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Torah Tuesdays with Hennie Black- Parshat Shemot




This week we begin the second book of the Torah with Shemot, meaning “names.”  A name reflects the essence and potential of a person. It connects a person to his/her soul. The word for name in Hebrew is שׁם (shem), the letters of which are in the middle of the word  נשׁמה (neshama) or soul. 

When parents name their child, they receive ruach hakodesh, a spark of divine prophecy to choose a name that reflects the child’s essence, a name that will reflect the child’s purpose and destiny in the world.

How did Moshe, the leader of the Jewish people receive his name? The commentaries record the various names that Moshe was given by his parents Yocheved and Amram. But the name that Moshe is known by; the name used by G-d Himself is the name given to him by an Egyptian woman, the daughter of Pharaoh, Batya.

The Torah explains that Batya came down to bathe in the Nile River and saw Moshe floating in the basket. Despite her recognition that he was a Jewish child, she went against Pharaoh’s edict to throw every male baby in the Nile, stretching out her arm to retrieve him.

Batya named him “Moshe,” which means “from the water, I drew him out.”

The name attests to the role that Batya had in rescuing Moshe. It also describes who Moshe became, a man who exemplified the caring and kindness of his rescuer. Raised in the palace under Batya’s care, Moshe was molded into the leader of the Jewish people. This became Moshe’s purpose and mission in life, to draw out others, to be concerned about the well-being of others.

Moshe displayed kindness and compassion in several stories in this week’s parsha. Moshe, a privileged prince, left the palace to witness the suffering and hardships of his brothers. Indeed, the Midrash tells us that he carried boulders on his shoulders so that he could identify with the pain that his Jewish brethren were experiencing.

Moshe then saw an Egyptian hitting a Jewish slave. He came to the slave’s rescue by killing the Egyptian and burying him in the sand. Next, he saw two Jews fighting, which bothered him to such a degree that he felt compelled to intervene. Finally, Moshe came to the aid of the daughters of Yitro, complete strangers who were being tormented by other shepherds.

Clearly, Moshe was a man who felt compassion and concern for all of humanity. This was Moshe’s true essence. True to his namesake, Moshe rescued others from hardship, just as he was rescued and drawn from the water. This is why G-d chose him to be the quintessential leader of the Jewish people.

Our Jewish name reflects our essence and represent the potential of who we can become. The question we must ask ourselves is whether we are living up to the potential of our Jewish name. In fact we are taught that after 120 years, we will face a heavenly judgment where we will be asked several questions about our life. One of the questions will be “What is your name and did you live up to it?” Our names point to how we can live our lives with meaning and purpose, how we can be remembered for the good and for blessing.

The Midrash teaches us that the Jewish people were redeemed from slavery in Egypt because they held on to their Jewish names, their mode of dress and their own language. Keeping their Jewish names ensured that the Jewish people did not forget their uniqueness and their identity. Despite their servitude, they never lost touch with their true spiritual potential.

Hold on to your Jewish names, recognize your unlimited potential and purpose in this world, and, in that merit, may we be redeemed from our current exile to see the coming of Mashiach and a return to Jerusalem.

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