Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Shmot
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Tevet 19 5779
Our Sedra of Shmot – also known as Sefer HaGeula, the story of our Redemption – begins the dramatic, cataclysmic narrative of our emergence as a full-fledged nation. But something strange is going on here: The beginning of Shmot sounds awfully familiar to us!

The names of Yakov’s children? We covered that before, way back in Vayishlach (35:23-27). The number of people who came down to Egypt? Learned that in Vayigash 46:8-27). And the death of Yosef? You remember that – it was just last week that we read it in Parshat Vayechi (50:26)! So why is all this information being repeated?! I’d have thought that Parshat Shmot should begin with pasuk 8, "And a new king arose in Egypt that did not know Yosef."Why would the Torah uncharacteristically repeat itself in these first 7 verses? What message is being sent to us?

The Book of Shmot is truly a new chapter in Jewish history. After centuries of focusing Am Yisrael around powerful personalities – Avraham, Sara, Yitzchak, Rivka, Yakov, Rachel, Leah & Yosef – we now are moving away from the individual & entering Nation-mode, where the collective will take precedence over the individual. Indeed, the first 8 1/2 p’sukim in chapter 2, describing the birth of Moshe & his adoption by Paro’s daughter, will be conspicuously marked by a lack of names. No less than 8 pronouns are used in order to mask the characters: Man, woman, daughter, sister, son, mother, nurse & child, instead of Amram, Yocheved, Miriam, Batya & Moshe.

But, I suggest, that puzzling preamble to the story - those first 7 p’sukim that names names - is the Torah’s way of telling us that before we can make that necessary, inevitable move into Peoplehood, we must remember from where we came & who we are. We must never allow our identities to vanish into oblivion; our names represent both the greatness of our past – that is why we are called to the Torah or blessed with health using both our own name & that of a parent – as well as our own personal, intrinsic nature & essence.

Our name defines our soul, & that is why the word Shem-name is the center of the word Neshama-soul.

Governments, especially tyrannical ones, often seek to de-humanize its subjects by replacing their names with a number, or a catch-word. The Nazis, of course, assigned numbers to their victims; the Communists called everyone"Comrade;" even the British Secret Service hid their agents’ identities behind code-words like "M" or "007." But our Bond (pun intended) with our history & forebears is not only what led us to this point – whatever point we are currently at – it defines our Mesora & our mission.

Want to know what brings Redemption? Just name it.
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