This Torah portion, as well as the whole Book of Exodus, is called Shemot, meaning “names.” Shemot is the plural form of the Hebrew word shem (“name”). Shemot begins by recording the names of the tribes of Israel who went to live in Egypt, even though these names were already given to us at the conclusion of the Book of Bereishith (Genesis). Here, because it is repeated, it seems that the Torah is wanting to show us the importance of names.
There is a midrash (commentary on the Torah) which says, “Israel were redeemed from Egypt on account of four things; because they did not change their names, they did not change their language, they did not go tale-bearing, and none of them was found to have been immoral” (Vayikra Rabbah 32). They held onto their identity and lifestyle as Jews, and did not assimilate into the Egyptian culture. What is the importance and power of a name—and a Hebrew one at that?
Every Hebrew letter and word is a concept and has a picture behind it. Words create your world. A name is no exception. Your name is your lifestyle. Your name is your spiritual call. Your name defines who you are. Your name is your essence, your nature, your soul.
In Shemot, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted the baby whom she found hidden in the reeds and called him “Moses,” a name rooted in the Hebrew verb meaning “to draw out.” His name was his lifestyle; he was one who drew people out.
But what if you don’t have a Hebrew name? It’s no less significant, and there’s always a story behind it. Someone—probably your parents—put a lot of thought into your name because they liked the meaning or they liked the way it sounded. However you look at it, there is something behind your name. Even if your name doesn’t have a specific meaning, use it as an opportunity to define it and give it a meaning—after all, it’s who you are!