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 “there”.
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 awesome. 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 essence.
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