Cantor Peicott's Shabbat Message - January 13, 2023

  • Clergy
  • Shabbat
Cantor Peicott's Shabbat Message - January 13, 2023

Any parent knows the pressure around choosing their child’s name. Leading up to our youngest son’s birth, we went back and forth – sending each other Google’s “most popular,” or “most unusual” names of 2022.  

Our evening conversations went a little like this:

Joe: “What about X?”

Lisa: “No,  remember that YouTube video…
“Well, how about X, I just had a Bar Mitzvah student named X and I really liked the way it sounded on the bimah….”  

Joe: “Lisa, we are not naming our son after your Bar Mitzvah student….” 

This went on for weeks. Finally, on the way to the hospital, my husband turned to me and said “I guess we could do Ezra.”

“You mean the name you vetoed months ago…?”  I said.  Sixteen hours later, Ezra Scott Peicott made his way into the world and received his very own name.

This week, we begin the second book of the Torah, Exodus. But the name “Exodus” is not Hebrew, it’s a relic of the Greek translation of the Torah. The Hebrew name of this world-famous story is “Shemot,” which means “names.” Why names? Well, aside from the opening, which recalls the 12 sons of Jacob, the Exodus story is replete with the names of people who were key players in our redemption narrative. 

In this week’s Torah portion, we find names like Moses, Aaron, and Miriam – the brave leaders of our freedom movement. Names like Shifrah and Puah, midwives to the Hebrew women who stand out in the text, memorializing actions (or refusal to act) so pivotal in ensuring Jewish survival. These names tell “his” story and “her” story and taken together are “our” story. The story of a nation. The story of survival.  The story of the Jewish people.

While we often take our own names for granted, for the rabbis of the Talmud, our names are the very core of who we are. For those who enjoy a little linguistics lesson, the middle letter of the Hebrew word neshama (soul) are shin and mem, which spell out “shem,” the Hebrew word  for “name.”  Our name is held in the very soul of who we are as a person.

There is a powerful midrash about Rabbi Zusha of Hanipol and names:

When Rabbi Zusha was on his deathbed, his students found him in uncontrollable tears. They tried to comfort him by telling him that he was almost as wise as Moses and as kind as Abraham, so he was sure to be judged positively in Heaven. He replied, "When I get to Heaven, I will not be asked Why weren't you like Moses, or Why weren't you like Abraham. They will ask, Why weren't you like Zusha?" Why didn't you fully live up to your name?

This Shabbat, as we begin our people’s journey from slavery to “Am Yisrael,” may you enjoy a delicious Shabbos meal, peaceful moments with families and friends, and maybe ask yourself: How am I going to live up to my name?

Shabbat Shalom!
Cantor Lisa Peicott