Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Shmot
To dedicate this lesson

Name That Sefer


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

"And these are the names of the Children of Israel….."

If the name of a Sedra is the key to understanding that particular Sedra, then there must be something even more significant about the name of an entire book of the Torah! What is the deeper idea behind the name "Shmot?"

Paro has a problem. Like so many of our adversaries throughout the Exile, he wants to single out the Jews for punishment. But how can he turn his nation against us when Yosef was such a genuine Egyptian national hero? Yosef’s brilliant direction of the Egyptian economy vaulted Egypt into the position of the pre-eminent country in the known world. Though many years have passed, the people still read about Yosef, & venerate his name.

But Paro is clever & has a very well-thought out plan:

Step 1: He acts as if "he did not know Yosef." Denial (or is it "De-Nile?!") the big lie. Chazal say he even went so far as to obliterate Yosef’s name from all the Egyptian record-books (or scrolls).

Step 2: Defamation. He tells his people that the Hebrews have become great & mighty "mimenu – from us!" That is, "These foreigners have taken our wealth, Egyptian wealth; these parasites have sucked it right out of the ground. We Egyptians are farmers, we make the ground produce things. But these Israelites – who are cursed shepherds & cattlemen – they quickly eat up all the things we grow!"

Step 4: Incrimination. Paro is the first to describe us as an "Am," a nation. Or rather, a nation within a nation. He charges us with being a "Fifth Column," a subversive entity that will "join our enemies, fight against us, & then leave."

Step. 5: Humiliation. Paro saps our self-respect by giving us degrading, menial jobs completely not befitting our intelligence & capability. Chazal say he gave the men women’s work, & the women men’s work. The cities we had to built were called "Arey Miskanot," pitiful edifices that crumbled as soon as we finished making them.

Step 6: Enslavement, soon to be followed by genocide.

What is the antidote to this devious plan to destroy us?

The cure is our names. A name has two primary qualities. First, it gives us a unique identity, our own persona & presence. A name is much like a title that conveys status. Second, it recalls our past generations, all the way back to our illustrious ancestors. If you have a name, you have dignity, yichus (a pedigree), you have value. In short, if you have a "shem," you will never have shame.

And so this sefer is called "Names." It begins by telling us we have a name, & takes us to the very end of the Torah, which concludes with our most glorious name, Yisrael.
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