A Word from Rabbi Schulman - 12/28/18
The name of the second book of the Torah is easily recognizable. The book of Exodus takes its name from the Greek word meaning "to go out." The Israelites going out of Egypt is the major theme of the book. But do you know that the Hebrew name of the book has nothing to do with exiting Egypt? In Hebrew, the book is called "Shemot," which means "names." This title is derived from the first verse of the book which reads, “These are the names (shemot) of the Israelites who came to Egypt with Jacob." In the first chapter of Exodus we learn that a Pharaoh arose who did not remember Joseph. Fearing an uprising by the Israelites, this new Pharaoh enslaved the Israelites. Despite enduring incredible hardships, the Israelites preserved their customs, including giving their children Hebrew names. It would have been easy to assimilate into the predominant culture, especially since enslavement in Egypt lasted many centuries. Yet keeping tradition and bestowing on children Hebrew names helped preserve the Israelites' identity. Giving Hebrew names for our children continues to this day as a way of ensuring Jewish continuity. Hebrew names link us to beloved family members who are no longer alive, reminding us of their character and values.
Our Hebrew names are utilized on special occasions, such as being called to the Torah for an aliyah, or standing under the chuppah at a wedding. Our names in Hebrew form part of our core identity as a unique people.