Recently, I gave some D’var Torah on Shemot, and the parsha really spoke to me. In order to begin this D’var Torah I must first summarize this week’s parsha (Shemot) for the reader.

         This parsha begins with a new pharaoh, who didn’t know about Yaakov becoming King of Mitzrayim. The Israelites are growing exponentially in number. Pharaoh attempts to restrict the Israelites’ numbers by enslaving them and ordering the firstborn sons killed. 

          Moshe is introduced as an Israelite who was spared Pharaoh’s wrath by being placed in a basket on the Nile River. Pharaoh’s daughter discovers the boy and raises him as her own. 

         Moshe becomes a young man and ventures from the palace to discover the hardships of his brethren. Upon seeing an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, he kills the Egyptian. He then is forced to flee into Midian. In Midian he marries Tzipora and becomes a shepherd. 

         One day, Hashem appears to Moshe as a burning bush at the foot of Mount Sinai. Hashem reveals himself to Moshe as “I am who I am” and demands of Moshe, “Let my people go, so that they may serve me.” 

        Moshe returns to Mitzrayim. His brother Aaron is appointed to serve as his spokesperson. Moshe and Aaron assemble the elders of Israel to tell them redemption is near. 

        The Israelites believe Moshe, but Pharaoh refuses to let them go. Pharaoh intensifies his wrath for the Israelites. Moshe asks of Hashem, “Why have you done evil to this people?” Hashem promises that redemption is close at hand. 

         This is where the parsha leaves off. This parsha is called Shemot, which comes from the word “shem,” or “name.” This parsha makes me think of the question,“What is in a name?” 

It becomes evident early on in this parsha that a name represents an identity. Although the Israelites have been in Mitzrayim since Yaakov and his family left Canaan, all the people coming were enumerated.

        Fast forward to the time of Moshe, at the beginning of Shemot, long after Yaakov’s time, names are again itemized.



Shemot , Exodus 1-8



             The reason why Chazal give this duplication is to inform us that  despite all the years in Mitzrayim, during the Galut Mitzrayim, we still clung to our names and our identities.  Rabbi Moshe Soffer, who lived hundreds of years ago, complained of a crises Jews faced during his time. Jews would often give their children Hebrew names but never use them, except in prayer for a refuah shelemah or, heaven forbid, a yartzeit.
             My rabbi for years, Rabbi Barry Rosen Z'L, complained of the same phenomenon, but it was of Jews who in the face of modernity choose to neglect their Hebrew names in favor of Anglicized names.We are told in the Torah that when Yosef was appointed viceroy of Mitzrayim he was given an Egyptian  name.  He was called Tzafnat Paneach.  He was only referred to by this name once, after receiving his title.  He continues to go by the  name Yosef until his death.
           It was due to the strength of the Jews who clung to their identity while living in the Mitzrayim that we were  redeemed by Hashem with miracles in a supernatural way.
          This is the typical narrative you will learn in most D'var Torahs for this week's parsha.  I want to share with you some insight that 
came to me while reading the text.  Weeks ago, I leyned this parsha at shul for my congregation. I read many parshas periodically at my shul. A few lines struck a chord   with me, reminding me of an earlier parsha.

Shemot 3:7-10

Notice the Hebrew

Now, read a section from an earlier parsha that I leyned at shul on November 1st 2014, Parsha Lech Lecha, Bereshit 12.


Notice the lines below.

Compare this line with earlier texts below from Shemot 3:10.

             I noticed a similarity between the two texts. The Hebrew structures as well as the concepts are very similar. The concept here is that names are important. Avram, for example, becomes Avraham when G-d makes a covenant with him. Sarai becomes Sarah when she leaves the land in which she was born to go to Canaan.  Both Avram and Sarai change lives and become Avraham and Sarah, effectively making them Jews. Their offspring [or "progeny" or "scion"] gives rise to a great nation Clearly, names can be significant and transformative. They can represent a change in  a person's life.

            Many Baal Teshuvas adopt new names once they begin a new life.  Giyurs always adopt a new Hebrew name. In the case of Baal Teshuvas, it is about reclaiming their Jewish identities. In the case of Giyurs, it is about building a new identity. Both experiences parallel one another.

             In this parsha, Shemot, the Hebrews maintain their identities in the land of Galut Mitzrayim so that they are able to reclaim their full identities in the land of Israel. In Israel, they are set free so that, as Hashem commands, "They may serve me."

             In the case of Avraham, he is told "Lech Lecha" by Hashem. In the case of Moshe, he is told "V'atah Lecha v'eshlacheche el Paroh." Both are examples of the transformative power of a name in building both a person and a nation in the Torah.

             I will end with my experience. I have two names, Schuyler and Shmuel. I identify with my Hebrew name today; it has become my identity. My name is Shmuel Polin.

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