Of Blessing and Jealousy: The Deep Story of Names
She may be wise,
and he may be kind, but those are descriptions, not names.
She may be Dr., and he may be Professor, but those are titles, not names.
Names touch on something else, something altogether different.
What’s the sōd? What’s the “secret,” deeper, inner meaning of a name?
Adam HaRishon Names …
The Torah emphasizes that the greatest of Adam HaRishon’s extraordinary abilities was his capacity to assign names. Names. Yet, unlike “wise,” “courageous,” or doctor—which have clear meanings and implications about the person being described—names seem to be relatively empty: Just a name. A word, a type of spoken identifier, almost like a label. At the same time, if we were to refer to someone in terms like, “excuse me, tall guy,” or that “Mr. carpenter with the long hair, can we talk?” and not use their names, we would feel like we weren’t really touching on who that particular person actually is. We would feel one step removed. On the other hand, using a person’s name facilitates a tighter, direct connection between two people. Names, it turns out, are deep. Names touch on the essence of the person as a unique individual. Adam gave names to animals, but not as individuals, only as a species. Each animal species is unique and distinct from every other species, but within the species, they’re all more or less the same. Not so people. Every human being is an absolutely unique and special individual. In all of history, there will only be one of each of us, and in some way, names touch upon that unique, even transcendent essence. That “I” that occupies a critical place in the multi-layered grandeur of creation.
Aiyn Sof - I, and Eternity
My, and your, “I” contains the quality ‘aiyn sof,”—infinite—within it, because each of us is a spark of the Infinite, the Creator. The truth is, though our names are ours, none of us fully grasp the broadest, deepest meaning within our names. A name is the interface between the highest, deepest “I” that reaches far beyond the confines of the physical world on the one hand, and the very tangible, particular place and mission we each carry within this world.
The sfarim ha’kdoshim, the mystical based sources, tell us that it’s highly important for a person to never forget their name. In fact, we are told that in the next world, the first question posed is, “What is your name?” and reshayim, terrible, evil people, simply don’t know what to answer.
Remember Your Name
To “remember” one’s name is to recall, and to be connected to, one’s essence, one’s purpose and mission. To “forget” one’s name is to be totally out of touch with everything meaningful about one’s existence. To forget one’s name, to devote the best of one’s energies and efforts to someone, or something else, is to be lost in galut, in a dark, personal exile. In a place where one’s special, holy, brilliant ray of Godly light is lost, wandering in a foggy night, barely able to shine at all.
There is no joy like the joy of geula, the joy of redemption.
Because the joy of geula is the joy of the revelation of the clear, inner, dimension of the soul. Geula is absolute fidelity to one’s truest self, one’s name. Redemption, the reclaiming and redeeming of name, is at the heart of geula.
The Book of Shmot: Names
We are now embarking on a journey into the book of Shmot, Names.
Name is the essence of this book, and as the Ramban (Nachmanides) tells us, this book is nothing other than the book of Geula, the book of Redemption.
“ And these are the names of the children of Israel that were coming to Egypt…”
This opening verse tells us that the “names” themselves were entering Egypt. Egypt, mitzrayim, means narrow, tight and constricted. Egypt was a place where nameness couldn’t be manifest. Mitzrayim, the land of the stranglehold, choked our ability to be who we were. Does this not bring to mind the accursed Nazis? Those monsters that strove to erase our names, and to replace them with numbers. Were they not daring to choke off every breath of who we were, and are, as a people?
“ [And God said to Yacov] Don’t be afraid of descending into Egypt … I will descend with you into Egypt, and I will certainly bring you up…” (Braishit 46:3-4)
The Zohar, and sources based on the Zohar, tell us that, “The Holy One, and Yisrael, the nation of Israel, are one.” In this world, Hakadosh Baruch Hu, the Holy One, is revealed via Yisrael. We funtion, in essence, like God’s name in this world. And so, when the ability of our light to shine is choked off in the tight hold of Egypt’s dark clutches, God’s name is in exile. And when God’s name is exiled from this world—
“Pharaoh answered, ‘Who is Hashem that I should listen to His voice to send out Israel? I don’t know Hashem …” (Shmot 5:2)
What a terrifying statement, what a terrifying world …
A world of “Who is Hashem?”
Indeed, Moshe understood the awful extent of galut. He understood that the toll of galut was so desperate that even when—
“I will come to the children of Israel and say to them. ‘the God of your forefathers has sent me to you,’ and they will say to me, ‘What is His name? What will I say to them?’” (Shmot 1:13)
The Book of Shmot tells us of the unfolding process of geula, of redemption, of the redemption of Hashem’s name, so to speak, beginning with it’s more superficial aspects and progressing deeper and deeper until, with the Exodus from Egypt, the name of Israel is redeemed. And only then—with Pesach—with that stage of redemption actualized, can we move forward to the highest revelation of God’s name: The revelation on Mt. Sinai, the revelation of the “I,” the name, so to speak of God. “I, am Hashem your God.” The deepest “I” of Shavuot.
And from there?
From there to the Mishkan, the Tabenacle. The place where the co-mingling, the achdut, of Israel’s name, and God’s name, was manifest. For only there, only in kodesh kadoshim, the inner sanctum of the holy of holies, was God’s name ever uttered. And uttered by who? By the Kohen Gadol who—
“… bore the names of the children of Israel on the Breastplate.” (Shmot 28:29)
Teaching us that the sōd, the deep, beneath the surface meaning of what was taking place in the Mishkan is that the unique, shining potential in each and every Jew, every one of the “children of Israel,” was liberated via the Mishkan. That’s geula, that’s redemption. When every single Jew, every name, is able to express it’s essence, and in so doing, join together with all if Israel in the symphonic light show of the revelation of God’s Presence in this world. “V’shachanti b’tocham-I will dwell among them.” “I,” Hashem, will be liberated and present and manifest in this world not merely in a structure called the mishkan, but among them, among all of Israel: Every single name—every single ray of brilliant ohr—in every single Jew.
The apex of redemption.
Sukkot. Where each Jew, each family, sits enveloped in his, and their, very unique, very special, and stunningly beautiful light. And where not only each individual light shines, but “Sukkat David,” the Beit Hamikdosh, the great collective light of Israel shines forth to the entire world.
Just like in sefer Shmot where the process and story of geula unfolds from it’s earliest moments all the way to it’s ultimate fruition, the same is true for us. Today, as the name, the essence of the nation of Israel, has begun once again to be redeemed and revealed on the stage of human history in a way unlike anything that has taken place for well over two millennia, this story too will continue all the way to it’s ultimate fruition. Yes, the hurdles are many, and the obstacles are treacherous: Chevlei layda, “birth pangs.” The birth pangs of redemption; ultimate, full, complete, redemption: Chevlei Moshiach.
Through this progressive, unfolding process—birth pangs and all—will be revealed our names, and the name of Israel, the name of hashem within each of us, and within all of us together. In that ultimate Sukkah, that “great and holy House.” That place from which—
“On that day Hashem will be One, and His name will be One.” (Zechariah 14:9)
Soon, soon. Soon in our days.
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