This week, our Parshat HaShevua — Parshat Sh’mot is being sponsored by Yitzchak and Leyla Gross of Wynnewood, PA to commemorate the Yarhtzeit of Yitzchak’s Mother: Chaya Yita Sarah Bat Aharon. To Mishpochat Gross, many thanks for your sponsorship, your kindnesses through the years in helping facilitate Sefer Torah recycling, and for your continued kindnesses.
You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.
Please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.
In previous vorts on Parshat Sh’mos, this author has discussed the various historical accounts, and queries regarding possible historical time periods during which the evolution of Jewish enslavement in Mitzrayim occurred; whether a foreign nation which had conquered Egypt and installed its Pharaoh over Egypt, or whether the Pharaoh of Yosef’s time was overthrown by his own advisors and developed convenient politically expedient amnesia regarding Yosef and the Jews in order to return to power, or whether the Pharaoh who subjugated the Jews was a new indigenous Pharaoh.
Also discussed were perils of assimilation for the Jews, such as the enslavement in Mitzrayim, throughout our history and particularly in our generations, and how the Levi’im remained in Goshen, mostly separated from the rest of Am Yisrael, learning Torah.
R’ Weissman writes (“The Midrash Says” on Sefer Sh’mot, page 6) citing Rambam:
One Tribe of B’nei Yisrael was never drafted by Pharaoh, The Tribe of Levi. When Pharaoh issued the original proclamation, they did not appear at work, saying, “We are constantly engaged in Torah-study and have no time to come!” Subsequently, Pharaoh left them alone, and they remained free until the end of the exile. Had they stepped out of the Beit Hamidrash to volunteer their services for even one day, the consequences would have been two hundred and ten years of slavery!
The Levi’im had been instructed by their forefather Yaakov to concentrate on learning Torah. (Rambam, Akoo”m [goy] Alef, Gimmel)
And Rabbi Zelig Pliskin (“Growth Through Torah”, Parshat Sh’mot, pages 138-140) cites comments from Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz:
…There are two aspects here. One is on the side of the Egyptians. They were unable to treat the Jewish people as slaves as long as they [the Egyptians] considered them important. The other aspect is on the side of the Jewish people themselves. As long as they [the Jews] were considered important and worthy of respect by themselves [self-respect and self-esteem], the Egyptians were not able to treat them in an inferior manner. Only when they considered themselves in a lowly manner could they be subjugated by others.
In other words, as this author understands, as long as the Jews held themselves apart from, rather than seeking to blend into Mitzri society, as long as they held to the principles and ideals of the Avos and maintained their self respect, the Egyptians considered them worthy of respect. And to again emphasize the final comment of this R’ Shmuelevitz citing:
Only when they [the Jews] considered themselves in a lowly manner could they be subjugated by others.
It is on this note that this vort will discuss the essence and importance of names in Mitzrayim, through history and now and the role of names as a determinant either of the merit and uniqueness of the Jews, or the tendency to blend or assimilate into whatever nation, society which they would reside at any given point of history.
Parshat Sh’mot opens with Torah relating:
“… These are the names of the B’nei Yisrael who came to Egypt; with Yaakov, each man and his household came.” (rendered to English in “The Sapirstein Edition: The Torah with Rashi’s Commentary”, Sefer Sh’mot, Perek 1, posuk 1)
Now, let’s return to Torah’s relating of day six of Creation along with commentary citing Sforno and Mincha Belulah:
“Hashem said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures, each according to its kind: cattle and creeping things, and the beasts of the land each according to its kind.’ And it was so. Hashem made the beast of the earth according to its kind, and the cattle according to its kind, and every creeping being of the ground according to its kind. And Hashem saw that it was good.” (rendered to English in “The Artscroll Stone Chumash, Sefer Breish’t, Perek 1, posukim 24-25)
According to its kind. The singular form implies that Hashem endowed each of the species with whatever senses and faculties it required to thrive (Sforno), and endowed each with its own peculiar nature and instincts (Mincha Belulah). (Commentary, ibid, Sefer Breish’t, Perek 1, posukim 24-25)
As this author understands, Adam then named each specie for its ways, faculties, instincts — its characteristics, its essence.
Rebbetzin Shira Smiles, in a shiur given on our Parsha in January, 2017/5777, explains, as summarized for email:
Rabbi Eisenberger writes in Mesillot Bilvovom, there must be some connection between the names they went down with and the redemption, explaining on one level why our Sages say that one of the main reasons we were redeemed from Egypt was because we did not change our names. Maintaining our Hebrew names, then, contributed to our maintaining our Jewish identity when we are living among other nations. Similarly, these names must also somehow be harbingers of redemption. It behooves us, therefore, to examine the significance of names.
