Torah Portion Shemos) Names

This week’s portion is called Shemos – names. In it many names of people are recorded, such as, Avraham, Yitzchok, Yaacov and his 12 sons – the tribes of Israel, Moshe, his wife Tzipora, Gershom one of their sons, Aaron, the special Jewish midwives Shifra and Puah, Moshe’s father-in-law Yisro and a few more.

Let us delve into the meaning and idea behind names. The names of our forefathers, the tribes, as well as others mentioned in the Torah represent something that will or did occur to them or a description of the child’s tendencies.

At times G-d changed the names of great people such as Avraham, Sarah and Yaacov to signify their greatness and impact.

When G-d appeared to Moshe at the Burning Bush, He called him saying, “Moshe, Moshe.” The Zohar – Kabbala explains that he was called twice by his name to represent that he was complete both in the spiritual and physical realm. The Ramban – Nachmanidies explains that it is a special and beloved gesture by G-d to repeatedly call his cherished ones by their names.

Noach’s righteous son was given an interesting name, Shem – which means, name! The Sfas Emes explains that the name Shem represents his good name, for through his good deeds he led others to recognize G-d. Avraham was a descendant of Shem and Shem studied with and had great influence on our forefathers.

The Medrash tells us that earlier generations who were granted Ruach Hakodesh – Divine Inspiration – would give names according to events. However, we give our children names of our ancestors. There is a spiritual connection between the name of an individual and his soul, and interestingly the middle letters of the Hebrew word Neshama – soul, spells the word Shem – name!

When a child is named after one who is deceased, the soul of the departed which dwells in the World of Truth is aroused and a spiritual affinity is created between the soul and the newborn child.

So profound are Hebrew names that Yosef instructed the family of Israel before his death to maintain their Jewish names throughout the travails of the Egyptian exile. The Jews, in fact, retained their Jewish names throughout the 210 years they were in Egypt and it helped them maintain their identity and prevent assimilation.

In the Parsha, while G-d was trying to convince Moshe to take upon himself the mantle of leadership of the Jews, Moshe asked G-d, “When I come to the Jews and tell them that G-d sent me, they will ask me, ‘What is His Name?’ What shall I say to them?” G-d told Moshe one of His Names which implies that G-d will be with the Jews and protect them in all dire circumstances.

G-d also revealed to Moshe His Ineffable Name, telling him that due to its sanctity it cannot be pronounced and we should pronounce in its stead the name A-do-noy. Usually when we refer to G-d we refer to Him by the name Hashem – which means “The Name,” which implies, The Ultimate Name!

The Baal Haturim tells us that G-d has as many as seventy names!

A way to explain the varied names of G-d is as follows: Take for example a person whose name is John Shapiro, yet he is actually called by a variety of names. His friends call him Johnny, his golf partners call him Shaps, his mother calls him Jonathan, his father calls him son, his son calls him dad, his patients call him doc, his grandchildren call him Zeidy or Grandpa, to the Torah he is called, Yaacov ben… and his wife calls him dear. We all agree this is the same person, yet, each name describes a particular relationship with him.

In a similar vein, each one of G-d’s names reflects on a unique relationship He has with us at a particular time.

The great Kabalist, Shelah Hakodosh, encouraged us to insert a verse that has a connection to our Hebrew name at the conclusion of the daily silent devotion prayers. He explained that this exercise will assist one to recall his/her Hebrew name when called to the Heavenly Tribunal.
Possessing and knowing our Hebrew name is an essential and beneficial part of our being and spirit.

Wishing you a most uplifting, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks