As we start the next chumash of Shmos, we study the painful birth of the Jewish people. The Torah introduces this saga with the preface, “V’eila shmos bnei Yisroel – these are the names of the children of Israel.” Why does the story of our nation begin with the subject of names? The simple answer is because one of the reasons why we were saved from Egypt is because we didn’t change our Jewish names.
But that is only scratching the surface. When we dig deeper, we will realize it is because-in our belief-a name foretells each person’s destiny, as the Gemora teaches us, Shma garim, a name actually generates our future. So, for example, the name Reuven, which has a gematria of 259, is the exact numerical value for the words, “Lo bechor – He is not the firstborn,” for although he was chronologically firstborn, Yaakov stripped him of the firstborn rights of monarchy and priesthood because he was hasty and rash. Similarly, the name Yosef, which as Rochel explained, alludes to “Asaf Elokim es cherpasi – Hashem gathered in my shame,” is a clear crystal ball of Yosef’s future: for the shame of being sold as a slave was wiped out when he became viceroy and the shame of being accused of adultery with the wife of Potifar was removed when Potifar gave him his adopted daughter, Asnas, to marry.
In this week’s parsha, the name of the daughter of Paroh known as Basya (but more correctly pronounced Bisya) has the same letters as the word teiva (Toph, Yud, Beis, and Hay) the small box that she retrieved when she took Moshe Rabbeinu out of the Nile. Even the name Moshe has the same letters as Hashem for he would see Hashem face to face like no other.
But, there is another reason why the introduction to the Jewish people starts out with the subject of a name. It is because of our belief that there is nothing more important in life than maintaining a good name among people. The mishna in Pirkei Avos teaches us that there are three crowns, the crown of royalty, the crown of the priesthood, and the crown of Torah. Then, the Mishna surprises us that there is yet a crown that towers above all three. You’re probably shocked. What can be more than the crown of Torah? After all, we are taught, “Talmud Torah kneged kulom – The study of Torah is equal to all else.”
The Mishna teaches us that there is yet an acquisition of even more supreme importance and that is the acquisition of the crown of a Good Name, the keser shem tov. We must remember that as important as Torah is, the Gemora explains, “Gadol hatalmud she’hatalmud meviah liyedei maisah – Great is learning because learning leads us to correct action.” The crown of a Good Name comes from the fruition of absorbing Torah ideals. It comes from being conscious of the Torah’s mission to be above suspicion, as it says, “V’heyisem nikiim meiHashem u’meiYisroel,” you should be clean in the eyes of Hashem and in the eyes of your fellow Jew.” It comes from living Torah values such as, “Lo Sonu ish es amiso,” not to say hurtful words to your fellow man. “Lo sikom,” not to take revenge, and “Lo sitor,” not to bear a grudge. It comes when we walk the talk of “V’asisa hayosher v’hatov,” doing what is upright and good. The Good Name comes from embracing “V’ahavta l’rei’acha k’mocha,” loving your fellow as yourself, especially in the vital relationship between you and your spouse, and it comes from living the ideal of, “Lo sisna es achicha bilvavecha,” not hating one’s follow man in one’s heart. It comes from avoiding at all costs lashon hara, evil gossip, and rechilus, gossip mongering. It comes from being truthful, loyal, trustworthy and not revealing people’s secrets.
May we live up to the potential hidden in our names and may we zealously guard the crown of our good names and in that merit may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.
Printed with the Permission of Rabbi Mosher Meir Weiss.
Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss is rav of the Agudath Yisroel of Staten Island and popular writer and lecturer.