This week’s Torah portion is Shemot, the first of the book of Exodus. Shemot means names. Because the names of the sons of Jacob are listed at the beginning of this week’s portion. It is the transition from the Book of Genesis and the final stories of Jacob and Joseph in Egypt to the story of the Children of Israel’s freedom experience.
How amazing that we record these names, preserve them, lovingly read them out as part of our Torah portion this week. We remember even in mythic form, we remember our ancestors.
That is why this week is a good week to get your name in order.
In Jewish tradition most often we are named for someone. In Ashkenazic tradition we are usually named after a near relative who has recently passed. In Sephardic tradition names are sometimes given to honor a living relative. But so often today I meet Jews who don’t know the history of their own name. Who were you named for? What relative is connected to you through the sharing of an initial or a Hebrew name? And do you even know your Hebrew name?
The importance of your Hebrew name is that it is the name of your ritual life–your brit, your bar or bat mitzvah, your wedding, your funeral. It is the name you are called to Torah with. And like the generations listed in this week’s Torah portion–your name is made up not only of your name but your parents name.
When I welcome relatives to a Bar or Bat Mitzvah in my congregation–and we need to find out how to call them up for an honor to the Torah–I am surprised always by how many people don’t know their Hebrew names, don’t know their parents Hebrew or Yiddish names or were never given one.
So I propose that every year when we read this portion of Torah–parshat Shemot–The Jewish community use it as a name tune-up! Make sure that you know who you are! What is Your Name? What is the Hebrew name you were given? And don’t forget to ask who your parents’ names are as well. If you don’t have someone to ask–perhaps there is your parent’s ketubah-Jewish wedding document or an old confirmation or bar mitzvah certificate around that has one of their names Maybe even their grave marker has their Hebrew name engraved on it. And even if you can’t read the Hebrew on it- perhpas your rabbi can!
If you don’t have a Hebrew name or no one knows your Hebrew name–get one! Talk to your rabbi, or find a rabbi to help you. There is nothing more powerful than naming yourself!!!
What’s Your Name? Mine is Davida bat Benjamin v’ Esther!