Rav [Gedaliah] Shorr in Ohr Gedalyahu reminds us that the name reflects the essence of a being and the purpose of his existence. From the very beginning of creation, Adam named each creature based on its salient characteristic. (Indeed, God named Adam himself based on his source, adamah/earth, and Adam is to be a footstool, …the foundation for Hashem’s presence on earth. – R. Hirsch) The name helps us understand its essence, its potential, and its basic function. Understanding the name of a person or a thing helps us focus on the purpose.
What was it that Hashem loved Avram so much that He named him Avraham? He found Avraham faithful to his name. One must be loyal to the attributes inherent in the name you are given. In fact, giving the name at a bris or at a girl’s baby naming at the Torah reading reveals those hidden attributes of the child that the parents hope he will develop, whether named for a loved one or for a specific attribute.
When Pharaoh summons the midwives whom our tradition identifies as Yocheved and Miriam, the names they are called are Shifrah and Puah. Rabbi Shmuel Brazile explains that these were names Pharaoh gave them, hoping to erase their identifying with the Jewish babies. Then the babies would be no more than numbers, and the midwives would have no qualms in killing them.
Names, thus, have two interconnected components writes Rabbi Dovid Hofstedter in Dorash Dovid. The first is the definition of the name, while the second is the mental, psychological and emotional intention of the parents when they gave the child this name for, just as a child inherits physical attributes from his parents, so too does he inherit these other attributes from his parents. A person is influenced by both of these meanings in developing the attributes of his name.
One’s name is a gift, continues Rabbi Hofstedter. It includes both a legacy and a mindset. Our Matriarchs articulated the reasons they gave their children their particular names. These names were a sacred legacy in the land of Israel, and included the essence of each individual. By renaming these souls when they descended to Egypt, they invested themselves with the ability to retain their innate holy essence even as they had to adapt to the immoral society of Egypt, Rabbi Gifter tells us. This ability to adapt and actualize our innate holy potential wherever we find ourselves exists in each one of us whatever challenges we face and wherever we are. When the Torah then records that Yoseph was in Egypt, adds Rabbi Weinberger, it is telling us that Yoseph retained the holy essence of his name the whole time he was in Egypt, just as his brothers would do when they descended to Egypt.
Rabbi Yoseph Eisenberger goes into an in depth discussion on the significance of names. He notes that names not only include the essence but also imply permanence. Therefore, the angel Yaakov fought could not give his name because his mission changed daily. On the other hand, when Moshe asked Hashem what Name he should tell Bnei Yisrael, Hashem readily told him a permanent name: I will be that which I will be — that which I am now supporting you through the challenge of Egypt, so will I be with you through every challenge and diaspora in your future history. Hashem’s message to Bnei Yisrael through Moshe was that the relationship between Hashem and Bnei Yisrael was permanent; Hashem would never abandon His people.
The gift of a name applies not only to how and why individuals are named, but it applies to how a people, a nation receives it’s name. The Hebrew language — Iv’rit comes from the root word; Iv’ri: from the other side — a nation separate, different, apart from the other nations.
The sefer “Torah Gems”, by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg (page 337) cites Ta’anit 5 in providing a possible explanation alluding to “Yisrael”:
Our Sages stated: Our father Yaakov never died. It appears that the answer to this seeming contradiction is that Yaakov did not die, because he left descendants after him who were like him, with Yosef like his father.
Yosef, though, only attained the level of “Yaakov,” and not the level of “Yisrael.” Thus we are told, “The time approached for Yisrael to die…” — only Yisrael — not Yaakov — died.
A commentary in the Artscroll Stone Chumash regarding Parshat Vayishlach where the moloch renamed Yaakov as Yisrael (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 32, posuk 29 and commentary):
“…No longer will it be said that your name is Yaakov, but Yisrael, for you have striven with the Divine and with man and have overcome.”
Yaakov would receive the additional name Yisrael… prevailing, superiority…. that he received the blessings because he prevailed in an open competition to demonstrate which… was more deserving (Rashi). [More deserving than whom? This author is not sure if Rashi meant: More deserving than the moloch or Eisev.]
So it seems that, as Observant Jews, we name our offspring for our loved ones who have passed, to honor and memorialize them, but also we hope that the stories, the memories of the namesakes imparted unto our offspring will inspire them to reach new heights in their Yiddishkeit, in their closeness to HaKadosh Borchu.
In the same way, the nation of Israel under a Torah-true leadership would strive to fulfill her essence — the essence of the name Yisrael — prevailing, superior; “considered important and worthy of respect [self-respect and self-esteem] by themselves.”
To emphasize again the final comment of the citing of R’ Shmuelevitz:
Only when they [the Jews] considered themselves in a lowly manner could they be subjugated by others.
May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of three years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.