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Parshas Vaera - Naming the Redemption         2 Shevat 5784

01/12/2024 09:22:27 AM


This week’s Dvar Torah is sponsored by Victor Wahba in memory of his mother Camila Wahba

Can someone feel both embarrassment and exhilaration at the same time? Well, I recently had this experience on my last trip to Chicago. On Motzai Shabbos I spoke at Avos U’Banim, our version of parent/child learning. I was introduced as a rabbinic guest from San Diego. At the conclusion of my talk, one of the fathers approached me and told me his mother was born and raised in San Diego but had left many years ago. I was curious to learn her name thinking I may know some of his relatives. At this point he only told me the family surname but did not offer her given name. I asked him, but he uncomfortably refused and said, "It is forbidden to say your parent’s name.” I looked at him with a glint of disbelief and replied, ”I believe that the halacha is you are not permitted to call your parents (or in-laws for that matter) by their first name, but are allowed to reference their name.” For example, you could say the name when asked to be called to the Torah. I would need to say my father’s name. So, I asked once again if he would please let me know where it says that you can’t even reference a parent’s name.” a few minutes later, while the kids were eating pizza and waiting for the raffle, he brought over a book/sefer of Halachos which discussed the topic of laws concerning honoring your parents in English. It was titled “The Fifth Commandment.”  He then showed me this halacha/law as well as the footnote where it is found in the Shulchan Aruch!

It was at that exact moment that I felt embarrassed to the point of humiliation and at the very same time I had a feeling of exuberance. As a Rov I felt embarrassed that I did not know or recall a law straight out of the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law. This emotion was immediately followed by the joy of learning something and strengthening my learning and knowledge in an area that needs it. Later, I processed this event and realized the ethical improvement opportunity that I experienced through that episode. I initially displayed a sign of Gaava/haughtiness by stating,” Show me where it says that.” My attitude was one of presuming I knew this halacha, yet I recognized my error and learned to humbly accept the correction. A person can accept a correction in one of two ways, begrudgingly or graciously. I opted to accept the correction graciously as this is a sign of anivus/humility.

The notion of not calling a parent by name or even referencing a parent’s name is that it shows a lack of respect. Just as we don’t say the name of God, we also do not overtly say the names of  our parents. Names in general, especially names in Judaism, are a serious business; they are Hebrew names, names of Lashon HaKodesh, the holy tongue. The Jewish name is elevated because each name is Lashon Hakodesh, a clear differentiation from secular names of the gentiles.  The greatness and importance of the Hebrew language is highlighted several times throughout the Torah.

In this week’s Parshas Vaera the Torah states in Shmos 6: "לכן אמר לבני ישראל אני ה' והוצאתי אתכם מתחת סבלת מצרים והצלתי אתכם מעבדתם וגאלתי אתכם בזרוע נטויה ובשפטים גדלים"  “Therefore say to the Israelites [in My name], I am God. I will take you away from the forced labor in Egypt and free you from their slavery. I will liberate you with a demonstration of My power, and with great acts of judgment”. The Mechilta on the passuk ולקחתי אתכם לי לעם  - I have taken them to me as a people, states that this  was in the merit that they [the Jews] did not change their language and furthermore used their Hebrew names. Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, in his work Meshech Chochmah to Shemos 6:6 — Why did Yosef say כי פי המדבר אליכם - the one speaking to you - (which Rashi says that he was speaking Lashon HaKodesh)? Chazal tells us that in the zechus/merit that שלא שינו את לשונם  - they did not change their language-  in Mitzrayim/Egypt, they merited the geulah/redemption. What this means is that even in galus, even in exile, they had a broader vision that one day they will be redeemed and have a homeland and will speak their own language. They spoke Lashon HaKodesh with an eye towards geulah. That is what Yosef was telling his brothers — that he speaks Lashon HaKodesh because he knows that this is a step towards geulah, a step towards Redemption.  

It is for this reason – the fact that the Israelites separated themselves from the Egyptians - that the Rabbis established the ritual of reciting the blessing on four cups of wine during the Passover seder.  Having a different language, using, speaking our own” Jewish’ language, brought about a separation, thereby maintaining a distance from the Egyptians. History has proven thatwhen the Jewish people try to get close to the gentiles in their country we end up being persecuted. On the other hand, so long as we maintain our distance from the non-Jewish population, we prosper in that country. An interesting side note to process is that every Shabbos night we perform the ceremony of Havdalah which is a separation between the holy and the mundane. The preferred, most choice liquid to use is wine because wine is a symbol of separation, just as it was when we were in Egypt. There are other laws related to wine.  These halochot – laws – also serve to keep us separated as a people. to maintain our relationship with Hashem. One such halachah is Yayin Nesech - not to drink uncooked wine touched by a non-Jew.

This notion of separation does not preclude the Jewish people from participating in the many areas of the world. Rather, it encourages us to find and maintain ways to keep ourselves holy and unadulterated from the rest of society. The great challenge is to maintain our commitment to Hashem, the Torah, and Mitzvos at ALL times. Clearly, as outlined in this week’s parsha, if we create the barriers of not changing our language and keeping our Hebrew-given names, the ultimate redemption in our day will be facilitated, just as it did for our forefathers at the time of our deliverance from Egypt!

Mon, April 15 2024 7 Nisan 5784