This past week was the ברית of my grandson, אליהו שלמה בן אהרן דוד צבי. His father spoke about his name, that he was named in memory of his great-grandfathers of blessed memory; not the name itself but what they stood for—a dedication to Jewish education, life-long learning, and personal responsibility. The name אליהו שלמה was meant to invoke Jewish leaders of the past who embodied those values, אליהו הנביא, שלמה המלך, רבי אליהו בן שלמה זלמן (the Vilna Gaon), and רבי שלמה בן רבי יצחק (Rashi). I thought about the nature of naming and how we decide on names for our children.
The Midrash says that in תנ״ך, names were given in a spirit of רוח הקודש, so people made new names, but nowadays we lack that:
ה׳;s involvement in names is a special זכות:
However, the Ari famously says that even today, parents name their children with רוח הקודש:
But that name only represents the newborn’s potential for greatness. They still need to “make a name” for themselves, as we’ve said many times:
The names a person has represent their future, their present and their past.
I think this idea, of names representing the potential “who we are”, explains a mystery in this week’s parasha. Right in the middle of Moshe’s mission to Pharaoh, the Torah adds an genealogy:
There are two questions: why are these names here, and what is that last pasuk doing at the end of the paragraph? Rashi basically says that the last pasuk belongs to the next paragraph, which makes sense but doesn’t explain the מסורה:
Ramban tries to connect it to the rest of the paragraph, which is an introduction to who Moshe and Aharon were:
But that doesn’t explain the language of ויהי ביום דבר ה׳.
Ibn Ezra throws up his hands in defeat:
We’ve previously talked about the anonymity of last week’s parasha. After the שמות בני ישראל הבאים מצרימה, nobody has a name. וילך איש מבית לוי; ויקח את בת לוי. I connected that to the idea that in a slave society, nobody has a name. They don’t have a past, present or future. Everyone is an interchangeable, anonymous cog in the machine. There’s no point in giving a name:
So our paragraph, which finally tells us the names of בני ישראל during the generations of שעבוד מצרים, belongs here, because those names only became real literally on that day, ביום דבר ה׳ אל משה בארץ מצרים. Before the possibility of גאולה, there were no names, no past and no future.
So my bracha to little אליהו שלמה בן אהרן דוד צבי, is that his name be a true name, a sign of his potential as he grows לתורה לחופה ולמעשים טובים.