What Is In a Name?
Rabbi Shlomo Jarcaig
The third book of the Torah begins with a calling, “And He (Hashem/G-d) called to Moshe.” (Vayikra/Leviticus 1:1). The Medrash teaches that Moshe really had ten names, each one representing a different facet of his personality and accomplishments. Hebrew names are not coincidental; in truth, they describe the essence of the person or object of reference. Thus, when Adam named all of the animals of creation (Beraishis/Genesis 2:20) he was granted Divine Inspiration. He called himself Adam because he was of “adama”, earth. The deeper significance to the name is that people, like the earth, are created without inherent worth but contain tremendous potential for growth and, when cultivated properly, bring forth a bounty of life. If Moshe possessed ten names, what was it about the name “Moshe” that it was his primary name? This name does not even refer to Moshe himself; rather, to the act of Pharaoh’s daughter in drawing him from the Nile to save him. To the contrary, this name appears to be less meaningful than his other names that directly refer to his deeds and accomplishments.
Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz (Rosh Yeshiva/Dean of the Mir Yeshiva, who led his students from the ashes of the European Holocaust to the glory of Jerusalem) explains that her act of drawing Moshe from the water was an act of great self-sacrifice. Pharaoh had decreed that all Jewish male children were to be killed and, at great personal risk, she disobeyed her father. Because Moshe’s life was predicated on self-sacrifice, Hashem created within him a drive for self-sacrifice on behalf of others, arguably his most essential trait as leader of the Jewish nation and the foundation of many of his later accomplishments.
The Medrash relates a test formulated by Hashem to determine if Moshe possessed the traits requisite to lead the Jewish people. Moshe, like many of the leaders of Israel, was a shepherd. A lamb once strayed from the flock, and Moshe pursued it. The lamb found a spring and stopped to drink. Moshe caught up with the lamb and finally realized that the flight was simply due to the animal’s unquenched thirst. He then hoisted the tired lamb onto his shoulders and brought him back to join the flock. When Hashem witnessed this pure act of chessed (loving kindness), without an ulterior motive or thought of recognition, He declared Moshe the ideal leader for His “flock”.
In choosing the name with which to reference Moshe in the Torah, concludes Rabbi Shmulevitz, Hashem looked back to that initial act of self-sacrifice that both saved him and profoundly impacted his character, generating his ultimate potential. And with this choice, Hashem communicated the paradigm for true Jewish leadership: not the most skilled orator nor the most inspirational motivator, but the consummate master of self-sacrificial chessed.
Have a good Shabbos!
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