Pin’chas: What’s in a Name?

“The sons of Gad after their families… of Ozni, the family of the Oznites…” (Numbers 26:16)

In the context of taking a census of the Children of Israel, the Torah lists the families of each tribe, according to the names of the sons of each tribe’s patriarch. For example, Reuben, son of Jacob, had four sons: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi (Genesis 46:9). Therefore, in this section, we count four families in the tribe of Reuben — the Hanochites, the Palluites, the Hezronites and the Carmites (Numbers 26:5-6).

But when we reach the sons of Gad, we find a discrepancy between the names of Gad’s sons in Genesis and the names of the families of Gad here. Genesis (46:16) names Gad’s sons as Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli. But Numbers 26 replaces Ezbon with Ozni (see above). How shall we reconcile this discrepancy?

Rashi, the classic commentator, informs us that Ezbon and Ozni are the same person; the Torah simply refers to him with a different name. But why does the Torah do so? Rashi does not address that question.

According to the Shla”hthe Torah conveys a profound and beautiful lesson here, one which we discussed in a previous post. The name Ezbon (אצבון — pronounced “etz-bone”) is related to the word “etzba” (אצבע), meaning “finger.” The name Ozni (אזני) derives from the word “ozen” (אזן), meaning “ear.” What is the relationship between the finger and the ear?

Our Sages have taught that God especially designed our fingers to fit comfortably into our ears, so that we can easily plug up our ears to avoid hearing that which we should not hear, such as gossip, slander, or other evil speech (Kethuboth 5B).

May we continue to learn from every nuance in the Holy Torah, including even the variations in people’s names, lessons to shape our lives in a positive way.

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(Image from Zastavki)


2 thoughts on “Pin’chas: What’s in a Name?

  1. I heard a different explanation from the Hobokener Rav, who said that rather than point a finger at someone, embarrassing him with an accusation or an implied criticism of his behavior, we should first give ear to that person — listen to his story — and understand him. Thus, the finger must be subjugated to the ears.


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