Why is the second book of the Torah called "Names"?
This week, we begin a new book of the Torah called Shemos, after the first Torah portion of the book. The Parsha describes how Pharaoh enslaved the Jewish people. Shemos means “names” and refers to the names of Yaakov’s children.
Interestingly, our sages say that Hashem redeemed the Jewish people in the merit of three things, one being that they did not change their names. On the surface, this seems to be a pretty mundane reason. Does it justify naming a complete book of the Torah “names”?
The Alter Rebbe was once playing with his grandson. “Where’s Zaidy?” the Alter Rebbe asked. The child pointed to Rabbi Schneur Zalmen’s nose. “That’s my nose,” the Alter Rebbe explained. He then asked his grandson once more, “Where’s Zaidy?” This time, the child pointed to the Alter Rebbe’s eyes. Rabbi Schneur Zalmen corrected him. “Those are my eyes.” Suddenly, his grandson called out, “Zaidy!” The Alter Rebbe smiled and said, “Yes, what do you want to tell me?” His grandson beamed proudly, “There’s Zaidy!”
This story teaches us that one’s name, even a nickname, represents the person’s core essence. The deeper meaning of the Jews keeping their names teaches us that throughout exile, the Jews kept their essence pure. They retained their identity as a Jew. It was in this merit that they were able to emerge from exile. So too with our exile, we will leave it by staying true to our soul, to our innermost core. May it be now! Amen!
Candle lighting time in NYC is before 4:33 PM.