This week’s Torah portion is Sh’mot or Shemot (Names). Rabbi Annette Koch sent her congregation, Temple Israel of Alameda, a beautiful drash (teaching) about it that is particularly well timed as we approach the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
This week’s Torah portion Shemot, which means “Names” begins the story of our exile and eventual redemption from exile in Egypt, a “narrow place” of torment for the Israelites. It begins with the names of the members of Jacob’s family who descended with him into exile many years before. Torah often gives us long lists of names of people, their descendants and family members. These names teach us about the history of our people and the places we have been. Naming also has spiritual value. The names themselves often reflect the many different ways we understand what the Divine is and how we connect to it.
Naming each person individually also teaches us that each and every one of us matters. Not one of us is “less than” or “other than.” Each of us bears upon us the image of God and every one of us contains within us a spark of the Divine regardless of race, color, creed or religion. Each of us is, Talmud teaches, unique. In a midrash we are taught that when God created humanity, clay of all colors from the four corners of the world was used so that no one would ever have cause to believe that they were better than anyone else. As we think about how we will commemorate the upcoming MLK Day, let’s remember that our individuality is precious. Our names reflect our distinctiveness and the unique gifts we all bring to one another. Shemot, These are the names….