<I>Shemot</I>: A Rose By Any Other Name

It seems that appearances and manner of speech are important. They can create reality. Our sages told us (Shemot Rabbah, chapter 13) that "B'nei Yisrael were redeemed from Egypt in the merit of the fact that they did not change their names, their language and their dress."

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch,

Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch
"Marxism-Leninism will end up on the ash heap of history." So spoke President Ronald Reagen at the height of Soviet expansion and hubris in 1982. "No president had ever spoken this way about Soviet Communism." (Steven Hayward, Greatness, page 141) In a similar vein, Winston Churchill spoke about the same menace in 1949: "Laws just or unjust may govern men's actions. Tyrannies may restrain and regulate their words. The machinery of propaganda... may deny them truth for many generations of time. But the soul of man thus held on trance, or frozen in a long night, can be awakened by a spark coming from God knows where, and in a moment the whole structure of lies and oppression is on trial for its life. Peoples in bondage need never despair." (ibid., page 188)

It seems that appearances and manner of speech are important. They can create reality. Our sages told us (Shemot Rabbah, chapter 13) that "B'nei Yisrael were redeemed from Egypt in the merit of the fact that they did not change their names, their language and their dress." Certainly, all these factors brought about the situation that the sons of Jacob did not assimilate into Egyptian society (and so, Shemot 1:1 reads, "These are the names of the Jews who are coming to Egypt," in the present tense, not " came to Egypt," because the "names" and language ensured a consciousness of being transient comers, and form the basis for redemption. See Rabbi Yitzchak Weinberg, the Talner Rebbe on Shemot, p.27).

To understand this, one needs to know that names and speech are at the basis of our identities. And so, travel back to Egypt, to the darkest of times, to see a people, once toasted and desired as the Hebrew brothers of Yoseph, savior of the Egyptian empire, now enslaved, beaten, downtrodden, at the lowest rung of society. And the Pharaoh, most powerful ruler on earth, turns to the midwives of the Jewish people ("The name of one of them was Shifra, and the name of the second, Puah." - Shemot 1:15) and plots a sort of genocide: " When you birth the Hebrew women, and see them in labor, if it is a male, kill him, and if a female, let her live." (Shemot 1:16)

Rashi says that Shifra was Yocheved, well known survivor of the first generation that came to Egypt, and wife of leading figure Amram HaLevi; and Puah was Miriam, daughter of that couple . The Kli Yakar says that "it is remarkable" that Pharaoh did not take note of the name change of these famous people, especially as the names connote their relation to the redemption: Shifra, for she returned l'shufra, to her beauty and youth, as a metaphor for the Geulah of Am Yisrael, and to enable an old woman to give birth to the redeemer; and Puah, for she chirped on and on in her prophecies of redemption. Furthermore, "the names show that they had not the slightest doubt of the Geulah, for had they doubt they would have listened to Pharaoh, as doubters would have pessimistically reasoned: better the boys die neonates than grow up into a life of slavery and misery."

This is why Yaakov Avinu on his deathbed "bikeish l'galot lahem haketz" (Rashi on B'reishit 49:1). Father Jacob knew that a nation armed mightily with a vision of its ultimate future and glory would not assimilate into Egyptian society. By evoking from his children a spoken declaration of faith in the vision of Yisrael (the Gemara in Pesachim 56 says that they uttered Sh'ma Yisrael) he created the actual reality of Geulah, as if they saw it in front of them (Shem Mishmuel).

The last Lubavitcher Rebbe commented on names that it is a paradox that we consider the name to connote the essence of a particular person, when so many people have the same name. He answers that thus the issue of names (shemot, in Hebrew) is the parsha and the essence of redemption in a nutshell: just as a name seems to be a concealment of a person's unique identity, as so many people have the same name, so too the depths of Egyptian bondage seemed to be a concealment of the true Yisrael, and a burying of the vision of Yisrael. "Yet deep down, a person feels that his name represents his total uniqueness, and deep down the darkness of the Egyptian exile merely concealed the unique Jewish spirit, which remained intact and alive." (from the commentary of the Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch)

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook wrote (Netivot Yisrael, part 1, quoted in Rabbi Tzvi Tal's Neshama La'Am Aleha, p. 188): "'The son of David will not come until the Jews despair (have yei'ush) from the Geulah (Shanherin 97a)': 'from,' because the very process of redemption itself will cause their despair." The Geulah is not a never-ending upward, victorious process, but a stuttering series of victories and defeats and victories (as expressed in the Geulah code-words "pakos yifkod" in Shemot 3:16, and explained by Rabbi Matis Weinberg in Frameworks on Shemot, pages 39-52). Similarly, Rabbi Tau explains that the growing pains of our present-day redemption follow the same pattern. Up we went with the Six Day War, only to see the spontaneous outpouring of nationalism and brotherhood, whose true godly source Israel knew not (and attributed to secular Zionism), be destroyed, as that secular vision proved its true inadequacy to sustain our national soul, which is on the infinitely higher level and demands much more (Neshama La'Am Aleha, pp. 181-205). This true, hidden "name" and identity is what pushed even secular Zionists and led, like the Rebbe's paradox, to our "post-Zionist" period.

Not only have today's political leaders thrown off the prophet's vision of "Israel", but they actively seek to stifle the voices of those who still dare to speak in those terms, cynically ridiculing right-wing secular patriots, and actively attacking religious Zionists who speak in terms of redemption. Lubavitchers also, who speak loudly of Moshiach, are taunted even by religious Jews, as if belief in Moshiach were not a pillar of our faith.

Were our leaders to speak with vision, like a Churchill or a Reagen, this nation would wake up. What is needed is a positive, unabashed expression of our position and rights in this world as Yisrael. What we get is the language of despair and surrender, and the inane expression that we are to be a "fun country" in a "new Middle East." But no solution will come from Olmerts and Pereses, as they simply do not bear "the name" in their very being, down to their innermost atom, as a true Ben Yisrael does.

The Pharaoh's male-killing program was an attempt to prevent the birth of the leader of the redemption; i.e., the Moshiach. But the hidden "name" will surely be revealed, as surely as Moshe (whose name backwards in Hebrew reads, amazingly, h'sh'm, read as "the name"; Rabbi M. Weinberg, p. 34, note 14) weathered the storms of atchalta d'geulah (the beginnings of the process) and brought Israel to the real thing.

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