Sedra of the week: Shemot

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

Sedra of the week: Shemot

Rabbi Boruch M Boudilovsky looks ahead to this week's portion of the Torah

These are the names…

‘And these are the names of the children of Israel’. The second book of the Torah is shemot, the book of names. The names of Jacob’s sons, the tribes of Israel are the introduction to the epic story of exile and exodus.

Names occupy a significant place in our heritage and culture. The Torah is replete with seemingly insignificant names which are later explained by the Rabbis as being laden with meaning.

Abraham, Sarah and many other major personalities have their names changed, and others, such as Moses have multiple concurrent names.

In Jewish thought a name is far more than an arbitrary label. The Hebrew word for name shem, forms the middle of the word for soul neshama.

The Talmud (Yuma 83b) explains that Rabbi Meir was able to ascertain a person’s essence and character from their name.

The renowned 16th century Kabbalist, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (known as the Arizal) explains that when parents give their child a Hebrew name they are imbued with a spark of Divine inspiration.

The name they select is invariably the true description of the neshama, or spiritual essence of their child.

Whereas many Biblical names were called after specific events, current practice is to name after relatives.

Ashkenazim only name after deceased parents and grandparents, whereas common Sephardi practice is to honour them in their lifetime.

Either way, this gives the child a sense of identity and continuity, carrying on the legacy of previous generations into a new era.

Interestingly the Hebrew letters for name shin mem add up to the same numerical value as sefer, book.

Names tell a story of our spiritual potential as well as our life’s mission. Perhaps this is why we are told that when we complete our years on this earth and face Heavenly accountability, one of the most powerful questions we will be asked is, ‘What is your name – and did you live up to it?’

Rabbi Naftali Schiff is founder and chief executive of Jewish Futures

Help perform the greatest mitzvah: save a life

While life in Israel has returned to normal and hopes are high that Britain is set for a summer without restrictions thanks to vaccines, for billions around the world there is no such imminent light at the end of the tunnel. In the majority of countries around the globe, particularly the poorest, the vaccine rollout has barely kicked off.

That's why Jewish News, the leading source of news and opinion for the entire UK community, is throwing its full weight behind UNICEF’s VaccinAid campaign by using this platform usually reserved for encouraging donations towards our own journalism to instead urge our readers around the globe to perform the greatest mitzvah: saving a life.

We have never before done this for any charity fundraiser but it's hard to recall a campaign that affects so many people, and indeed an entire planet aching for a return to normality. Just like the Chief Rabbi and Rachel Riley, we hope to boost the mission to deliver two billion vaccines, 165 million treatments and 900 million test kits around the world by the end of this year.

Please donate as much as you can, in the spirit of the Talmudic sages: “to save one life is to save the world entire”

read more: