The word "Shemot" means "names," as in the verse, "These are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt".
A person's name is a highly personal matter. Whenever a person hears his name called out, the word resonates in his heart and lifts his spirits. People feel so strongly about their names that they will pay fortunes to have them written on buildings! In fact, a name is such a deep-rooted entity that if a person faints (G-d forbid), whispering his name into his ear can bring him back to consciousness.
This is the inner significance of a name. However, a name does not express a person's unique essential qualities at all. Many different people possess exactly the same name!
A name thus expresses a paradox. On the surface, a name tells you nothing about a person. And yet, on probing deeper, it is a word that represents a person's uniqueness.
And it is precisely for this reason - the paradoxical quality of a name - that this parsha is called "names." The paradox in our parsha is that we read here of a moment of gloom for the Jewish people. They descend into exile. They are enslaved. And when a glimmer of hope appears on the horizon, when Moshe comes to redeem the Jewish people, the immediate result is that things get worse. And yet, on the other hand, the Midrash states that the key theme of our parsha is redemption!
But that is why the parsha is called "Names," for a name is also a paradox, precisely the same type we witness in this parsha. For just like a name is, superficially, a concealment of a person's true identity - for so many other different people share the same name - and yet, deep down, a person feels that his name represents his total uniqueness, so too, Parshat Shemot is superficially a concealment of the Jewish spirit, but deep down, that spirit always remains intact and alive.
Light Shabbat candles at 4:24 PM