Who am I?

And these are the names of the children of Israel who entered Egypt……Shemot 1:1.”

This verse and the development of this parashah bring to mind the importance of having a name, an identity, an origin, and a future. A main principle in the Human Rights Act of 1959 establishes that “The child has the right from birth to a name and a nationality.”

The question is then, why do they have that right? According to several sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists and humanists, it is because it is “a symbolic value that generates effects in the unconscious and that affects or determines the subject who carries it in a significant way.” This means it is an anchor of identity, a rational description of who I am and how I differ from others, and the importance of belonging to a group or clan (sense of our surname). To summarize, the name tells us a little about our history, our place of origin, of our parents, and there is an unconscious presence in the person who bears it or designated it since they would enjoy certain characteristics and roots of their ancestors.

If we didn’t have a name, then who would we be? How would one differentiate ourselves from others? Without a name, social and family integration in terms of belonging, security, affection and identification would not be developed in a normal and healthy way.

Psalms 2:7 says, “The LORD said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you.'” Who is this son? Although this Psalm is indeed “controversial” in that within Christianity it refers to Christ, we must assume that the characteristics of a son would be of the same essence as that of a father as explained by the Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi, 1160-1235). In this sense, it cannot refer to a human being, since the origin of the Eternal is not carnal, it’s not material, it is outside this world, so a son is understood metaphorically not literally. Continuing with this, those who are called children of God are those who willingly fulfill God’s commandments and act as His emissaries, as expressed by Professors Marc Zvi Brettler and Amy Jill Levine in the following words of the Radak: “And so also a person, due to the heavenly spirit within him, when he executes the command of God because of the wise spirit that guides him, [God] calls him “son.” And that is why [the psalm] says: “You are my son, today I have given birth to you.”

On the other hand, the expression “I have begotten you today” according to the Midrash Tehillim (citing Rabbi Hauna) says that it implies a “creation” of a “new creation.” In practical terms, it is like gaining a new identity, a new opportunity to start life from scratch. Have you ever seen those movies where agents are given new identities? We even see how millions of people during persecution, post-war times, or people under witness protection, are given new identities to start a new life. That is the importance, then, of the name. He is still biologically the same person, but his behavior or his mentality is a new creation.

At the death of Yosef (in Vayechi), more or less 80 -116 years had passed during which Israel was being seduced by the Egyptian world. They had been assimilated culturally, socially (as many of them had to marry non-Israelites) and religiously (by having only oral traditions since the written Torah had not yet been delivered). That is, Israel had regressed to the characteristics of Jacob and was about to disappear. They were not expressing the characteristics of Jacob’s new name, Israel. So, this is where the Eternal appears, beginning the book with a summary of names and numbers.

The names give us an idea of who they were, where they came from, and the identity of each of them. On the other hand, the quantity (70) was an expression of love since each one mattered, but above all, the sum or the totality of Israel was one, as we read in chapter 4:22 “Israel is my son, my firstborn”. There is no reference here to the 70 who came down to Egypt, but the 70 referred to being one unit.

If we delve into this, we will see that several dangers cause the loss of identity in children: first, prosperity. It says in 1:7 “The children of Israel were fruitful, they were fruitful, they multiplied, and they became very, very strong.” Can blessings sometimes work against us? Yes, if we don’t keep our feet planted firmly on the ground. The words in 1:7 are verbs that magnify human effort, because it does not say, “And the Eternal made them prosperous,” but rather that through their effort they became strong. That is to say, they grew imbalanced; they became strong in muscle but not in soul. How many strong men have I seen fall because of their big heads? A lot of muscle, a little brain! This danger stems from thriving without Torah which can lead to destruction.

The second danger is external factors such as leaders, governments, or groups. We see these in 1:8 “A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” These sow anxiety in Jewish souls so that they do not wish to be a part of Israel. Today, with the growing anti-Semitism, how many are changing their names, wanting to forget their roots to avoid suffering? We have seen it at every expulsion from lands, in Nazi Europe, in the Dark Ages, etc.

The third danger stems from the cares of life. Israel was ordered to make bricks, that is, to produce meaningless things, without added value. This causes bitterness, as 1:14 says “And they made their lives bitter with hard work of clay and bricks, and with all work in the field. All the work with which they were used was harsh.” Today, there are meaningless work activities, which is like making bricks. For example, printing documents that no one will ever review, involves time signing, stamping, printing and storing when there are ways to do it digitally to reduce the time of stamping and obtaining original signatures. Activities that do not generate value. I have seen people whose only desire in life is to do nothing…. They are paralyzed! Or that they try to do everything at once without generating value because they do not complete anything! They are making bricks for a third party. Not generating and adding value (life) to our activities brings frustration, a feeling of not being “useful” or feeling “wasted” and eventual bitterness, which is not only internal but is transmitted to the family.

Let’s return to the initial idea. We see that in this portion two names appear: One, Moses (which means “taken out of the waters” – of the Nile – literal or taken out of death – metaphorical) and in 3:14, we are introduced to Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh (I will be who I will be). He further said: Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: Ehyeh has sent me to you. Vayomer Elohim el-Moshe ehyeh asher ehyeh.” We see the importance of a name; it indicates who is speaking to us, who is before us, how to behave and how to live life.

When we read the Haftarah in Isaiah 27:6 “Days will come when Jacob takes root, Israel will flourish and put forth shoots, and the face of the world will be filled with fruit”, we see the importance of the Name. Israel had forgotten its origins, had lost its identity of being light to the nations, and had now committed iniquities, sins, and idolatry (8-10). The prophetic message continues that Israel would become one again (the 70 souls will be one again v.11-12), they will give up being drunk (28:1,7), pride (28:3), they will eliminate their shame (29:22), and they will receive a new spirit (understood in 29:24). We often reflect a false identity, a sense of not being who we are, we lose our name, we allow ourselves to be given a new identity to forget who we are; even in the modern world we stop being a person and become a number which depersonalize us, just likes the Nazis did. We are important, we count for the Eternal! We can return to our origins because we already have a name.

I close with this Tehillim (Psalm): “He will call me: “You are my Father, my God and the Rock of my salvation.” Recognizing that God is our Father, that He has given us a name, a unique identity and personality, allows us to live freely. It is the beginning of freedom. Let us not as individuals allow ourselves to be “labelled” by who we are not; let us as a people, not fall into the trap that bombards us daily telling us that we are “a genocidal, apartheid nation and usurpers of the land, etc.” That is a lie; it does not define who we are. We are Israel and we must live by Israel’s standards of living, regardless of how the world tries to define us. We love peace, we love life, we love our neighbors, we are light, we are firstborn sons of the Eternal and followers of the Torah.

Shabbat Shalom

Mauricio Quintero