Friday, August 15, 2008

The Funny Last Name

No… I’m not talking about the presumptive democratic nominee for President, Barack Obama. I’m talking about me. My last name is Maryles. It is a name that goes back a couple of centuries to the time of the Mezritcher Magid, the primary disciple of the Baal Shem Tov founder of Chasidus. The Mezritcher Magid is credited for the spread of Chasidus in Eastern Europe.

So how did I end up with a funny name like that? Why not something more Jewish? …like Goldstein or Shapiro?

Well, it was supposed to be Shapiro. That was my father’s name before he changed it to Maryles near the end of World War II after his town was liberated from the Nazi’s by the Russians. He used his mother’s maiden name. She was a direct descendant of a relatively famous (at least in Chasidic circles) Rebbe, R’ Shimon MiYaroslav, for whom my father was named.

But Maryles was not R’ Shimon 's original name either. It was Elbaum. Maryles is a name made up by my illustrious ancestor, R’ Shimon 7 generations ago.

R’ Shimon was not always a Chasid. But he was attracted to that philosophy and became close to an elderly Chasidic Master the Noam Elimelech. Upon the Noam Elimelech’s passing R’ Shimon became attached to the Chozeh M’Lublin. R’ Shimon is considered to be perhaps the Chozeh’s greatest disciple. To his father’s chagrin, R’ Shimon ultimately became a famous Chasidic Rebbe himself.

His father R' Yisroel Leib Elbaum was very upset by his son’s ‘conversion’ to Chasdius. He was an ardent Misnagid – an opponent of Chasidus who fought it all of his life. So strong was his opposition that he told his son, R' Shimon that when he (R' Yisroel Leib) died, he should not say Kaddish for him if he recited the line, 'VeYatzmach Purkanei VeKorev Meshchei.

That is the line in a version of daily prayer adopted by Chasidim based on an interpretation by the Ari - Rabbi Isaac Luria - called Nusach Sefard. As I understand it the Baal Shem Tov told his Chasidim to change from the standard Nusach Ashkenaz to Nusach Sefard because he considered that to be a higher form of prayer as espoused by Rabbi Luria.

The story about my ancestor R’ Yisroel’s command to his famous son is actually cited in Jewish law - L'Hahlacha - in the Sefer Shearim Mitzuyainm B'Halacha on the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch in the section dealing with honoring one’s parents - Hilchos Kibud Av VeEm (143:10).

His mentor, the Chozeh, told R’ Shimon that he should disregard his father’s wish and say that line in Kaddish. However, our family lore is that he did not say that line when saying Kaddish - honoring his father’s wishes instead.

R' Shimon decided to change his name and to give honor to his father with whom he had this major disagreement about Chasidus. I surmise that after his father's death - R' Shimon somehow wanted to give everlasting Kavod to his father to show that it was a Milchama L'Shem Shamyim – a disagreement for the sake of Heaven and nothing more.

So he called himself Maryles. The Hebrew letters that comprise that name are Mem Reish Yud Lamed Samech. This is sort of an acronym plus contraction as follows: Mei Reb Yisroel Leib'S - meaning children descending from Reb Yisroel Leib. Maryles - is the anglicized way of spelling it. All Maryleses are related. In Europe they spell it Marilus and pronounce it a bit differently. Some of the NY branch pronounce it differently too.

So if you were ever curious about my name… now you know.