Do you need your name?

Friday, 5 January, 2018 - 2:51 am


Do you need your name?

Do I need my name for myself?

Believe it or not, when I’m sitting alone in a room or in my office, working or learning, the word “Zalmen” doesn’t come up. It could be that way for hours, perhaps for a whole day. If I am alone, without a telephone or email, I don’t need my name; I really don’t use it!

In the teachings of Chassidut it is explained that that our name is not us, but rather something external, a tool that we use when we want to be in contact with the world. My name is my identity, but my identity is not necessarily me. The name is the title, or perhaps the outer coating, and yes, it tells the world in a moment who I am, but it is not me.

The weekly parasha is called parashat Shemot. What is the connection between the word “Shemot” and the central story of the parashaYetziat Mitzrayim – the Exodus from Egypt?

Bnei Yisrael – the Children of Israel – went into exile. They were subjugated, beaten and tortured. According to Chassidut, Mitzrayim means a narrow place, an enclosing border. The Egyptians wanted to limit the Jewish People, to narrow their options, to prevent them from being who they really were. They tried to break their spirit with force, and the truth is that they almost succeeded. But only almost – because in spite of it all, even when they were subjugated and suffering, they remained Bnei Yisrael. They were not lost.

How did this happen?

The verse tells us: “And these are the names of Bnei Yisrael who were coming to Egypt.” If we want to, we can read this using a chassidic approach that says that only their “names” went down to Egypt. Only the external coating was subjugated and was in a tight place and within boundaries, but their souls and personalities remained free.

When I feel I am in a tight place, when there is someone or something that is limiting me or burdening me, and I am looking for a way out, it is worthwhile to try and see if my entire spiritual and material entity is really in an exile of difficulty or tightness, or not. Because if it is not – and it probably is not – then with that knowledge I can lift myself up out of the tight place and move from exile to the redemption – both personal and general.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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