debbi’s story about her name and offered to paint an original of the biblical DEVORAH for publication in this magazine. Caroline’s fascination with Judaism and her passion for color and texture are manifest in her soulful works of contemporary Jewish art. Her paintings are available on canvas and as prints. Caroline is developing a line of Jewish art greeting cards in time for the High Holy Days. For more information and to see additional samples of her art, please visit her Instagram feed: @carolinerebeccaart or her website: www.carolinerebecca.
This article originally appeared in Dallas Jewish Monthly on pages 29-30.
Photos by Chloe Saltarelli Photography.