A Word from Rabbi Schulman - 1/17/2020
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." This title makes sense since the Israelites exiting Egypt, the House of Bondage, constitutes the major theme of the book. But do you know that the Hebrew name of the book has nothing to do with leaving Egypt? In Hebrew, the book is called "Sh'mot," which means "names." This title is derived from the opening verse which states, "And these are the names (Sh’mot) of the Israelites who came to Egypt with Jacob." In the opening chapter of Exodus we learn that a pharaoh arose who did not remember the good deeds achieved by Joseph. Fearing an uprising by the Israelites living in the region of Goshen, this new pharaoh enslaved the Israelites, filling their lives with harsh labor. Despite enduring bitter hardships, the Israelites preserved their customs. This included giving their children Hebrew names. Since their enslavement lasted for centuries, we can imagine how easily the Israelites might have forgotten their way of life. Yet they kept this tradition of bestowing their children with Hebrew names in order to preserve their Israelite identity. Bestowing Hebrew names for our children continues to this day. Our Hebrew names are used at a baby naming or bris; on the occasion when we are called to the Torah for an aliyah or stand under the chuppah at our wedding. At a funeral, the Hebrew name of the deceased is included in the prayer El Molei Rachamim and may be inscribed on a memorial stone.
Hebrew names link us to beloved family members who are no longer alive, reminding us of their character and values. Our names in Hebrew are a central part of our Jewish identity, symbolic of our everlasting covenant with God.