And these are the names of the Children of Israel who came to Egypt; Yaakov,
each man and his household came… (Shemos 1:1)
Why does the Torah tell us “these are the names”? It should rather tell us
these are the Children of Israel. The emphasis seems to be on the names. The
entire book, “Shemos”,is named “Names”! As the old Shakespearean quote goes,
“What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell
as sweet.” Well, a name is rather enormous.
Over the years while my wife labored in child birth I labored, not quite as
hard, on the task the naming. When our oldest son was born 27 plus years ago
I was waiting for a lightning bolt of prophecy to land on my head with a
name from heaven. I had read that one of the last vestiges of prophecy is
when parents are naming children. Without the actual lightning, by the end
of the process, I was certain that a prophecy played a role in our boy’s name.
Who could even think names!? Within the first few days of new parenthood we
were busy with the caterer and the Mohel and making sure they and the baby
would all be ready on the same day. Days before the Bris my wife was busy
bathing the little nameless Tzadikal. She asked if I would dial the phone
and call my mother-in-law. Now my mother-in-law had survived the Holocaust
and she had lost some of her hearing. When she answered the phone I had a
perfect opportunity to solve a problem that had had been bothering me since
the first days of marriage. I had a hard time calling my in-laws mom or dad.
(Eventually I was able to do it) So when my mother-in-law answered the phone
I asked, “What do you want to be called, “Bubby or Grandma?” She cried and
started repeating with big emotion, “Call him Chaim after my father!”
I gave the phone to my wife and she explained to me that her mother thought
I said, “What do you want him to be called?” It seems we were stuck with the
name Chaim. I fought it though. My wife’s name is Chaya. Can a Chaya have a
Chaim? We called a Rav and he assured us that they are two different names.
However we were also told that perhaps since this Chaim had perished in the
Holocaust it might be worthy to add a name for better Mazel. So we began
contemplating a second name. My wife liked Moshe. I had lost a little
brother Moshe. He needed a second name. Reb Moshe Feinstein had passed away
a year or so earlier. My wife has an illustrious family tree that reaches to
Moshe Isserles the Rama. The Chaim needs a Moshe. The Moshe needs a Chaim
and Moshe Chaim Luzzato, the Mesilas Yesharim is my favorite, can we say,
My wife then remembered a rare personal discussion we had with a very great
Rabbi who shared with us, for some reason, a deep personal error he and his
wife had committed. They named one of their sons, let’s say, Shlomo
Nechemia, after the Rebbetzin’s departed father Nechemia. When the
mother-in-law, a great women herself, realized that her husband’s name was
in 2nd place she did not talk to them for months. Whenever they called him,
they practically swallowed the first name and then they exaggerated the
second name. We can’t name him Moshe Chaim. It must be Chaim Moshe.
Then I remembered that on the refrigerator where pictures and invitations
come and go there remained for months and essay by a Chassidishe boy, in a
fourth grade English class where I taught. I ran over to look again. His
name was Chaim Moshe. This kid was so unusually wise and I was so impressed
by him I did something no teacher should do. I repeated to the class dozens
of times emphatically, “I wish my own son should be like this Chaim Moshe”.
I had no son yet. It was crazy, but I said it. When we made the Bris and I
came to teach that day the boys wanted to know the baby’s name. I told’m,
“Chaim Moshe”. This boy came over to me and said, “You said you wanted your
son to be like Chaim Moshe!”
There’s a lot in his name and everyone’s name. Those names are not just
arbitrary syllables but rather raw seeds of holy potentiality being planted
into the dark soil of Egypt, made to experience exile only in order to
demonstrate the incredible power of exodus.