Don’t allow others to label you!
Our Parashah for today is Shemot which means “names”. I’d like to focus on that word because names are so important. While we are gathering to celebrate Shabbat, millions of people around the world are celebrating Christmas. I wonder how many know that Jesus was a Jew, that his origins began as a humble Rabbi in Israel named Yeshua ben Yosef. Long after his death, Yeshua’s name has become the most popular name in the world but very few understand his message. He desperately wanted his people, the Jews to return to their Creator, to obey God’s original message handed to Moses so that we could fulfill our calling, that of being ohr l’goyim, “light to the nations”. Throughout the centuries, most have misunderstood his simple teachings because they had been transformed into myths and legends. As Rav Shaul stated in Romans 1:25, “they exchanged the truth of God for the lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever”. Rav Shaul’s message has also been misunderstood and he has been given a bad name. He was an educated man from a wealthy Jewish family, a student of Torah under Gamaliel; he was a rabbi who would never have created a new religion although that is how he is remembered. Later as a student of Rabbi Yeshua, he would lead the way for us to fulfil our calling by going to the nations to bring them to the written Torah and to our God. We in this community are following in the footsteps of these special men whose names have been profaned. It was always our Rabbi Percy’s desire to vindicate their names.
Parashat Shemot begins with: וְאֵלֶּה, שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, “V’eleh Shemot b’nei Israel…” these are the names of the sons of Israel…”. They entered Egypt as the sons of Jacob but would leave to become the sons of Israel. One person, two names. Jacob had been defined by his name which has several meanings – follower, supplanter, deceiver, and he would have many life experiences before he could cleanse himself of those titles so that he could fulfill his name Israel, the man who struggled with God and prevailed.
It then goes on to name each of Jacob’s twelve 12 sons. In Bereshit 49, we read the blessings or prophesies given to them by their father on his death bed and now, when we think of them, they have identifiable characteristics. For example, Reuben was unstable as water, Levi and Shimon were like weapons of violence, and so on. Throughout Scripture, people were given names that had a meaning. Adam was named from the Hebrew word Dom meaning red or earth from which he was formed. Isaiah´s second son was named She’ar Yashuv from whom we took our name… as we read in Isaiah 7:3 and 10:21. “The remnant shall return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God.” How often have I despaired because of our numbers and questioned are we on the right path? Then I remember what a remnant is…not popular, not numerous. We come to God one soul at a time. There’s an expression in Judaism, “whoever saves one life, saves the world.”
The pronunciation of the Name of our Creator was highjacked by our well-intentioned sages, to protect us. Nowhere does the Torah say, “Do not pronounce My Name”. In fact, God told Moses how to pronounce it and the Scriptures exhort us to pronounce and to call upon His Name. We can see that in Genesis 22;14, Exodus 6.3, Psalms 83.19, Isaiah 12.4, and Judges 6;24 to name a few. When they tell us that we must not pronounce His Name, they are ignoring His own words: “do not add or take anything from my words”. No matter how we pronounce His Name whether it is Jehovah, Yahveh, Adonai, we have been given access to our Creator and are so blessed because of it. However, the Name of God is not a talisman to be carried around in our pockets and when we are in need, we pull it out and use it at our whim to invoke the name to have our desires satisfied. That is certainly taking his Name in vain.
I have heard people say “there is power in the name”; that doesn’t give us license to thoughtlessly repeat His name over and over like waving a magic wand, rather it means that His power will be displayed by His deeds. His name represents all that He is and all that He does! In this parashah, He identified Himself to Moses who didn’t know how he could tell the Israelites who had sent him. The Bore Olam replied “אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, ehyeh asher ehyeh, I AM THAT I AM.” And He told Moshe, “…you say to the children of Israel: I AM has sent me to you.” ‘ אֶהְיֶה שְׁלָחַנִי אֲלֵיכֶם Ehyeh shlachani eleichem. They would all soon see who He was by what He would do. People watch us and over time get to know us by our deeds, whether we keep our word or not. That’s how we make a name for ourselves. That is why Yeshua said “let your yes be yes and your no be no, anything more than this has its origins in evil.” That is how we build trust.
When we are young, we are sometimes labelled with names that define us and which can hold us back from being who we were meant to be. It may have come from a thoughtless word from someone we look up to. Oh, you’re too shy or what a little terror, you’re an idiot, or you’re worthless…I’m sure you can think of some that have been said about you. If we accept and believe that they are true, we will have to wrestle with these labels for the rest of our lives. Later, we may give ourselves labels, names that define us unless we refuse to be defined by them.
In the modern medical industry, names are given to identify illnesses…most of which are real, but do they define us? I remember when I worked in the hospital taking blood, while a team of doctors did their rounds, they rarely looked at the “person” but would identify them according to name of their medical condition. There are people who tend to hold on to the title of the disease that has hit them and personalize it; they may even use it as a weapon to unconsciously garner sympathy from those close to them. It may be the only way they know how to get attention or to be taken care of. However, it removes from them the ability to learn how to deal with their lives. The power of words and names must NOT be ignored. How often have I heard people say “MY cancer” or “MY diabetes” as if it defines who they are. Most Illnesses are a sign that our physical body is in some way out of balance with our spiritual nature. There are times that coping with life, with adult responsibilities, with the pressures placed upon us to succeed, are things that we cannot deal with, consciously or subconsciously, so stress takes over and we become sick either mentally or physically. These are just symptoms showing us that there are things we need to deal with. We may not be aware of them, and it may take God’s light to reveal it. Of course, we inherit defective genes but usually there is a reason that they are activated, and it is up to us to seek out the root cause. “Seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened.” Sometimes it is simply “so that the work of God might be displayed in our life” as Yeshua said in John 9:3 when asked about why the man was born blind.
Modern fields of psychology and psychiatry have developed thousands of labels for our behavior. A child who is allowed to run wild and terrorize their families and teachers are said to be hyperactive, “oh they have ADD “and are given medication to calm them down. Now that spankings and discipline are no longer permitted in the classrooms, this has increased exponentially to the point where children are terrorizing their teachers. Parents make excuses for their own inability or unwillingness to bring order into their homes because it is not easy to correct our children, but the Bible tells us that this is what we need to do.
We are in the process like Jacob, of having our names changed. What is holding us back from fully accepting the role for which we have been called? It is never too late to change. What steps do we need to take to rid ourselves of the false identity we have accepted? The first step, the key, is to “acknowledge” that we may have a problem. God will not force us to do that. We need to be willing to see that we have accepted things about ourselves that are simply not true, that have enslaved us, and that hold us in fear. We have accepted the names (Shemot), the labels that others have given us. Next, we pray Ranebi’s favorite Psalm 139, “Search me O God and know my heart…” Do it! and know that when we ask, He does answer. He didn’t make us robots; He wants us to take that first step of faith until we can learn to walk in trust; He will not override our choices, and He will allow us to travel the road we have chosen until we can’t take it anymore and we finally surrender to Him.
The book of SHEMOT will take us on a journey where the Israelites will be forced to leave behind the false narratives that they had learned in Egypt to find the true God, His true Name. They had to learn and understand that each of their names was important. You and I are fearfully and wonderfully made; yes, we are not perfect, nor will we ever be, but let us not allow anyone except our Creator to label us, to give us our names, Shemot, so that we can fully step into His purpose for our lives!