Shemos starts off by naming the sons of Yaakov, “These are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt with Yaakov, each man came with his household: Re’uvain, Shimon, Levi, and Yehuda. Yissachar Zevulun, and Binyamin. Dan and Naftali, Gad and Asher.” (Shemos 1:1-4) Rashi comments on the first few lines of Shemos.
According to Rashi, “Although G-d counted them by their names in their lifetime, He counted them again after they died, to teach us how precious they were to him. This is analogous to the starts, of which it is written in Isaiah 40:26, “He who takes out their hosts by number, calls them all by name.” (Shemos 1:1-4)
I found interesting that it mentions all the names of Yaakov’s family in the start of this parasha because it is really awkward and unexpected for it to start that way it did. You would expect it to start with an introduction about were it left off with or introducing us to something that is going to happen, but G-d decided to start it off with the names of all of Yaakov’s children, no including Dina because she is a girl and she is not one of the twelve tribes.
My question is what is the power of names? If G-d decided to start off the parasha with the names of Yaakov’s sons, that means that names are something very important and significant to G-d. Judaism plays a big emphasis on names from the start of when a child is born and then when one is called up to read the Torah. I am very interested in names because I was named after my grandmother, my father’s mom, and it is very interesting because I look just like my dad, so people always tell my parents that my name matches my physical being.
The word “Shemos” means names. A person’s name is something very unique and very personal, not only if they are named after someone they are loved but also because it identifies them. Whenever someone hears their name being called, one gets excited and our spirits are lifted. People feel so powered by their names that they pay so their name can be on a plaque, stone, certificate, or on a wall of a building. People earn their reputation by their name. A name is so powerful that if a person faints, whispering his name into his ear can actually bring him back to consciousness.
A name doesn’t express that person’s unique qualities, but many different people posses exactly the same name. A name is so important in Judaism that both boys and girls have a special ceremony were they are given their name in front of their congregation. Boys are given their names eight days after they are born because they are given their name during their Brit Milah ceremony but girls are given their name either a Monday, Thursday, or Saturday, when the Torah is read and their father is given a special aliyah in the Torah. Parents are given a few days to change their child’s name just incase they realize that the name they gave their child is a person’s evil name, but most parents before they give their child a name, are conscious who they are named after or who else has or had their name.
A name expresses a paradox because a name tells you nothing about a person but it is a word that represents a person’s total uniqueness. For example, if someone’s name is Mazal, you don’t know anything about that person because a name really doesn’t tell you much about the person.
Names are so special that if someone is really sick, they are added an extra name. For example, if someone who is named Ari is sick, the rabbi might add the name Raphael to his name because Raphael is the angel that heals or they might add the name Gabriel. Another example, if a girls name is Sharon and she is really sick, they might add the name Chaya to her name because it means life and this name would hopefully bring happiness and life to her.
The Midrash says: In the merit of four acts of restraint were the Jews redeemed from Egypt – they did not change their names; they did not change their language; they did not disclose each other’s secrets; and they did not break barriers of morality (Bamidbar Rabbah 20:21). Names play such a significant role that the Jews in Egypt didn’t change their names.
For just as a name is a concealment of a person’s true identity, even if so many other different people share the same name, everyone feels like their name represents his total uniqueness. Parasha Shemos is a concealment of the Jewish spirit and that spirit always stays intact and alive.
Also, naming is the best sign of affection. The Torah (Genesis 5:29) relates that Noah was given his name with the prayer, “This one will bring us rest (noah) from our work and the toil of our hands.” The intent was that Noah would lighten the burden of his family’s toil by introducing agricultural tools (Radak).
There is a spiritual connection between the name of an individual and his soul. The word “Neshama” (soul) stems from the word “Neshima” (breath), for it is the ‘breath’ of G-d that gives life to man (Genesis 2:7). A soul’s essence is Divine, and a person’s name defines this essence.
So, the answer to my question of what is the power of names is that a name expresses ones uniqueness and it indentifies them. If you try calling a baby that is eight months old, he will probably turn his head when you call his name because he is aware that that is his name. Names play a significant part in our every day lives and most people are comfortable and happy with the name they are given.