What's In A Name? by Rabbi Yosef Adler



The Torah begins our Parsha with Hashem responding to Moshe's complaint of "למה הרעתה לעם הזה למה זה שלחתני," "why have you done evil to this nation, and why have you sent me?" which appears at the conclusion of the previous Parsha (שמות ה':כ"ב). Hashem answers by saying "וארא אל אברהם אל יצחק ואל יעקב בקל שקי ושמי ה' לא נודעתי להם," "I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov with the name Keil Shakkai, but my name Hashem I did not make known to them (שם ו':ג'). Rashi (שם בד"ה וארא) comments on the word "וארא," "and I appeared," and says "אל האבות," "to the Avos." Many wonder about what exactly Rashi adds by stating this. Everyone realizes that Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov are the Avos of our people; what then is Rashi teaching us?

We refer to the second Sefer of the Chumash as Sefer Shemos. The Ramban however, in his introduction to the Sefer, designates it as the ספר הגאולה, the Book of Redemption, a title which thematically reflects the primary ideas of our Sefer. However, we nonetheless refer to it as Shemos. Most believe that the name of a Sefer of the Chumash is derived simply from the first or second word of the Sefer. HaRav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, however, suggested that the name itself is somehow descriptive of the entire Sefer. Bereishis, which refers to a beginning, describes not only the beginning of the world, but also the beginning of Bnai Yisrael. Bemidbar is an appropriate name for the fourth Sefer, not only because the opening Posuk identifies the location of the first narrative as Midbar Sinai, the Sinai desert, but also because all the events unfolding there actually transpired in the Midbar. Sefer Devarim too is correctly labeled, for after all, the entire Sefer constitutes Moshe's farewell address to Bnai Yisrael. How then do we understand the implication of the title of Sefer Shemos, referring to the names of the Shevatim, as identifying a theme of this Sefer? Rav Soloveitchik once recalled an event which occurred during his only visit to Eretz Yisrael, when he pursued the position of Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv. He was visiting a Kibbutz whose members were not terribly sympathetic to religious values, and during his tour, the guide passed a cow who was identified as being named Rochel. Rav Soloveitchik was somewhat startled to hear that a cow would be given a name. The guide, noticing that he was perplexed, asked him if that constituted a violation of any Rabbinic laws. Rav Soloveitchik proceeded to explain to him that a name serves to reflect the unique characteristics of each individual. No two individuals are exactly alike. Animals, however, lack this unique distinction; a cow is a cow. No laws of אבילות, mourning, or חילול שבת, desecrating the Shabbos, are applicable to an animal, because an animal can be replaced. No single individual, however, can be replaced. Even an individual who is a מומר להכעיס, rebellious against Hashem out of spite, has the potential to contribute something which no other person can match. For this reason, we emphasize at the time of the giving of a name to a child "ויקרא שמו בישראל...," stating that "the name in Israel shall be called...," stressing this child's uniqueness.

Introducing the book of Geulah by identifying by name each one of Yaakov's children is an indication that the entire drama of Yetzias Mitzrayim would be worth discussing for the sake of even one person. Similarly, the Aseres HaDibros are written בלשון יחיד, in the singular, to indicate that the Bris of Sinai would have been established even on behalf of one person. Perhaps this is what Rashi alludes to by saying "וארא אל האבות," that Hashem appeared to the Avos, indicating that He would be prepared to deliver all of Eretz Canaan to the Avos even if there would not be an entire Am Yisrael. Simply on behalf of one Av, an Avraham, a Yitzchak, or a Yaakov, the promise would unfold even without him being responsible for the future development of the children. A famous Midrash associated with קריעת ים סוף, the splitting of the Red Sea, might also convey this idea. The Posuk in Tehillim ()קי"ד:ג' says ",הים ראה וינס" meaning, the ים סוף saw and fled. The Midrash asks what the ים סוף saw which caused it to split, and answers that it was ארונו של יוסף, the coffin of Yosef. This implies that simply on his account alone, the miraculous deed would have unfolded. We all, therefore, ought to always seek to identify the uniqueness of each individual, the image of Hashem that is to be found in every one of His creations. Through such recognition of names and their significance, we too will experience Geulah.


Moshe and the Avos by Yaacov Cooper

Birchas HaMazon on a Cup of Wine by Rabbi Michael Taubes