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How important are your Hebrew Names?

Sunday, 6 January, 2013 - 12:53 am

GenericOne day in the late 1970’s, the Dalai Lama asked for a meeting with Elie Wiesel. The Dalai Lama said, "I'm familiar with your work, what you wrote about the Jewish people losing a homeland two thousand years ago and how you're still here. My people have just lost their homeland, and I know it's going to be a very long road into exile. How did you survive?"

Wiesel responded, "When we left Jerusalem, we didn't take all our jewels with us. All we took was a little book. It was the book that kept us alive. Second, because of our exile, we developed a sense of solidarity. When Jews left one place for the next, there were always Jews to welcome and take care of them. And, third, good memory. Survival takes a good memory."

This week in synagogues around the world the book of Exodus that describes the very first exile and hardship of the Jewish people will begin to be read and will continue being read for the next eleven Saturdays. From a historical perspective, the Exile in Egypt was the forbearer of many other later exiles and sufferings of the Jewish people. In fact, there are many parallels and similarities in the circumstances and events of the Egyptian exile with modern day exiles and suffering of the Jewish people. According to the Midrash, Pharaoh did not wake up one day and say I will destroy all the Jews in one shot, as he knew he would not succeed at doing it in this manner and even his own people would oppose him. Instead, he began a program of delegitimizing the Jews and began a light form of servitude that eventually turned into full force slavery and mass murder. It does not take too much to see a similar pattern repeating itself in many other instances throughout history.

The story of the exile in Egypt and the survival of the Jews, are powerful lessons in Jewish survival and learning to deal with adversity from both a physical and spiritual perspective. Despite the Jews facing tremendous suffering and hardship they held on for the dear life to their spiritual mission and purpose, even if they may have slipped tremendously in the process, there were certain principles and values that they never gave up on. In fact, according to the Talmud, there were four main ideas that were the spiritual glue that held the people together during those years, their language, their clothing, the righteous women, and their Hebrew names. These four things served as merits in their favor and cause of the unbreakable Jewish spirit.

The book of Exodus which we begin reading this week has a different name in Hebrew, “Shemot”, which means “Names”. One of the reasons for this title is to pay tribute to the Jews of Egypt, who despite their suffering in slavery and the attempt to forcibly destroy them and assimilate them, still held onto their Hebrew names throughout that time.

Many are named with Hebrew names after loved ones, after righteous people, or just with beautiful Hebrew names. These names are not just another hidden dimension of who we are, but in the Jewish tradition, our Hebrew names are part of our very essence and a reflection of who we really are.  Take a moment to think of your or your children’s Hebrew names, what they mean, who they are named after, and think of all the positive elements that these names express and how they are connected with our Jewish identity. As Elie Wiesel said, we didn’t just take our Jewels into exile, we took some powerful things along with us like the book and our memories and they have helped us maintain who we are throughout our long history. Our Hebrew Names are part of that dynamic and the rich treasure that we have kept throughout our history.

To read more about Hebrew Names click here. If you would like info or help with knowing more about your Hebrew name or don’t yet have a Hebrew name please let us know and we can help you in the discovery.

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