This week, we begin a new Sefer, a Sefer in which the nation of Israel is born and the redemption of the world progresses to its next stage. This Sefer, as its name and opening phrase, “And these are the names,” suggests, will highly emphasize the concept of names.
Already at the beginning of the Parsha, the Torah stresses the issue of names and identifies the names of the Jews going down to Egypt. In the rest of the Parsha, as well, we find that the Torah devotes no small space to discussing names. This begins with the naming of Moshe by the daughter of Pharaoh, as it says “She called his name Moshe and she said, ‘Because I have taken him out of the water,’” and continues throughout until Moshe names his own son – “He called his name Gershom because he said, ‘I was a stranger in a foreign land.’” In the continuation of the Parsha, we find a fascinating discussion between Moshe and HaKadosh Baruch Hu about the name that Moshe should say to the Jews – “Moshe said to G-d: Behold I am going to the Children of Israel and I will say to them ‘The G-d of your forefathers sent me to you’ and they will say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What should I say to them?…[G-d] said: This is what you should say to the Children of Israel, ‘I Will Be sent me to you.’ And G-d said further to Moshe, ‘This is what you should say to the Children of Israel, ‘Hashem, the G-d of your forefathers, the G-d of Avraham, the G-d of Yitzchak, and the G-d of Yaakov sent me to you’. This is my name forever, and this is My remembrance for generations.” The matter of names is further mentioned, and in an even more pronounced way, in the next Parsha, Va’era, which opens with the following, “G-d spoke to Moshe and He said to him, “I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov with [the name] E-l Shakkai, but My name ‘Hashem’ I did not make known to them.”
The importance of names and the place they have in Sefer Shemot in general and in Parshat Shemot in particular is what we will attempt to understand today: Our question is: Why is the concept of names so essential?
The idea of a name is the exposure of essence. The hidden, spiritual essence of a thing is concretized and actualized in the world via words, in that speech is what exposes and reveals what is happening on the inside. With its extensive focus on names, the Torah wanted to reveal to us that the substance of Israel’s redemption is the exposure of names. The nation of Israel’s role is to sanctify and reveal G-d’s name in the world. The purpose of redemption is not physical liberation or even the establishment of a neutral national existence. Rather, it is the establishment of a nation that exposes G-d’s name to the world.
Israel is the greatest revelation of Hakadosh Baruch Hu in the world, and the clearer and more revealed the names of the Jewish people become, the more G-d’s name comes into view. The verse “These are the names of Israel” is directly connected to the verse “This is My name forever, and this is My remembrance for generations.” When the nation of Israel is redeemed, G-dly existence appears in the world – the name of Hashem turns into a living, enduring reality, as suggested in the verse, “I Will Be sent me to you.”
This idea is crucial to understanding the history of the Jewish people, and therefore it appears immediately at the beginning of Sefer Shemot, in which the nation of Israel will appear and take its place on the stage of the world, at the same time which G-d will reveal Himself.
The Jewish nation continues to enter a more revealed state in our generation, as well, and the stronger this nation becomes, the more the Name of Heaven appears in this world. The purpose of strengthening ourselves is to sanctify G-d’s name. As Chazal say, as long as Israel’s enemies exist on earth, G-d is not revealed in the world: “The Name is not complete and the Throne is not complete all the time that the seed of Amalek is not wiped out.”
May it be G-d’s will that we merit that this awareness trickle down into and guide all our actions, that the question of our lives should be, ‘How can we, in our speech and actions, reveal and sanctify the Name of Heaven?’ This needs to be the stick by which we measure ourselves, the driving force of our lives. It is not for nothing that when a person passes away the prayer we say in summary of his life is Kaddish, “May His great name become great and be sanctified…” May it be that from our individual and collective lives as well, G-d’s name will become great and be sanctified in the world.
Rav Ze’ev Soltenovich teaches at Yeshivat Har Bracha in the Shomron. Although well-versed in philosophy, history, finance and Israeli law, poetry and art, he specializes in the Torah of Rav Kook and Jewish history and philosophy. Rav Soltenovich was one of the founders of Pri HaAretz, the institution responsible for publishing Em HaBanim Smeicha, the work of Rav Shlomo Yissachar Teichel. Rav Soltenovich’s series Binah LeItim, published by Yeshivat Har Bracha, deals with the history of the Jewish nation and attempts to expand on Rav Kook’s methodology. He is one of the few who teach Rav Dovid Cohen’s philosophy and work Kol HaNevuah methodologically.
Translated by: Yehudith Dashevsky