Rabbi Eshel's Shabbat Message - February 2, 2024

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Rabbi Eshel's Shabbat Message - February 2, 2024

Each of Us has a Name

I am blessed to still have many groups of friends from different points in my life.  And each group actually calls me something different. My friends from high school and college call me Dave. My friends from rabbinical school call me David. My friends from camp call me Daveed. On the few occasions these groups intermingle during the year, it is always confusing when the subject of “me” comes around. It takes them a minute to figure out who each other is speaking about. Three similar names yet different enough to be thought of as a different person.  

So what about our names? Jewish tradition teaches us that in life, we discover that people are called by three names: First is the name we are called by our parents. Next, is the name people call us. And finally, it is the name we make for ourselves. And this name, our tradition teaches, is the best name, our real name, the name that God knows us by. This is the name we create through our actions, our choices, and our intentions.  

This week we are introduced to Moses’ two sons, Gershom and Eliezer, Exodus 18:3-4 one was named Gershom, that is to say, “I have been a stranger in a foreign land”; (4), and the other was named Eliezer, meaning, “The God of my father was my help, and He delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.” Their names are intentionally given as a representation of their new understanding of personal and collective identity and their reality. I believe this to be a direct response to the names Joseph gave to his sons, Ephraim and Menashe as stated in Genesis 41:51-52, Joseph named the first-born Menashe, meaning, “God has made me forget completely my hardship and my parental home.” And the second he named Ephraim, meaning, “God has made me fertile in the land of my affliction.” What I see in these lines is Joseph’s acceptance and embrace of their reality as Israelites living in the diaspora, a diaspora slowly lulling them into a state of comfort, mistakenly giving them a false sense of security. Moses’ boys’ names are the realization and articulation of this false previous reality.  

These are the names given by their parents and what they are called. So in recognizing this today as the way so many of us feel, how can we use this to inspire our own third name, our own real name, the name God will know us by? It can be found in a very famous text from Talmud Shavuot 39a, "All Israel is responsible for each other." This is our call to action as we rise from our initial realizations. This is how God will know us, by the choices we make now. Our people need us. Our people in the state of Israel feel so alone, a sentiment both Rabbi Leder and I experienced on our missions. Our people here feel alone and isolated, and even in some cases betrayed. We have the power to change it. For some of us, let’s get to work. For others of us, let’s continue and keep up the work. Ultimately and most importantly let’s all commit to do the work. So we can create both an individual and collective name that we all can be proud of, our real name, the name God will know us by… the People of Israel… Am Yisrael Chai!

Shabbat (yoter) Shalom,

Rabbi David Eshel