The gabai at the synagogue approached Mr. Goldfein to give him the honor of an aliyah at the Torah.
“What is your Jewish name?” he asked. Traditionally, we are called up by our Jewish name. And Goldfein replied, “Rachel Ben Moshe.” The gabai — thinking he heard wrong — asked again. He received the same reply.
“Rachel is a female name, perhaps you can tell me the Jewish name that your parents chose at your bris?” he delicately asked Goldfein.
Almost whispering, Goldfein responded, “I have been going through some financial troubles — everything is now in my wife’s name.”
Shemot, the name of this week’s Torah portion, translates to “name.” As the opening verse states, “And these are the names of the children of Israel.”
What is in a name? Is it just an outer expression, an external method
You probably know someone who, as their life progressed, didn’t identify with their given name or nickname and swapped it out for one they liked better.
Sometime between fourth and sixth grades, my cousin did just that, changing from the more childish nickname Dovi to his complete name Dovber, to express more maturity.
Is that all a name is, an identification, which one can swap out based on how they’d like to be represented?
In the opening words of the Torah portion, Rashi teaches that G-d counted each of the children of Jacob by their individual names to express his love for them. When counting by number, we express how each thing is equal, not noticing individual differences and qualities.
However, when counting by name, each person’s individuality is accounted for, thus highlighting how we are all different, with different strengths and qualities, yet still united. Rashi is teaching that when G-d counts us and shows his love for us as an individual, it gives us additional koiach or “strength” to strive toward our individual purpose.
In old Jewish custom, when one — G-d forbid — fainted, someone would whisper the person’s Jewish name into his ear. One’s name is directly connected to their soul, by reciting his or her name, they were calling the soul back into the body.
In other words, our Jewish name is directly connected to our soul, the vibrancy and purpose of our being alive and our personal life mission.
Our sages tell us that our forefathers were redeemed from Egyptian exile by merit of three things: They didn’t change their Jewish names, clothing or language. As much as they assimilated into the Egyptian culture and way of life, they remained different, constantly connected to G-d and awaiting the redemption.
Upon arrival in America from war-torn Europe, the Chabad Rebbe understood the pulse of the waning Jewish life in America. In the 1950s he began a campaign of Jewish pride — through outdoor Jewish parades and events — to turn the tide away from the assimilation rampantly affecting the Jewish community.
The Rebbe understood that Jewish pride, like that expressed in a Jewish name, is the answer to the equalizing and minimizing of Hitler’s numbers — may his memory be cursed.
As we await the arrival of Moshiach and the era of world peace, it is not enough to be Jewish at home and blend in on the streets. We need to feel strong Jewish pride, to be proud of our Jewish names, to be proud to be recognized in the world as a Jew.
So, to suggest a Jewish pride action, let us strengthen ourselves in the mitzvah of ensuring a kosher mezuzah scroll on our front doorpost, visible to all, and show how proud we are to be Jewish. JN
Rabbi Dov Levertov is director of the Chabad of Phoenix.