And these are the names of the Children of Israel who came to Egypt;
Yaakov and his household, Reuven, Shimon, Levi, and Yehudaa, Yisachar,
Zevulen, Binyamin, Dan, Noftali, Gad, and Asher…(Shemos 1:1-4)
The name of the week’s portion and the name of the entire book- “Shemos”
means- “Names” and not “Exodus”. Why are the people listed as names?
What’s in a name?
We find that whatever name Adam gave to the various creatures of the
world “that was its name”. (Breishis 2:19) It sounds like whatever name he
gave it stuck, like a little kid that names his doggy woofy. Rashi points
out that when Adam called his wife Isha (woman) because she was taken from
and Ish (man), based on the play of words that we see from here that the
world was created with the Holy Language of Hebrew. (Breishis 2:23) What
does that mean?
The three sons of Noah from whom the world was reestablished each had a
name indicative of their character that played out dramatically in their
lives.1) Cham- means-Heat and with the heat and passion of the moment he
abused his own father. 2) Yafes – is Beauty and so for appearance sake he
joined forces to cover his father’s indignity but still his concern was
more for manners than morals. 3) Shem’s name means name. He did what was
essential. He covered his father in the most appropriate way. How is that
implied in the name “Name”?
When we buy a new car or computer or whatever of moderate sophistication
then there is usually a user’s guide that accompanies it. The thicker the
booklet the more complex the machinery is. In that manual you find optimal
usages for each of the buttons and levers in the gadget. Rarely would you
find a vestigial organ- a part that does not serve some function. The
designer gives each piece a name that tells us something about its
function. The implication of a name is that it points to the designer’s
In any other language, names are arbitrary. CAT tells us how to pronounce
the word and does little else than remind us of the creature that has
whiskers and loves to chase mice. Nothing in the letters is intrinsically
connected to the idea it spells. The eastern languages are pictographic.
We see in a word a picture of a flower or a friend, and only the
pronunciation is absent from the image. In the Holy Language we have
both. A Lamed looks like the silhouette of a person sitting. Its name
implies learning. Its grammatical use connotes “to” “direction”. It is
composed of a “cof” + “vuv” (=26)-with learning we grasp higher
The letters of the Holy Language function conceptually like elements in
the periodic table. In Sefer Yetzirah, reputed to have been written by
Avraham, it is written, “Twenty two Foundation letters: He engraved them,
he carved them, He permuted them, He weighed them, and with them He
depicted all that was formed and all that would be formed.”
Why is the 2nd book not called Exodus? If the real subject was exodus then
it should have ended by the splitting of the sea. Yet it continues past
the giving of the Torah and on to the construction of the Tabernacle. The
Ramban answers The Book of Breishis tells of the formation of the seed,
the possibility of what would later be the Nation of Israel. The Book of
Shemos focuses on the plantation and development of that potential into a
nation worthy of constant Divine Presence, just like the individual
Patriarchs and Matriarchs. When is a seed considered to have fulfilled its
mission? When it produces an entire tree filled with seed bearing fruits.
Who was it that came down to enter the soil of Egypt? It was the essence,
the purpose, and the potential of what’s possible- In a name!