The name of a Torah portion is highly significant. It communicates the predominant message of that parasha. Furthermore, it is often referred to even when not discussing the contents of the portion. This leads us into the Torah portion of this week – Shemot, which actually means names. Thus, the name of this week’s parasha is Names!
What is so important about a name? Not merely the name of a parasha but, indeed, the names we have been given at birth and the names we bestow upon our own offspring?
There are two contrasting aspects associated with a name. On the one hand, one’s own name seems totally irrelevant to the self. When one is alone one has no need for it. It only plays a role when there are others who need to communicate with that individual.
On the other hand, it does seem to reach into the very core of the self. Witness what happens when one, God forbid, faints. One of the most effective ways of reviving that person is calling to him by name! Talking alone is unlikely to awaken the victim; it is the name that seems to reach into the very depths of that individual, stimulating him to the beginning of recovery.
The Jewish name is so important that we are told it is the vehicle through which God channels energy and vitality into our bodies and souls. Indeed, the Torah tells us that a key factor that changed Abraham and Sara’s fate and finally produced a child for the barren couple was the fact that they changed their names (from Avram to Avraham and from Sarai to Sarah).
In this context, the Jewish name that one is given at birth plays a vital role in maintaining the inner link one feels with our people. When one is called by the Jewish name, one feels an instant affinity with other Jews. This is not only because this is likely to take place in shul when one is being given, hopefully, an honor, but also because it is rather like a Jewish identity badge worn proudly at appropriate moments.
But what is an appropriate moment? More importantly, how many of us can state our Hebrew name without a blink of an eye? Perhaps it is time to promote use of our Hebrew name, at least while we are in familiar Jewish surroundings. In this way, all our conversations are preceded with that split second impact of Jewish identity.
Try it, you might just start to enjoy it!!