This week's parsha
Are You Inside Your Name?
"Margaret" is a name. "Dad," "Doctor," and "Your Highness" are also names. So is "Next on line!" or "You-in-the-red-tie- second-seat-in-the-third-row." Your social security number is a name of sorts, as is your shoe size or the make and model of your car. As you pass through life, you get tagged with all sorts of appellations -- handles on your identity for others to grab hold of and pull on.
Where are you in all this? There are many, many other Margarets in the world, of course, as there are countless Dads or Doctors. "Your Highness" sort of narrows the field, but there are still one or two of those left. You may be the only guy wearing a red tie in seat 3B, but does that mean that if you'd have put on the yellow tie this morning you wouldn't be you?
This week's Parshah describes the first galut (exile) of the Jewish people. We read how after Joseph's death, the Egyptians oppressed and enslaved the Children of Israel for many years, until G‑d sent Moses to redeem them.
The name of this Parshah is Shemot, which means "Names." Torah readings always take their title from the reading's opening lines, and this week's reading begins, "And these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt..." Yet the Chassidic masters insist that the name of a Parshah also explains its message and inner content. What is connection the between the title Names and the story that Names tells?
What is Galut? When is a person in "exile"? A person taking a luxury cruise around the world doesn't feel like an exile. In contrast, a person can be living in a place for twenty generations and still feel intimidated by his or her surroundings.
Galut can be living in a foreign land where you don't understand the language and are baffled by the local customs. Galut can be being shackled to a dead-end job, or enslaved by a mortgage and medical bills. Any time you feel trapped within an environment or circumstance that is hostile, intimidating or limiting, you are in Galut.
How do you get out of Galut?
Galut, by definition, means that you have no control over the circumstances in which you find yourself. But you do control which "you" gets put inside those circumstances. There is the external "you" -- the you that's saddled with and dependent upon the countless burdens, great and small, of a life lived in the shadow of the mundane. Then there's the inner "you" -- the spiritual self that is utterly self-contained, complete in its self-knowledge and its bond with its Creator.
Which self do you invest in the circumstances of your life? Do you allow others' expectations of you to dictate your innermost yearnings and aspirations? Do you allow the circumstances of your life to dictate your self-perception and your internal priorities? Or do you insist that only your "name" -- only the external self on which the outside world has fastened its hold -- be incarcerated in Galut, but not your pristine self, not the self that neither requires nor lends itself to naming, for this the self that you and your Creator know from the inside and not via any external handle?
And these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt. Only their names came into Egypt -- not their quintessential self. And because their deepest self never entered Galut, they were able to ultimately overpower it and defeat it.