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Torah Sparks

January 5, 2002 - 5762

Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Exodus 1:1 - 6:1 (Hertz, p. 206; Etz Hayim, p.317)
Triennial Cycle I: Exodus 1:1 - 2:25 (Hertz, page 206; Etz Hayim, p.317)
Haftarah: Isaiah 27:6-28:13, 29:22-23 (Hertz, page 225; Etz Hayim, p. 343)

This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary

(1:1-14) A list of the sons of Jacob/Israel who came to Egypt. The beginning of the enslavement. The building of the store-cities and other acts of oppression.

(1:15-22) The midwives disobey Pharoah's orders to kill all male Israelite newborns. He then orders every newborn boy to be drowned in the Nile.

(2:1-10) A boy is born. His parents hide him for three months. His mother puts him into a reed basket and floats him on the Nile, where he is found by Pharaoh's daughter. She names him Moses. He is raised in the royal palace.

(2:11-25) Moses goes out to his people and sees their suffering. He kills an Egyptian who was beating an Israelite, and is forced to flee to Midian. He marries Zipporah and works for her father as a shepherd. Meanwhile, God hears the suffering of the Israelites, and determines to help.

(3:1-10) The revelation at the "Burning Bush". Moses is called by God to be a prophet and a leader of the people. He will be God's human agent in freeing the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt.

(3:11-4:17) Moses expresses anxiety and doubt about his worthiness for the task. God encourages and reassures him, and gives signs to Moses to prove to the Israelites that he is indeed God's messenger. All in all, Moses refuses God's assignment five times, and God provides five counter arguments. Finally, Moses accepts the task.

(4:18-23) Further instructions from God to Moses.

(4:24-26) A peculiar incident during the journey to Egypt: Zipporah circumcises their son to ward off danger to Moses.

(4:27-31) God sends Aaron to meet Moses,and together they convince the people that God has sent them.

(5:1-6:1) Moses and Aaron's first confrontation with Pharaoh fails. Pharaoh retaliates by oppressing the Israelites even more harshly. The Israelites blame Moses and Aaron for making their plight worse. Moses complains to God, who reassures him that he will soon see what God will do to Pharaoh.

This Shabbat's Theme: "Name Dropping"

These are the names of the sons of Israel, who came into Egypt with Jacob; every man came with his household. (Exodus 1:1)

  1. "And these are the names..." The Book of Exodus, which recounts the first exile and redemption of the Jewish people, is commonly referred to as Shemot-Hebrew for names. This title draws our attention to the importance of maintaining Hebrew names, especially when living in the midst of other nations. We are told that our ancestors did not change their names in favor of Egyptian names and that this loyalty helped them to maintain their Jewish identity. In fact this practice was one of the meritorious qualities which made the Israelites deserving of redemption from the slavery of Egypt. (Elie Munk, The Call of the Torah, v. II, p. 2; Midrash Shemot Rabbah, 1; Midrash Tanchuma - Rabbi Tanchuma lived 427 - 465 C.E.)
  2. Israel was redeemed from Egypt because of four things: because they did not change their names, they did not change their language, they did not speak slander and they were not immoral. We know that they did not change their names, from the fact that they went down to Egypt as Reuben and Simeon and left Egypt as Reuben and Simeon (Midrash Leviticus Rabbah 32:5)
  3. The ancients believed that one's essence was inextricably bound to one's name. If you changed your name, you were, in effect, changing who you were. In a modern sense, we understand this well. The European immigrants who quickly Americanized their names strove to discard their heritage. And those of the Diaspora who Hebraized their names upon immigrating to I srael also wanted to shed the baggage of their past. (L. Kushner and K. Olitsky, Sparks Beneath The Surface, p. 42)
  4. "The name comes with the voice". (Frank Sinatra, who refused to change his name after being "discovered")
  5. Most Jews seek to honor the memory of departed parents and grandparents by conferring upon their children the Hebrew names of these loved ones. However, in selecting an English name they completely ignore the English equivalents of the Hebrew name....The English names we give our children should correspond to the Hebrew names so that both may be Jewishly meaningful to them throughout life. (Amos W. Miller, Understanding the Midrash, p. 20)
  6. A Jew should not accept the name of a heathen idol or saint. (Sefer Hasidim, #195, p. 74 - 13th c.)
  7. Comparatively few books have been written on the general subject of names. On the subject of Jewish names an even smaller number exists...Today, all of us carry a Hebrew and secular name. How shall these two names be selected? How can we make them harmonize with each other? It is to help create some semblance of order out of the hodgepodge that this book aims. (Preface to a fine book that I would recommend to all on this subject - by Alfred J. Kolatch, The Name Dictionary: Modern English and Hebrew Names)
  8. In the year 2020, a woman approaches her friend and says: "Mazal tov! So tell me, what name was given to your grandson?" Her friend answered, "Akiva". "So, who was he named after?" she asked. "After his great-grandfather Kevin" came the answer. "Kevin? What kind of a name is Kevin?"

"Sparks" for Reflection/Discussion on Our Theme

Herman Wouk once observed that "every Jew who has ever stepped into a synagogue or temple knows that we have two names: the outside name with which we go through life, and the inside name, used in blessings and Torah call-ups, marriage and divorce ceremonies, and on tombstones.. It is a far-drifted Jew who has forgotten his or her inside name" (From his book "Inside, Outside").

Just curious - do you know your full "inside name"? Do your (grand)children know it? What about its meaning? I guess this is as good a time as any to go around the synagogue and have congregants voluntarily announce their names in Hebrew/Yiddish. It would be a good time to find out what they mean. Also, it would be enlightening, perhaps even amusing, to hear how certain family names got changed. We can start off with the "Feurgeson joke" here, if you wish.

Finally, let's consider what it means to"live up to one's name". My Jewish name, for instance, is - David. It means "beloved". I was named after my revered great grand-father, a respected Jewish community leader and scholar in Poland. Our namesake is King David who is admiringly remembered for his many memorable qualities. That's a lot to live up to! What do youknow about the person you were named after? Would you care to share some memories about his/her life with us?


"Every man has three names: one that a father and mother gives him, one that others call him and one that he acquires for himself." (Kohelet Rabbah 7:13)

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