V’Eileh Sh’mot – These are the Names.

by Arliene Botnick, December 27, 2018

As we are about to enter a “secular” new year, we are entering the 2nd book of Torah – Sh’mot. Called “EXODUS” in English, the Hebrew name sh’mot comes from, as is usual, the 1st main word of the book.

In many ways, keeping the name Sh’mot is truly significant since it reminds us that before we can truly move on from the 430 years of slavery in Egypt, before we can re-enter the land promised by God to our patriarch Abraham, we must remember the names of those that had experienced slavery. Those that experienced being strangers in a strange land, experienced being isolated from God. Once we understand what they and their descendants endured in Egyptian slavery, both physical and emotional, we are ready with their descendants, for the journey that would lead us to our covenant with God at Mount Sinai.

Our patriarch, Jacob (Israel) and his sons had come to Egypt perhaps about 1600 BCE. His son Joseph, had saved them from the famine in Canaan and he himself seemed to be quite comfortable and successful in Egypt. But, when not master of one’s fate, when one is living in a land where one is never really accepted, Joseph’s people, the Israelites, became slaves under the rule of a Pharaoh that did not know Joseph. This Pharaoh, called King (melech) in the text, is given no name. He perhaps is representative of all those who in power who have subjugated our people.

So 430 years later, we are reminded in the beginning of sh’mot, of those people who are named. Remember Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph (whose sons Ephraim and Mannasseh’s status were elevated to be named as tribes), and Benjamin. Each name is used only once. No name is repeated. Each of our ancestors is unique. Each name is significant, and before we can move on, in any realm of our life, we must remember the names of each of those ancestors who were a part of our journey, who brought us to this part in our lives. Their experiences, their trials, their faults and sometimes their loss of faith have impacted us and the world in which we live.

In our tradition, we give our children Hebrew names that include their parents’ names (ie; my name is Chana Bat Yisreal V’Zlatah). I am who I am, in part, because of who my parents (May they rest in peace) were. Even when one chooses to become part of the Jewish people, one chooses a Hebrew name and becomes the son/daughter of our patriarch Abraham & matriarch Sarah. We are part of an amazing 4000 year journey. As we begin 2019 and continue on in 5779, we will honour the names and memory of those who went before us, and we will continue to keep the story and journey of our people alive.

Keyn Y’Hee Ratzon

Filed under: Educator's Message

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