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Thursday, Tevet 17, 5778 / January 4, 2018


This Shabbat, we begin the Second book of the Torah, S’hmot


"Shmot" means "names." The Parsha begins with, "These are the names of the children of Israel which came into Egypt..." The Torah mentions the names of Yaakov's children who came to Egypt.  In the Parsha we also read about the birth of Moshe and the reason behind the name Moshe. 


Here are two important lessons which the Midrash draws from the name of the Parsha, Shmot and from the name Moshe.


The Midrash asks, why does the Torah repeat the names of the children of Yaakov when they have already been mentioned many times previously. What significance and teaching is there in the fact that the Torah mentions their names again in connection with their coming into Egypt?


The Midrash explains that one of the reasons the children of Israel merited the redemption from Egypt was that, "they didn't exchange their Hebrew names for Egyptian ones." Through their Hebrew names, Jews kept their identity during the many years of enslavement in Egypt. Thus, the Torah mentions their names at the beginning of this Parsha to  emphasize that thanks to keeping their Hebrew names they eventually merited the Exodus from Egypt.


The Midrash also explains how their Hebrew names alluded to their eventual redemption. Thus, their Hebrew names gave them hope for their eventual freedom and helped carry them through their bitter exile.  From this our sages learn the importance of maintaining a Hebrew name.


The Midrash also derives a wonderful teaching from Moshe's name. How did Moshe get his name?


When Pharaoh decreed that every newborn male shall be drowned, Moshe's mother, Yocheved, hid her son for three months. When she couldn't hide him any longer, she put her baby in a basket and placed it in the river. 


At the time, Pharaoh's daughter, Batiya, went down to bathe in the river.  She saw the basket and a crying child in it.  The Torah tells us that Batiya raised him, "And he became her son".  She named him Moshe for she said, "because I drew him out of the water".  The name Moshe relates to this life-saving noble act that Batiya performed.


Moshe already had a name, given to him by his parents.  Yet, throughout the entire Torah, G-d calls him Moshe – by the name which Pharaoh's daughter gave him. "From here we see," says the Midrash, "the importance of the mitzvah. For G-d chose to call Moshe by the name which Pharaoh's daughter, Batiya, gave him and not the one his mother gave, in order to reward her for her act of kindness".