Sometimes a person’s name escapes me. I am sure it is someone I know, but for the life of me I cannot recall their name at that moment. Usually the name comes to my mind a while later, but by then it may be too late to greet them properly.
I confess that I had to work out with my wife a harmless little piece of play-acting. If she saw me talking to someone and I did not introduce them but said, “You know my wife, don’t you?” that would indicate to her, “Don’t press me on the name: I just can’t think of it at the moment!”
The Chassidic teacher, Rabbi Yehudah Tzvi of Strettin, was better than me (not just in this respect). Someone asked him how he remembered the names of all the many people who wanted him to pray for them.
This was his answer: “When someone comes to me with their problems, it leaves a scar on my heart. When I start praying, I open my heart to the Almighty so He can see for Himself the pain of everyone who has come to me with their troubles.”
The story comes to mind whenever I read this week’s sidra, T’tzavveh, with its command to Aaron to wear an ephod to which were attached onyx-stones bearing the names of the tribes of Israel (Ex. 28:9). As high priest, Aaron not only had to carry out routine functions in the sanctuary: he had to bear with him the names and concerns of the whole people.