This parsha is Shemot, which in Hebrew means names. It’s also the name of this second book of the Torah. In English it is called Exodus, which means the mass departure of many people. Life sucks in Egypt for the Hebrew slaves and so they leave. Stuff happens. Exodus.
The plot of this one little parsha is hard to sum up quickly: The torah names all the tribes of Israel who have moved to Egypt, they become enslaved, AND THEN after 400 years they become so numerous and the Pharoah is afraid of them so he orders the midwives to kill all the male Hebrew babies. AND THEN Two midwives manage to save a lot of the male babies, one in particular is hidden from the bad guys until he gets too big and loud to hide, AND THEN his mother puts him in a basket and floats him towards Pharoah’s daughter, who adopts him and names him Moshe AND THEN he is given to his mother to nurse and then back to Pharoah’s Daughter to be raised as an Eqgyptian prince. AND THEN One day Moses sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave AND THEN he kills the Eqgyptian so he has to skedaddle AND THEN he faces the fact that he is a Hebrew AND THEN He runs away to Midian, marries Zipporah, has children, becomes a shepherd and generally drops out, AND THEN one day, just when he thinks his life is settled, God appears in a burning bush that is not consumed, insists that Moses go back to Egypt and liberate his people with the help of his brother Aaron AND THEN God teaches the reluctant Moses some magic tricks AND THEN Moses goes back to Egypt, confronts the Pharoah of all Egypt and says, no, demands that he let his people go, AND THEN Pharoah says hell no and gets even meaner to the slaves than he was before, AND THEN God tells Moses that he is going to kick Pharoah’s ass.
Great story. Can’t wait to see what happens next.
But for me, this is not about the journey, epic though it may be, but about something as simple as a name. With a name you are given a place, in your family and your community, and sometimes within your soul. The Israelites and then Moses, and then God, are named and found in this parsha, and the nexus is the Burning Bush, when God invites Moses back into who he is, Mose the Hebrew, the friend of God and the savior of the slaves.
The slaves are the children of Israel, known as the, Ivrit. The word Ivrit, meaning, Hebrew, comes from the shoresh Ayin, Bet, Raish. As a verb, it means to cross over, and it’s first used to describe that wanderer, Abraham. But by the time the people are in Egypt they are definitively known to the Egyptions as the Hebrews, re the people who crossed over, from Canaan to Egypt. And Shemot is the story of when those Hebrews go across the desert to go back home. The name is descriptive of how these people, our people, act and how we are seen. We know how to move on, when necessary. History acts upon us, we change as we must.
The second name is that of Moses, which is taken from the meaning, to be drawn out, Pharoah’s daughter names him that becuase he was drawn out of the water.. It is apparently also now meant that it is also Mose who draws the people out of Egypt. Moses is given his name as a child, acted upon by others, until he kills the Egyptian and runs away, spending his time in Midian becoming a new person until his encounter with God, at which point he can reclaim himself and that name and become the agent of his own life. He draws himself out and discovers his true self, who is is, his I am that I am and embraces his connection with the one-ness and his people and goes back into the story. Moses, the protagonist, changes dramatically. Pharoah, his mother, his sister, Pharoah’s daughter, Jethro, Zipporah, and God, they all act upon him, but finally, when Moses sees the Burning Bush, when he chooses to see the Burning Bush, he draws himself out and becomes his people’s leader. He names God and becomes Ivrit at last.
And what about God’s name? Many observant jews never call God by any name other than HaShem, The Name. I’m not totally sure why, but to me it seems that it’s as if, by naming God you quantify God, you surround and separate and personalize, you make the Is-ness into a human or a supernatural that which cannot be surrounded or separated or personalized or be human or a being.
And yet we insist on giving this non-corporeal non-being a Shem, a name. In fact, Shemot. Names:
Ruach HaOlam, The Breath of Life
The Righteous One
Ha Makom, The Place
Adon Olam, Lord of the World
Avinu Malkeinu, Our Father Our King
Elohei Avraham, Elohei Yitzchak ve Elohei Ya`aqov
Elohei Sara, Elohei Rivka, Elohei Leah ve Elohei Rakhel
And my personal favorite, Zokef efufim, Straightener of the Bent. What ever does that mean, I wonder?
God is not nearly as pretentious as we are. When Moses asks God what he should call God, God simply (!) says, Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh. I Am That I Am. Rabbi Art Green interprets this to be not the description of something that has ever been, is now, and ever will be, outside of time and space, Was/Is/ Will Be. It is the essence of, well, IS, and this Is-ness knows it. For the first time, The Was/Is/Will Be, the I AM THAT I AM, doesn’t identify itself as God or Lord or Father or any of that. This Is-ness sends Moses off on his quest to bring the Hebrews out of Egypt and into covenant with I am that I am. So HaIvrit, The Hebrews, and Moses and I AM THAT I AM have come together and the story that will climax at Sinai in Torah and Jews and you and me.
So What are the names you were given at birth?
What are the names you were given by your history?
What are the names you have chosen for yourself at your burning bush?
My parents gave me the name, Patricia Ilene Arlin.
AND THEN They gave me a name for my religion, my people, my history, Aleeza Bat Rut v’Shlomo. Aleeze means Joyful. That’s me, Full of Joy.
I always hated that name, Aleeza. I didn’t have much joy growing up and I don’t present as joyful lke some people do, even when that’s how I’m feeling. So the name Aleeza never sat well with me. So when I started studying Jewish stuff, I thought I wanted a more appropriate Hebrew name. My hero became Rabbi Akiva, who was illiterate until he was in his forties and who then started to learn from scratch and who became one of the greatest rabbis of his time. I decided I wanted the female equivalent of the male name, Akiva, but when I looked it up one one of those sites for finding Hebrew names, it said there was no female equivalent. AND THEN, I complained about this to a friend who had some knowledge of hebrew names, AND THEN she suggested what she thought was the closest female equivalent to Akiva: Aleeza.
I’ve been thinking about it, and I think I am almost ready to drop the name I was given, and reclaim my name and draw myself out and choose to be joyful.
Baruch atah HaShem, Blessed be the Name, blessed be that which cannot be named and blessed be our names, those we receive because of love, and those we receive because of our history and culture, and those names we choose for ourselves, because we are B’tzelem Elohim, made in the image of the I AM that chooses to be I AM.
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