Vayikra 5777

What’s in a name, anyways?[1]

ויקרא אל-משה וידבר יקוק אליו מאהל מועד לאמר
[Hashem] called out to Moshe; Hashem spoke to him from the tent of meeting saying[2]

Chazal inform us in the Midrash[3] that Moshe had not only one, but ten names. Some examples are: Tuviah, from the word טוב, because when he was born it says ותרא אתו כי טוב הוא, they saw that he was good[4]. Yered, meaning he brought down, because he brought down the Torah from the Heavens. Chever, meaning to join together, because he connected the Jews to their Father in heaven[5]. The Midrash ends by declaring that Hashem only wants to call him Moshe, the name that the daughter of Pharaoh gave him[6], as demonstrated by the first verse of this week’s parsha.

It’s clear from our Holy books that the names of things aren’t happenstance; there is tremendous significance to names. We see this with Adam who gave names to all the creatures in the world[7]. Chazal inform us[8] that before Hashem created man, He consulted with the Angels. The Angels asked, “What is the nature of this ‘man’”? Hashem responded that his wisdom surpasses their own. Hashem brought before them various animals and asked them, “What is their name”? The Angels did not know how to respond. Hashem then brought them before Adam, and he immediately gave each animal its unique name.

Simply the ability to give something a name indicated that Adam had superior wisdom than the highest Angels. Why is this so? A true name provides definition to something’s essence[9].  Chazal give some examples[10] from non-kosher birds. One is called the רָחָם (either an owl, carrion-vulture or magpie)[11], and they say because of it רחמים (compassion) comes to the world[12]. Another is called the חסידה (stork)[13] because it does חסידות (loving kindness) with its friends[14]. The same with the ten names of Moshe; each one defines some unique quality that he had.

Despite how each of his names expresses his greatness, Hashem prefers to use the name that the daughter of Pharaoh gave him. Why this name? “Moshe” doesn’t represent his greatness; it doesn’t display the awesome acts he performed. The source of the name Moshe comes from כי מן המים משיתהו, from water he was drawn out[15]. When the daughter of Pharaoh pulled Moshe out of the water, she for some reason chose this act to define his name. What’s so great about this name?

Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz זצ”ל has an interesting approach[16] to this question. The daughter of Pharaoh was מוסר נפש, she risked her life, to save Moshe. Her father ordered the extermination of all Jewish male babies; they were all to be thrown into the sea. If she saved Moshe she would have been disobeying the decree. Despite this danger, she knew it was the right thing to do. By risking her life, she instilled this trait into Moshe himself. The name Moshe doesn’t simply signify the act of drawing out that the daughter of Pharaoh did. Rather, it’s the source of the trait of מסירות נפש that Moshe had. This trait gave Moshe the very ability he needed to be the leader of the Jews!

The source for this concept is found in the Yerushalmi[17], that Hashem gave the Jews three gifts: The ability to be compassionate, to be bashful, and to bestow loving kindness[18]. The source for the last gift is attributed to the verse ושמר יקוק אלוקיך לך את הברית ואת החסד, Hashem your G-d will protect for you the covenant and the loving kindness[19]. How does this verse show Hashem giving the Jews anything? Simply put, the verse seems to indicate that Hashem will act towards us with loving kindness, not the other way around. We see from here that through Hashem acting towards us with חסד, it was implanted within the soul of the Jewish people this trait. Similarly, the trait of מסירות נפש was ingrained within the Jews from the actions of Avraham and Yitzchok[20]. Jews throughout the millennia have had the strength to sacrifice their lives for their religion, rather than convert. This came from Avraham who chose to be thrown in a fiery furnace rather than be an idolater[21], and Yitzchok who accepted to be part of the Akeidah[22].

This is why Hashem chose to call Moshe by that name, as opposed to the others. The main attribute necessary for a leader of the Jewish people is the trait of מסירות נפש. Moshe acted this way even when he was young, before becoming the shepherd of the Jews. The verse says ויצא אל אחיו וירא בסבלותם, he went out to his brethren to see their suffering[23]. While Moshe was prince in Egypt, he couldn’t stand to see his people suffering and do nothing about it. He actually went out and helped each person he found with their difficult work[24]. To be the leader of the people, it’s not enough to influence the people in a general sense. He needed to be able to relate to each individual, and help them with their unique challenges. This unique trait is why Hashem chose to call him Moshe, as it signified his ability to lead the Jewish people.

Hashem should help us that we should merit to engrain within ourselves these traits that have been instilled in the Jewish people throughout the ages, such as חסד and מסירות נפש. We should also merit to be able to help each and every Jew with whatever problem they’re going through.

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on a devar torah written by Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel זצ”ל

[2] Leviticus 1:1

[3] Vayikra Rabbah 1:3. Seven of the names appear in Megillah 13a, some with different explanations

[4] Exodus 2:2

[5] That’s three, the remaining seven are 1) (Avi)-Socho 2) Yekusiel 3) (Avi)-Zanoach 4) (Avi)-Gedor 5) Shemaya 6) Levi 7) Moshe

[6] Exodus 2:10

[7] Genesis 2:20

[8] Bereishis Rabbah 17:4

[9] This is referring to the Hebrew name for things, since the Torah is written in Hebrew and the universe was created with the Torah (ibid 1:1; Zohar II Terumah p. 161a)

[10] Chullin 63a

[11] Leviticus 11:18

[12] Rashi to Chullin loc. cit. says this refers to rain

[13] Leviticus 11:19

[14] Rashi to Chullin loc. cit. says because it shares its food

[15] Exodus 2:10

[16] Sichos Mussar § 60

[17] Kiddushin 4:1

[18] See Yevamos 79a

[19] Deuteronomy 17:12

[20] Ruach Chaim to Avos 5:3

[21] Genesis 11:28 with Rashi

[22] Ibid Chapter 22

[23] Exodus 2:11

[24] Shemos Rabbah 1:27