Thursday, January 12, 2012

Shemot

The moment arrives for all parents.  No longer are they called by their names.  They are known only in relation to their children.  “Oh hi, you must be Shira’s father.  Are you Ari’s dad?”

It was the same for Moses’ parents.  “A certain man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman.  The woman conceived and bore a son…” (Exodus 2:1-2)  It is not until next week’s portion, after Moses speaks with God at the burning bush, that we learn the names of our greatest hero’s parents.  “Amram took to wife his father’s sister Jochebed, and she bore him Aaron and Moses.” (Exodus 6:20)

Interestingly the revealing of this detailed information follows the revelation of God’s name.  Moses of course learns God’s name at the burning bush.  After this moment we then learn the names of Moses’ parents.  There are however even more curious details about names in the opening of the Book of Exodus. Moses is not named by his parents, but instead by Pharaoh’s daughter when she rescues him from the Nile.  “When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, who made him her son.  She named him Moses, explaining, ‘I drew him out of the water.’” (Exodus 2:10)
And finally, the name of this week’s portion is Shemot, Names.  So what is in a name?   And how do we earn the names by which we are called?  The Israeli poet Zelda writes:
Each of us has a name
given by God
and given by our parents
Each of us has a name
given by our stature and our smile
and give by what we wear
Each of us has a name
given by the mountains
and given by our walls
Each of us has a name
given by the stars
and given by our neighbors
Each of us has a name
given by our sins
and given by our longing
Each of us has a name
given by our enemies
and given by our love
Each of us has a name
given by our celebrations
and given by our work
Each of us has a name
given by the seasons
and given by our blindness
Each of us has a name
given by the sea
and given by
our death.

What we are called is a mixture of many things.  Our wrongs name us.  Even the mountains name us. The clothes we wear, our work, our simchas, our loves all add to our name.  Our names are not merely words given to us by our parents, or as in Moses’ case, his adopted mother.  They represent an accumulation of all our experiences.

Rabbi Shimon concurs: “There are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of Priesthood, and the crown of Royalty.  The crown of a good name surpasses them all.” (Pirke Avot 4:17)  A good name is even better than mastering Torah!

And how is a good name achieved?  There is only one way.  It is through righteous action.  It is through performing good deeds.  A good name must be unqualified.  It should never be “He achieved great things, but…  She had many successes, but remember that one time…”

Still my favorite names are those I earn through my children.  They represent any parents’ greatest successes.  I am happy to be known only as Shira and Ari’s father.  And I imagine Moses’ parents felt the same.  This is why their names were not publicized until after Moses achieved some measure of greatness and after he discovered God at the burning bush.

For parents their greatest recognition comes through their children!  It is because in these names my recognition depends not on my own good deeds but instead upon my children’s.

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