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New Year’s Day Shabbat

Ari Moffic

December 31, 2021

This New Year’s Day Shabbat, we are at the beginning of the Exodus saga with the Torah portion Vaeira. This Hebrew word means “And (God) appeared.” It is referring to God revealing Godself to the biblical forefathers. In this portion, our Israelite God shows off through miracles and tricks against the Pharaoh. The first seven plagues occur. God hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that Pharaoh continues to reject freedom for the slaves. 

Who is this God of ours? In Exodus 6:2-3 we read, “God spoke to Moses and said to him, ‘I am the Eternal. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make Myself known to them by my name YHVH.”

As we teach our Hebrew School students, when we see the four Hebrew letters, yud/hey/vuv/hey, we say, “Adonai” which means My Lord rather than try to pronounce God’s name. We no longer know how to say it. Rather than mispronounce it, we circumvent it.

God has many, many poetic names that we have given God and several God uses for Godself. We call out to God as redeemer, healer, rock, creator, parent, ruler, compassionate one, source, the one without end, and more. But, this “real name” of God remains a mystery. It is like the sound of breathing. 

Our name is so important in Judaism. In fact, we call this book of Torah Exodus, but it’s Hebrew title is Shemot- names. The names of our biblical ancestors told the story of their lives. Abraham means Father of the people and he was that. Isaac comes from laughter because of how Sarah reacted when she learned she would have a child. Miriam refers to water as she is associated in the Midrash with a miraculous well that accompanied the Israelites during their forty years in the wilderness. The “yam” part of her name means sea or water.

The rabbis spoke about wearing a crown of a good name. This is the reputation we carry. What does our name conjure up for those who really know us?

I am including a short video below, my now 7th grader made at the precious age of six years old. In this video, she reveals her real name. She was assigned male at birth, but was bravely and beautifully living her true self by that point and needed a name that fit her sense of self. 

As 2022 rolls in, let us live up to our name and all it can mean. May we have the courage to tell others about our true selves.

The Israeli poet Zelda wrote a famous poem, sometimes read before the Kaddish called Each of Us Has a Name. It can inspire us in our journey of living. 

Each person has a name.

We each have a name given by God and given by our father and mother.

We each have a name given by our stature and smile and given by our attire.

We each have a name given by the hills and given by the walls.

We each have a name given by the stars and given by our friends.

We each have a name given by our sins and given by our yearnings.

We each have a name given by our enemies and given by love.

We each have a name given by celebrations and given by our work.

We each have a name given by the seasons and given by our blindness.

We each have a name given by the sea and given by our death.

 

(Mishkan T’filah, ed., Elyse D. Frishman [New York: CCAR Press, 2007], p. 579)

Sun, December 4 2022 10 Kislev 5783