Table Talk: Shemot
Names:This week’s portion, Shemot, (names) is also the beginning of Sefer Shemot, the Book of Names. The text begins with a list of names, but quickly switches to job descriptions,
not names. Pharaoh is a title, not a name. Shifra and Puah describe the midwives’ work with the children. A “man of the Tribe of Levi married a daughter of Levi.” There is a nameless baby, a sister, and even the daughter of the king, but no names. Moses’ first question is “What Name shall I tell Israel?” The Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 48, insists that Israel was redeemed only because they did not change their names. Does this simply mean that they used Hebrew names? Was that sufficient to merit redemption? Why would the text imply loss of names if the names were their key to the future? How can their leader walk around with an Egyptian name if Hebrew names were so important?
This portion is not our first meeting with names. God chose a name for light on the first day of Creation. Light, as it is, is not enough. God brought all the animals to Adam to be named. Adam named Eve, because… The Torah is filled with the reasons for some names, even when it chooses not to explain others. We know the reason for the choice of Cain, but not Abel. What is so important about names? Why are we privy to the reason for some names but not others?
What was Pharaoh thinking when he ordered the Jewish midwives to kill every male? Philo and Flavius Josephus were so bothered by this story that they posit that the two midwives were actually Egyptian! (See also Imrei Noam in the name of Rabbi Yehudah HaChasid) Why would Pharaoh choose only two midwives if he intends to kill all newborn males? Is it possible that this was a calculated strategy of psychological warfare? Pharaoh sent a message to all of Israel with this order: “Matters have reached a point at which I can even use you against yourselves.” Can you find other examples of Pharaoh’s strategy in the story?