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גרעין קהילתי וקריית חינוך ע"ש מאיר והראל הינה עמותה שמפעילה תוכניות ופרויקטים בתחומי ישיבה, קהילה, זהות יהודית חברה, צבא ורפואה

The Book of Names and Redemption

The Parasha in our everyday life - Parashat Shemot - 5783

Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - Head of the Hesder Yeshiva 'Meir Harel' Modiin

The name given to objects, people, places and phenomena is one of the main ways given to human reason to express our relationship to them, and their essence. It is not for nothing that the Torah mentions the ability to give names as one of the first human qualities, which distinguishes the human being, as the crown of creation, close to the creation of the world and man:

וַיִּ֩צֶר֩ ה' אֱלֹקים מִן הָֽאֲדָמָ֗ה כׇּל־חַיַּ֤ת הַשָּׂדֶה֙ וְאֵת֙ כׇּל־ע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וַיָּבֵא֙ אֶל הָ֣אָדָ֔ם לִרְא֖וֹת מַה־יִּקְרָא ל֑וֹ וְכֹל֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יִקְרָא ל֧וֹ הָֽאָדָ֛ם נֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּ֖ה ה֥וּא שְׁמֽוֹ׃ וַיִּקְרָ֨א הָֽאָדָ֜ם שֵׁמ֗וֹת לְכׇל הַבְּהֵמָה֙ וּלְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וּלְכֹ֖ל חַיַּ֣ת הַשָּׂדֶ֑ה...

"And Hashem formed out of the earth all the wild beasts and all the birds of the sky, and brought them to the Human to see what he would call them; and whatever the Human called each living creature, that would be its name. And the Human gave names to all the cattle and to the birds of the sky and to all the wild beasts..." (Bereshit 2:19-20)

וכל אשר יקרא לו האדם נפש חיה הוא שמו. אמרו במדרש העביר הקב"ה לפניו כל הבהמות והחיות וקרא להן שמות ואמר לזה נאה לקרותו אריה ולזה נאה לקרותו חמור ולזה סוס וכן כל דבר ודבר, והנה בזה נתפרסמה חכמתו הגדולה כמו שהיה בצלם אלהים ומעשה ידי הש"י.

and whatever the man called each living creature that remained its name.” According to the narrative in Bereshit Rabbah 17:4 G-d paraded the various animals before Adam and he gave each one a name after he had studied their respective characteristics. By means of this ability to characterize each creature, he demonstrated his superior wisdom, i.e. that he was indeed a creature who had been created directly by G-d Himself,

ונראה לי באור המדרש הזה כי האדם הבין בחכמתו ושכלו טבע כל בהמה וחיה וקרא לכל אחת ואחת שם מעין הטבע והמדה שהכיר בה והאותיות שצרף בשמותיהן הכל לפי טבעיהן ומדותיהן, והנה היו שמות מושכלות כאמרך הכיר בחכמתו טבע האריה שהוא גבור גדול ומלך שבחיות עד שהנביאים המשילו בו את ה' יתברך כאמרו (הושע יא) אחרי ה' ילכו כאריה ישאג, והעלה שמו אריה מפני שאותיות אריה רוחניות כי האל"ף והה"א והיו"ד הן אותיות הש"י והרי"ש פירושו רוח, וא"כ עצם השם של אריה מבאר ענינו

“In light of this Midrash it is clear to me that the wisdom of Adam was reflected in the names he gave to the animals, each name alluding to its outstanding characteristic, that which made it different from other creatures. Every single letter Adam chose in naming these animals reflected a special meaning. When the Midrash said: “due to his wisdom Adam recognized the nature of the lion אריה  this means that he was aware that the lion was the king of the animals due to its fearless posture. This concept was carried so far that eventually some of our prophets describe the greatness and fearlessness of G-d Himself in terms of a creature whose essence we understand, i.e. in terms of the lion (compare Hoseah 11,10) אחרי ה' ילכו, כאריה ישאג, “they will follow the Lord because He shouts like a lion.” The letters א-ר-י-ה which Adam selected when he named the lion were chosen by him as all these letters represent spiritual values. The letters א-ה-י are all letters which appear in one or the other names of G-d. or even in a single name of G-d such as the name א-ה-י-ה. The letter ר represents רוח, “spirit, i.e. “Holy Spirit.” (Rabbeinu Bahya ibid).

This is also the source of the tradition about the Holy Spirit throbbing in the parents when naming their children, in a way that will suit their character and nature in the future:

לעולם יבדוק אדם בשמות לקרוא לבנו הראוי להיות צדיק. כי לפעמים השם גורם טוב או גורם רע, כמו שמצינו במרגלים

"Always should a man check the names to call his son one that is fitting to be righteous - as sometimes the name causes good or causes bad, as we found by the spies" (Midrash Tanhuma Ha'azinu 7).

