These Are the Names - Parashat Shemot | Ayala Deckel
בינה בפייסבוק בינה באינסטגרם צרו קשר עם בינה במייל

These Are the Names – Parashat Shemot | Ayala Deckel

These Are the Names – Parashat Shemot | Ayala Deckel

Over the past few months I’ve been waking up every morning a little before 6 a.m. Even on days when I don’t need to get up so early, my body still wakes me up at the same time. I open my eyes, reach for my cell phone and wait to read the list of names that have just been cleared for publication – the names of the recently fallen soldiers whose names are published the morning after their families have been informed. A name. And another name. Pictures of faces, soldiers young and old who went out to the battlefield to protect us, to protect our country.

There  are so many painful and difficult things about this morning ritual for many of us in these months. But there is also something important in it. Our fallen are not anonymous. Each has a name, a shining face, a story and a family. We are not satisfied with just numbers. We seek out their names. We sanctify their lives, not their deaths.

When a person loses their name they in many ways also lose their personality. Thus when Nazi Germany sought to erase the humanity of its prisoners, their names were taken away and replaced with numbers. And here we, every morning, do not update ourselves only with numbers. We seek the names, faces, stories. To remember and not to forget.

Our Torahportion this week is Parashat Shemot, which literally means names. It opens with the words  “These are the names…” and continues into a special and interesting dance with the names of those mentioned in it.

It opens with the names of the children of Israel who came down to Egypt. Every name is significant. Every name is a world, every name is an entire tribe born in Egypt.

Then, in a somewhat uncharacteristically feminist fashion, it focuses on the names of the midwives. Shifra and Puah.

Pharaoh sentences all males born to the people of Israel to die. But Shifra and Puah defy Pharaoh and let the children live. Or, literally, according to the biblical text, they give the children life. Shafra and Pua dare to rebel against the king of Egypt in order to sanctify life and banish death. Therefore, they too deserve to have their names recalled for posterity.

Rashi in his commentary explains their names as follows. Shifra is called Shifra “because she would improve [meshaperet משפרת] the wellbeing of the newborn.” Puah is called Puah “because she would speak soothingly and comfort [poah – פועה]  the newborn, the way a woman soothes a crying baby.” Shafra and Puah receive these names in light of their actions, in light of their role in the world.

The Midrash Tanhuma describes to us the formation of a person’s name as follows: “Every person has three names by which they are called: one – what their father and mother call them, one – what people call them, and one – what they acquire for themselves. And the best one is the one a person acquires for themselves.”

There is the name we received from our parents when we were born, which we received even before we knew how to speak, and before our personality traits were known. In a way, it represents what the previous generations instilled in us, their expectations and hopes  for us. Then there is the name (perhaps like a nickname) that we receive from those around us, a name that is revealed through friendship, through human relationship and love, a name that is revealed in the way others see us. But in the end, the most important name is the name we make for ourselves. A name that we acquire by the merit of our actions, the way we behave in the world, the way we choose to live our lives.

Since the outbreak of the war on Simchat Torah, we have been flooded with names. Names of kibbutzim and towns, names of murdered men and women, names of fallen soldiers, names of hostages. And also – names of heroes.

Every such name that is thrown toward us  floods the void with feelings and thoughts that accompany it. Every name is a story.

For the past several weeks, every Friday, we have been holding a “Kabbalat Shabbat” in “Hostages Square” – the square in Tel Aviv where the families of the hostages have been holding vigil since shortly after October 7th. During Kabbalat Shabbat we stood and read the names of all of the hostages who are still held captive by Hamas in Gaza. The list is long and it is tiring to read it as well as listen to it. It hurts to hear name after name. Still, it was important for us to say every single name and to not leave any name out. Because “every person has a name”.

And our job, as a society, is to give space to all of the names, despite the weight and the enormity of it all. This is what makes us who we are. We sanctify life and therefore, we sanctify names.

“… Every person has a name

given by their sins 

and given by their longing. 

Every person has a name

given by their enemies 

and given by their love…” 

(From “Every Person Has a Name” by Zelda Schneurson Mishkovsky)

Ayala Deckel is the Head of the BINA Secular Yeshiva.

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