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A Name, A Soul
Wed, 04/23/2014 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week
Rabbi David Wolpe
Rabbi David Wolpe

The Book of Exodus, in Hebrew, is called “Sh’mot,” or names. Yet the first extended story, about the slavery from Egypt, records none of the names of the Egyptians save for the midwives, Shifra and Puah. (Although some commentators claim them as Jews, it seems clear the Torah intends them to be taken for Egyptians). Even Pharaoh is a title, not a name — one of the reasons it is so difficult to determine which Pharaoh should be associated with the time period.

A society where names are not known is a totalitarian state. Names grant individuality, personality and a certain status. “Do you know my name?” is another way of asking, “Am I distinguished in your eyes?” In the story of the Tower of Babel, no names are given, for there was a collectivity without individuality. Wisely was the museum in Israel named “Yad Vashem” — because the quote from Isaiah 56:5, “a place and a name,” means that each one lost was a unique soul.

The crown of a good name, teaches Pirke Avot, is the greatest of all crowns. In a graveyard, whatever other inscription a stone bears, it invariably records the deceased’s name. Tyranny seeks to erase names.  Memory and love restore and preserve them.

Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe.


 

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I've often wondered why Hagar's son is not named in the story when she and he are banished and he almost dies of thirst. He is referred to as her son, and the youth, but not Ishmael. Is there a connection to this point of evil not being named? The story is so sympathetic, I can't imagine that the Torah views him as evil.

Ishmael was very naughty (really evil). That is why he and Hagar were sent away. He repented later. It is all in black and whit in the Torah.

" A society where names are not known is a totalitarian state"...........Names are also not known when no one can remember them any longer, as it seems to be the case in EXODUS, written long after the events.
The Egyptians were not a totalitarian society, but rather a theocracy ruled by priests, similarly as our Jewish society then.
The Egyptians were a pious and peaceful people who never killed their enemies, in contrast to other people of that period. Slavery yes, but not killings. Slavery was an accepted institution (as it was until the 18th century in the world, including the Western world) and was practiced by us Jews then,too.
Let us be fair to The Egyptians, as we wish fairness for our selves.

When Yosef was "crowned" in Egypt . the Egyptions were "nice" but then they hardened their hearts. I wouldn't congratulate them for this, then they killed our baby boys in ancient Egypt-not the same people who populate Egypt in present times.
For Jewish slaves that were in the custody of Jewish masters it was for a crime that had to be paid off- some slaves even elected to stay longer as it was so good.
For non-Jewish slaves it was the winnings of war.
So let's be fair-the ancient Egyptians were cruel and enslaved us and killed own baby boys.

Very Nice, Rabbi.

"records none of the names of the Egyptians save for the midwives, Shifra and Puah. (Although some commentators claim them as Jews, it seems clear the Torah intends them to be taken for Egyptians)."

Not correct. The Torah specifically states that they are Jewish: ""The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, of whom the name of the first was Shifrah and the name of the second was Puah..."(Exodus 1:15-17).'""