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 TETZAVEH:

View Complete List

Brotherly Love at Its Best: Moshe and Aharon
Rabbi Yissocher Frand - 5775

Easy Come, Easy Go
Rabbi Dovid Green - 5758

Remember What?
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5764

ArtScroll

Too Humble?
Rabbi Chaim Flom - 5768

Jewish Clothing
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5767

The Inner Amalek
Shlomo Katz - 5766

Frumster - Orthodox Jewish Dating

Darling, Your Clothes are Divine
Rabbi Aron Tendler - 5759

Pure Oil
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5773

Allowing US To Leave The Light On For HIM
Rabbi Yissocher Frand - 5773

> The Hidden Essence
Rabbi Yisroel Ciner - 5762

Rising from the Ashes
Rabbi Yaakov Menken - 5757

Many Can Have 'Urim' But Few Have 'Tumim'
Rabbi Yissocher Frand - 5760

Looking for a Chavrusah?

Miraculous Light
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5762

The Light of the Menorah and the Absence of Moshe
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5770

When Someone Says "Don't Worry About It" It Is Time To Start Worrying
Rabbi Yissocher Frand - 5772

Bell Bottoms
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky - 5756



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