You know that moment during the award show when the winner begins to rattle off a long list of names during the acceptance speech? She thanks everyone from her co-stars, to his director, to her agent, his accountant, stylist, and most often, Mom, Dad, children and sometimes, if they don’t forget, their spouse. You also know when they’ve gone on too long. Cue the music, get off the stage!
We may not care about so-and-so’s personal chef and trainer, however, the person who won the award does, and so does the person whose name is mentioned.
Names are important. The Torah shares genealogies in several places. Truth be told, we often overlook or simply skim these long lists of names. They don’t inspire us. What would you rather read? Moses’ encounter with God at the Burning Bush or the names of Jacob’s sons (and their households) who came to Egypt with Jacob to escape the famine in Canaan?
Why, then, does the Book of Exodus, perhaps the most important of the Five Books of Moses, begin so blandly? Why doesn’t Exodus begin with a memorable opening line like, “Call me Ishmael,” or “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” (Yes, “In the Beginning” is memorable; but that’s Genesis, not Exodus).
“These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each coming with his household…” is the uninspiring first verse of the Book of Exodus.
Rabbi Brad Artson, in a lovely d’var Torah
on this week’s portion, quotes the great sage Rashi, who “summarizes midrashim
(on the meaning of the names) when he informs us that ‘even though they were recorded during their lifetimes by their names, the Torah returned and recorded them after their deaths to proclaim how beloved they were.’ Lists only matter if those listed matter. . . The long lists of the Torah represent an assertion of human worth. We may not care about every name listed there, but the author of the Torah does and wants us to learn to care as well. Those names teach us that more people are involved in our lives than we care to acknowledge, that we are more deeply imbedded in our society than we will ever know.” (These are the Names: Where is Yours?
Every important person in our life is worthy of honor, and is a valuable inspiration to us. That is why we record their names. That is why we remember them in life and that is why we remember them by name after they have died. Every time we recite aloud or even think to ourselves the names of those who have touched our lives, we honor their presence or their memory.
Exodus gets very exciting, dramatic and even ominous beginning by Chapter 1 verse 8-“A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph. . .” The drama begins only after we are reminded of the important people and their families whose journey to Egypt centuries before got us to this moment.
Take time this Shabbat and at all times to recall the names of those who bring meaning and purpose to your lives. If they are living, connect with them, remind them why they are special to you. If they have died, recall a meaningful memory that continues to guide your life.
These are the names of the people that are important to us; may we always remember them.