And in the Gemara:

מְנָא לַן דִּשְׁמָא גָּרֵים? אָמַר רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר, דְּאָמַר קְרָא: ״לְכוּ חֲזוּ מִפְעֲלוֹת ה׳ אֲשֶׁר שָׂם שַׁמּוֹת בָּאָרֶץ״, אַל תִּקְרֵי ״שַׁמּוֹת״ אֶלָּא ״שֵׁמוֹת״.

"Regarding the basic assumption that these homiletic interpretations of names are allusions to one’s future, the Gemara asks: From where do we derive that the name affects one’s life? Rabbi Eliezer said that the verse says: “Go, see the works of Hashem, who has made desolations [shamot] upon the earth” (Psalms 46:9). Do not read the word as shamot, rather as shemot, names. The names given to people are, therefore, “the works of Hashem upon the earth.” (Brachot 7b:10)

On the other hand, human reason has the ability to use names and pronouns to divert the mind in a false way, and change the right attitude towards things. To use softened names and 'launder names', to 'beautify' difficult and problematic occurrences, or alternatively to use derogatory names for people, attitudes and phenomena, to cause listeners to shun them. This is the reason why there is a severe punishment on והמכנה שם רע לחבירו "…one who calls another a derogatory name". (Bava Metzia 58b). In an era where there is an ever-increasing use of different means of communication to influence public opinion and shape public relations, the use of 'name-calling' corresponding to the messages that are sought to be instilled in the public has also increased. This is often done in a false and misleading way, just to achieve the goal. And for that they employ talented copywriters and sophisticated public opinion shapers.

On Shabbat we begin to read Parashat Shemot, the first Parasha in Sefer Shemot. It is not for nothing that this is the name of the Sefer, and the name of the Parasha. At the beginning it is written,

שְׁמוֹת֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל הַבָּאִ֖ים מִצְרָ֑יְמָה ...

"…The names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt…" (Shemot 1:1), and then the Egyptians give a name to the people of Israel for the first time as a nation:

וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אֶל־עַמּ֑וֹ הִנֵּ֗ה עַ֚ם בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל ...

"And he said to his people, Look, the Israelite people … (Shemot 1:9).

The naming of Moshe Rabeinu:

וַתִּקְרָ֤א שְׁמוֹ֙ מֹשֶׁ֔ה וַתֹּ֕אמֶר כִּ֥י מִן־הַמַּ֖יִם מְשִׁיתִֽהוּ׃

"…She named him Moshe, explaining, I drew him out of the water.” (Shemot 2:10)

Naming Gershon:

וַיִּקְרָ֥א אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ גֵּרְשֹׁ֑ם כִּ֣י אָמַ֔ר גֵּ֣ר הָיִ֔יתִי בְּאֶ֖רֶץ נׇכְרִיָּֽה׃ 

"… a son whom he named Gershom, for he said, I have been a stranger in a foreign land.” (Shemot 2:22)

And later also dealing with a complex issue - the names of the Almighty.

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֜ה אֶל הָֽאֱלֹקים הִנֵּ֨ה אָנֹכִ֣י בָא֮ אֶל בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵל֒ וְאָמַרְתִּ֣י לָהֶ֔ם אֱלֹקי אֲבוֹתֵיכֶ֖ם שְׁלָחַ֣נִי אֲלֵיכֶ֑ם וְאָֽמְרוּ לִ֣י מַה־שְּׁמ֔וֹ מָ֥ה אֹמַ֖ר אֲלֵהֶֽם׃

"Moshe said to G-d: When I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The G-d of your fathers’ [house] has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is [G-d’s] name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Shemot 3:13)

The theme of 'names' will accompany us along Sefer Shemot.

The Ramban writes that the name of Sefer Shemot is also the 'Sefer HaGeula-Redemption' (Ramban Shemot 40:34, and in his preface to Shemot). There is a connection between the 'redemption' and the 'names' because:

וְאָמַר רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר אָמַר רַבִּי חֲנִינָא: כׇּל הָאוֹמֵר דָּבָר בְּשֵׁם אוֹמְרוֹ מֵבִיא גְּאוּלָּה לָעוֹלָם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וַתֹּאמֶר אֶסְתֵּר לַמֶּלֶךְ בְּשֵׁם מׇרְדֳּכָי״.

"And Rabbi Elazar further said that Rabbi Ḥanina said: Whoever reports a saying in the name of he who said it brings redemption to the world. As it is stated with respect to the incident of Bigthan and Teresh: “And Esther reported it to the king in the name of Mordechai” (Esther 2:22), and this eventually brought redemption, as Mordechai was later rewarded for saving the king’s life, paving the way for the miraculous salvation." (Megillah 15a:20)

The name of who said it and the saying are related to the essence of the one who said it and therefore mentioning him in connection with his saying brings redemption to the world. However, the connection between the names and redemption has another meaning. In order to bring redemption to the world, one must be accurate in reading the names and not use false names, in order to create an image that does not correspond to reality.

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