In the Book Alice in Wonderland, Humpty Dumpty asks Alice her name. When she tells him, he replies, “That’s a stupid name. What does it mean?” Alice asks, “Must a name always mean something?” “Of course,” Humpty Dumpty says. “My name means the shape I’m in. With a name like yours, you might be in ny shape at all.”
This week’s portion, Shemot means ‘the names.’ Shemot is also the Hebrew name of the second book of the Torah. What we call ‘Exodus’ the Torah calls ‘The Names.’ The portion and the book of Exodus begin aleh shemot b’nai yisrael, these are the names of the children of Israel who went down into Egypt.
Anthropologists study names as a way to gauge the values a culture holds most dear. In some societies, names refer to aspirations or accomplishments. Teutonic names for instance tend to express warrior-like courage, power, strength and nobility. Though there are plenty of warriors in the Torah, most biblical names have a more spiritual tone. Many Hebrew names express an association with God. Michael means God is my strength. Daniel – God is my Judge. Yael – Adonai is my God.
In Judaism, there are many honorifics and recognitions. The Talmudic sage Rabbi Simeon taught: There are three crowns – the crown of priesthood, the crown of kingship and the crown of learning – but the fourth, the crown of a good name, is the highest of all. The crown of a good name is the reputation you earn by your good deeds and upright actions. You cannot inherit a good name. You must earn it. A good name comes to you only through a lifetime of honest, righteous and ethical effort. It is secured only through diligent struggle, and it can easily be squandered or bartered away.
Ours is the power to determine the manner in which our name will be spoken during our lifetime and how that name will be recalled when we are gone. So, as a secular new year begins resolve to live your life in such a way that your name will indeed be honored and remembered for blessing.