Torah.org Home Subscribe Services Support Us
 
Print Version

Email this article to a friend

Parshas Shemos

My Name, My Identity

The Torah emphasizes the names of the family of Yaakov in this week’s parsha as it did in even greater detail in last week’s parsha of Vayechi. There may be many varied reasons for this concentration of interest in the names of the tribes of Israel. But whatever the reasons are, the Torah obviously feels it to be of great importance. In fact, throughout the Torah the names of the tribes are repeated many times. After all, we might ask, what is in a name? But the names of our ancestors are drummed into us by the Torah to provide us with a sense of continuity and tradition.

The Jewish people are about to experience centuries of exile and eventual slavery in Egypt. They are certainly in danger of being destroyed both physically and spiritually. The rabbis taught us that by not forgetting their original names, by not completely becoming Egyptian in deed as well, the hope of the Jewish people to be redeemed and freed never died out. The names of their ancestors reminded them of their past and of the commitment of God to redeem them from their bondage and afflictions.

This experience of Egyptian exile imbedded within the Jewish world the importance of remembering our original names. For it was the existence and use of those names that prevented their extinction as a special and eternal people. Thus, in the introduction to the book of Shmot, the book of bondage and redemption, is the list of names of the sons of Yaakov, the eternal reminder of who the Jewish people really are.

Over the centuries, the Jewish people have continually struggled to retain their identity and sense of continuity through their names. In the Ashkenazic world it became customary to name children after deceased ancestors. This became a deeply emotional bond in families, ultimately leading to children being given multiple names to commemorate more than one ancestor. In the Sephardic tradition names are given to honor living grandparents and relatives. But there also the sense of continuity and purpose is stressed in the granting of those names.

In more modern times Jews were given secular names as well to be used in general society. However, over the last few decades the use of exclusively Jewish or Hebrew names has become in vogue once again. So apparently there is a great deal involved in a name. Even in the non-Jewish world, the use of biblical names remains quite popular and widespread. People hunger for a connection to their past and such traditional, biblical, family names seem to provide a sense of immortality and continuity that flashy “cool” names cannot provide.

Names can therefore be an anchor to one’s own self-worth and purpose in life. The Torah’s insistence on recording the names of the sons of Yaakov – the eventual tribes of Israel – highlights this important fact of life and family to us. Perhaps this is what Midrash meant when it taught us that one of the causes of the redemption of Israel from Egyptian bondage was “that they [the Jewish people] did not change their names [from Hebrew ones to Egyptian ones.]”

Shabat shalom.

Rabbi Berel Wein


Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com


 






ARTICLES ON YOM KIPPUR:

View Complete List

I Was Wrong
Rabbi Label Lam - 5769

Did You Hear?
Rabbi Yehudah Prero - 5763

Must it Be the Same Old Me?
Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann - 5761

Frumster - Orthodox Jewish Dating

The Right Fit
Rabbi Raymond Beyda - 5764

Yom Kippur: Of Angels & Men
Rabbi Osher Chaim Levene - 5766

Our Next Big Move!
Rabbi Label Lam - 5764

> Thoughts About Prayer Before Yom Kippur
Rabbi Yissocher Frand - 5773

Are We A Role Model for the World?
Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky - 5764

Deep Heat Therapy
Rabbi Aron Tendler - 5758

Looking for a Chavrusah?

Ideas for Inspiration
Rabbi Yehudah Prero - 5760

Call to Arms
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky - 5758

Picture Perfect
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5763

ArtScroll

'Sin... Don't Laugh!'
Rabbi Yaakov Menken - 5755

Completing The Process
Rabbi Moshe Peretz Gilden - 5764

The Taste of Repentance
Rabbi Yehudah Prero - 5758

Yom Kippur - Getting In Touch With Ourselves
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5774



Project Genesis

Torah.org Home


Torah Portion

Jewish Law

Ethics

Texts

Learn the Basics

Seasons

Features

TORAHAUDIO

Ask The Rabbi

Knowledge Base




Help

About Us

Contact Us



Free Book on Geulah!




Torah.org Home
Torah.org HomeCapalon.com Copyright Information