Parshat Shemot – What’s in a name?


This week we have the merit to begin to read the second book of the
 Torah, the Book of Exodus, or in Hebrew Shemot.  Our Sages tell us that
 contained within the Book of Exodus are all the deepest secrets about Exile
 and Redemption.  In fact,this is the main theme of the book.


The story that is going to unfold in the Torah over the next few weeks, is probably the most well known in all of the Torah. 
The enslavement of the Children of Israel by Pharaoh, the casting of
 the first born into the Nile, the birth of Moses, his escape from death
 and his journey to the palace of Pharaoh in a basket of reeds, the
 revelation at the burning bush, the famous confrontation, between Moses
and Pharaoh, “let my people go.”  The ten plagues and the exodus.  The
 epic moment were the Children of Israel have their backs to the sea and 
all is seemingly lost, only in a moment to see revealed before their
 eyes, maybe the greatest miracle ever, the splitting of the Sea of
 Reeds.  The Children of Israel walk through on dry land and emerge on
the other side a Nation.


Everyone know this story.  Maybe it is because every year for the past 
three thousand years we retell it at the Passover seder?  Maybe it was
 the movie?  Or maybe that the story of the exile into Egypt
 and redemption from there has it’s root at the very deepest place in a
 Jew’s soul.

  Everyone would agree that “The Book Exodus” is  a great name for this
 story, that after all what it is really about.  We are taught by our sages that we
 only went down into Egypt so we could emerge from it a people, a Nation.  But in
 Hebrew this book of the Torah is not referred to as “The Book Exodus”,
but rather “Sefer Shemot” “The book of Names“.


What does the Exile from Egypt have to do with “names” and why is this
such an integral part of our spiritual make up?


According to the Kabbalistic sources, a name is the essence.  The Hebrew word for
”name” is “sheim” the same three Hebrew letters that make up the word
”sham” meaning “there”.  What does the word “there” mean?  it means you can’t go
 any further.  You are there.


When you can not go any deeper in a
 person, when you have reached their core, their essence you are “there”
 sham, sheim you are at their name.

 It is the deepest revelation of a person.  Also the word for heaven in Hebrew is “Shamayim“. 
Shamayim is the plural form of there.  It is “all of the theres”  the ultimate

Over the past years I have become really fascinated by a
 tremendous Chasidic master who lived over 250 years ago. The great rabbi Mordechai Yosef of Izhbitz, the Holy Izhbitzer Rebbe.  The 
Izhbitzer wrote a sefer called the Mei HaShiloach, mostly as a
 commentary on the Torah but in it, he lays out a world view of
 Judaism that is unbelievably unique and awesome.


The Izhbitzer is also
 very controversial.  I guess as is often anyone who is unique and

 Among one of the main tenants of the Izhbitzer taught over and over in his work, is what he refers to as
”Chisoron and Birur“, deficiency and clarity.    Says the Izhbitzer that every person is born with a Chisoron a deficiency, something broken, it is the person’s life mission, it is why they 
came into the world, the whole process of redemption lies in the birur,
”the clarification” or fixing of this deficiency.


Really this in and of itself is nothing new.  We know from all of the
 mystical sources that God created the world broken, incomplete and our
 job in this life is to fix our broken world.


The the novel idea, of the Izhbitzer is that this concept is
 revealed in this world through names.


The Izhbitzer quoting the midrash (Jewish oral tradition) in Kohelet says that every person is 
given three names.  1) One that is given to him by his mother and father,
 2) one that people know him by, 3) and a name that he acquires for himself.

We are told by our mystical masters that when we name a child, it is actually one of
 the only moments of prophecy left to us in the world. Really we think
 that we choose the name, but in actuality we have very little choice. 
Whatever name, we are told
 it was predestined specifically for that child.


The second name is that which people will know you by, meaning 
according to the Izhbitzer, based on your actions.  Let’s face it, ultimately people judge us
 based on how we act.  People form opinions about others often on the 
most superficial externalities, but none the less, for better or worse, this is the name we 
have in this world.  Winner!  Shlepper!  Good Father.  It is our actions that often define who we are in
 this world, but everyone knows that our actions are not who we are at our


How many of us have said, “that just wasn’t like me.”  People
 are so much deeper than what we can see.


But then there is a third name, and this is the deepest of them all. 
There is the “name that we acquire for ourselves”  This says the 
Izhbitzer, is the name that we get in the World to Come by fixing that
 which within us is missing, by healing the deficiency, the “chisuron“
we were given in order to fix.


This is the secret of life both on an individual and national level.  The ultimate exile is living a broken life in a broken world.  The ultimate redemption is the fixing of that.


Maybe the book of the Torah that describes the exile and the redemption
 of the Jewish People is called the Book of Names because it shows for 
us a path to how to find the name I am suppose to acquire for myself in
 this world.


Seemingly everything in Jewish life goes back to the exodus 
from Egypt.  We say it in Kiddush Friday nights, and every major
 festival of the Jewish year is always described as “Zeicher l’yitzyat Mitzrayim”  “a
 remembrance of the going out from Egypt“.  And maybe this is why almost
 every Jew no matter how close or how far removed from a traditional
 Jewish life knows the story, because when we can get past the 
ridiculous labels of religious or non religious, Reform or Orthodox,
 the meaningless names we impose upon each other, there in lies the 
deepest essence of all of us that nothing can ever touch.  I am a Jew,
 and my ancestors walked out of Egypt to the Land of Israel, and in doing so fixed a great
 deficiency in the world. More than that they gave me the strength
and the ability to fix myself.

Shabbat Shalom from the Hills of Judea



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