“A good name is better than precious oil, and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.”
Thus reads Ecclesiastes 7:1.
What does it mean? Why compare one’s name with oil?
A person’s name is one of the most important things he or she possesses. It’s one of the words that every person hears more often than any other during his or her life. Whenever someone wants something, they calls a person by name. And when a person is called by name, together with that word arise all the associations that this name brings to the mind of both the person bearing the name and to others.
When a person is born they are considered pure. There are as yet no bad deeds in them. It is not yet known which way that person will turn in life. Everything is open and all possibilities remain before them. Then he or she is given a name by their parents, and by God.
In Hebrew poetry, the well-known and respected poetess Zelda wrote:
“Each person has a name given to him by God and given to him by his father and mother.”
In other words, God intervenes in the choice of a person’s name, and we can see evidence of this quite a few times in the Bible. And from that moment on, a person begins life and accumulates “deeds” here and there. And these actions actually become part of that person’s personality, making them what they are now. And when that person’s name comes up, so do the feelings of these deeds.
If a person is giving, loving, attentive, compassionate, healthy, etc. associated feelings will rise in us.
If a person is a criminal, a rapist, a murderer… when their name is mentioned, this is what will come to mind. And so until the end of his days, man continues to accumulate deeds and cultivates his name for better and for worse.
Of course it’s not 100% black-and-white, and we have a variety of deeds. But everyone has a general way of walking through life that is unique. And that’s what mostly comes to mind when a name is mentioned.
And when a person dies and leaves this world, they leave behind a mark, a name and everything that comes with it. A person’s fragrance and way of being continue to have an impact, even though the body is no longer alive.
Not so for the day of one’s birth. A newborn baby has not yet made a mark, has not yet lived a life that gives off an aroma.
Therefore, in order for one’s impact–both while alive and afterward–to be benevolent, loving and comforting… a person must take care to cultivate actions that will “improve” his or her name in the truest sense of the word, and leave a special and long-lasting fragrance.
And why better than oil?
Essential oils are used to make perfumes with a wonderful fragrance. When we leave the house, for work, for a visit, or for an event; we often wear perfume or cologne. Some of us even have several perfumes – perfume for work, perfume for events, perfume for home. Each perfume has its own fragrance that gives us a good feeling. And if the perfume is really high quality, its smell sometimes reaches a considerable distance. Notice that we sometimes recognize a person is present by his or her smell, even before we see them. The comparison between a good oil and a good name is not intended to make us stop wearing perfume. Rather, we should continue to steward our bodies well. And yet we should notice:
Where is the center of gravity in our lives?
What is really most important to us?
What should we put more focus and emphasis on?
Because these will determine the quality and longevity of the fragrance of our lives.
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