By: Rabbi Neal Borovitz, Rabbi Emeritus
Temple Avodat Shalom
, River Edge, New Jersey, USA
What is in a name? Names both distinguish us from each other and also can denote our relationships one to the other.
This week we begin the reading of the Book of Exodus, which is called in Hebrew, The Book of Names, Shemot Our Torah reading begins with the words “
These are the names of the Children of Israel
.” The chapter continues with the listing of the names of the tribes that went down to Egypt prospered there and were ultimately enslaved. By the end of the chapter our attention has been focused upon one child of one family of one tribe; a person named Moses.
In chapter three, the story of the “Burning Bush” we hear this man named Moses asking God: “
When they,( the children of Israel), ask me what is God’s name, what shall I say to them?
God answers Moses by saying
Eheyeh asher Eheyeh
which can translate into English one of four ways:
I am that what I am; I am that what I will be; I will be that what I am; I will be that what I will be.
Based upon the four possible translations of the answer Moses heard at the “Burning Bush” I suggest to you for your personal contemplation and for discussion around your study or dinner tables this week, four challenges surrounding the names that we 21st century Jews call ourselves, and each other:
Being a Jew in the 21st century requires of each of us to choose to be God wres-tlers. (The name Israel is derived from the story of Jacob wrestling with a being that the text of Genesis taught us was
). Every Jew today like the Israelites who chose to leave Egypt is a Jew by choice. Some are biological descendants of Jacob while others, like the “mixed multitude” who, according to the story of actual Exodus that we will read in three weeks, left during the Exodus, are spiritual descendants and full and equal partners in the covenant that God made with Abraham. The Jewish future, is ultimately, in each of our own individual hands, just as Exodus three indicates that the future of Judaism was once in the hand of Moses.
Just as there are 12 Tribes in the Book of Exodus, each unique, yet each related, that went down into Egypt with their father Jacob and came up out of Egypt with their leader Moses, so too today there uniquely but authentically different tribes that belong to the People of Israel. Today instead of calling them Judah, Levi, Benjamin, or Reuben, we call these tribes by their religious divisions Conservative Orthodox Reconstructionist and Reform; and by their most immediate place of residence be it American, European, Rus-sian, Ethiopian, Iraqi, or Syrian, and so on.
Being a Jew in the 21st century also requires of us to recognize that created in the image of God, each of us, as the name of God indicates, will both
Be what we will be, based upon, who we are and who we wish to become
. Like Moses we need to have the patience and perseverance to continually fight for the liberation of the enslaved and the oppressed. Like Moses we need to be willing to stand up to the oppressors of our age, be they Pharaohs, like the leaders of Syria or Iran, or those who seek to terrorize innocent people, through acts of anti-Semitic vandalism, such as Jews are experiencing in Europe-an communities, or through acts of terror via rockets from Gaza this past summer. We will stand together and demand liberation for ourselves and for others and assert in the words of United States
President Franklin D, Roosevelt
that we, like every other human being on earth, are entitled to Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Fear, Freedom from want and Freedom of Speech.
The story of Moses’ formative years in the Torah narrative this week, reminds me that like Moses in his generation for Jews of the 21st century, Being a Jew is a choice; a choice that requires us to continually be “God wrestlers” who recognize that in our ever evolving world, God is Present and is continually calling out to us to connect ourselves to THE NAME; the source of physical, spiritual, and intellectual Energy, by connecting our-selves to each other. Judaism teaches us that Unity with God requires being a member of a community. We must affirm what unites us and respect each other’s differences.
As we begin to read again from the Book of Names that we also call the Book of Exodus may this be the year that we Jews of various religious streams and ethnic, racial and na-tional origin, leave behind our petty rivalries, and accept each other, for who we are; unique, but equal members of the community of God wrestlers who call ourselves B’nai Yisrael.