By Rabbi Yaacov Darmoni
The book of Shmot opens with a list of the names of the children of Yaakov who descended to Egypt. What’s in a name? A name, as opposed to a number, expresses an identity – a deeper inner meaning. With the exception of Shabbos there are no names for the days of the week (only Yom Rishon – the first day, Yom Sheni – the second day, etc.). The only day with specific content and meaning is Shabbos – the focal point of the entire week. (The other nations are mistaken by providing names for each day of the week).
The book of Shmot marks the beginning of the difficult exile whose end will be the redemption. The suffering endured during this exile is meant to purify us: “Whatever the Merciful One does He does for the best.” If we plant seeds, the seeds may first rot but we know this is the beginning of the process towards producing a beautiful fruit-bearing tree. Whatever Hashem does, meaning even what at first appears to us as less good or even bad, “He does for the best”. We must therefore recite the blessing on negative tidings and recite it with great joy.
For the Jewish people to be able to survive the iron crucible of the exile and be redeemed it is vital that they be aware of their names – that they know who they are and what their role is in this world. Whoever does not remember his name will quickly find himself immersed in the exile without chance of redemption. The book of the exile which concludes with the redemption therefore begins with “these are the names” – if you have a name then you have a chance of redemption.
The Torah writes that at the outset of the exile the Jewish people were fruitful and multiplied. One of the words used to describe this is vayishretzu. The Sforno explains that the verb sharatz implies that the Jewish nation started to be like a sheretz (insect) descending down into the depths. From here began the deepest parts of the exile where they lost their name and forgot their role. It is not for naught that at the end of Shmone Esrei it is customary to mention a pasuk alluding to our name, so that we not forget our name. Do not forget your name, your essence, your role, and you will then be able to stand on the Day of Judgment ready to receive your share in the Next World.
May we merit being called by our name and merit the complete redemption speedily in our day. Amen.
Originally appears on YUTorah