A girl I tutored once dragged me to an event at her friend’s apartment. Someone came over and introduced himself, then asked me what I did as work. I answered, and then returned the question, and he told me he was Vice President of the X company. I said politely, “oh, that’s nice.” He looked at me with narrowed eyes, anger apparent in every pore of his being and hissed, “That’s just the second largest record company in the world that I work for, for your information!” and stalked away. Oops, I had offended his royal highness by being so out of pop culture that I had no clue to be impressed when he told me the company where he worked. Here, he wanted to be big shvitzer, but his attempt was lost on an uninformed rube. But had I known the prestige of the company and been impressed, why would that be good for his ego – that was the company he was working for, not him.
Another friend came back from Israel and told me, “It was strange to see the difference between us Americans and the rest of the world.” “How so?” I asked. She explained she had been at a Shabbos table with folks from all over, and they had been asked to introduce themselves. She found it fascinating that the Americans were the only ones who introduced themselves as their job, “I’m Jacob and I’m a lawyer.” “I’m Sarah and I’m an accountant.” The rest of the folks introduced their name and said something of their families or travels or thoughts. She was blown away that here we value folks based on their careers. And folks value themselves and identify themselves by that, too.
This week’s Torah portion starts with a listing of names. [1:1] “And these are the names of the sons of Yisroel.” Rashi asks the question of why the listing of names. After all, the names are enumerated in last week’s Torah portion. Then Rashi gives the answer: “To show how beloved they are, that they are comparable to the stars, like it says He takes out by number the legion, to all He calls them by name.” Basically, the names are repeated here, as the brothers died, to show that G-d loved each one of them and he called them back to Heavens by name.
Seforno: Each one of them worthy to be remembered by name to show their individual value that they did not lose their identities “lo yatza l’tarbus ra’ah”. Further on Seforno elaborates on the leitmotif of names (3:13) explaining that a name points out the reason for individuality in relation to the unique actions of the one named.
When a person is born, the person is given a name that promises potential, that hints of the greatness that such a person can achieve. Whether or not the person will go ahead and fulfill that potential and promise remains to be seen. When a person dies, if he has done his mission in this world, then G-d personally calls the person by name, attesting that the person lived up to his potential.
When you first meet a person, you are just another person they met. Then, after they get to know you, hopefully, they love you and appreciate you. They use your name familiarly, not the same way they uttered it that first day you met. When you are born, your name is not yet familiar, it is a promise. Hopefully, when you die, your name is beloved in the Heavenly spheres.
There is an old Chassidic Mashal apropos: A drunken fool came to a hotel one rainy night and requested a room. “I’m sorry,” said the clerk, “there are no rooms left.” “Oh, but it’s so cold and wet out there. Can’t you find me one bed?” The clerk looked uncertain so the fool kept begging. Finally, the clerk said, “I do have one bed, but it’s in the same room as a very important priest. If I let you in, you must tiptoe in and not wake the priest as he wanted his own private room. Then, tomorrow morning, early, early, I will wake you up and you will tiptoe out so the priest will never know you slept there – is that fine?” Since the fool had no intentions of sleeping in a downpour, he agreed to the deal. He tiptoed into the room, got undressed and slid under the covers of the empty bed. AH, sleep, blessed sleep. Next morning, before the sun was even up, he was shaken awake by the clerk. Quiet as a mouse, the man grabbed his clothing and slipped them on. He left the hotel and continued on his travels even before the sun had hit the horizon. Soon it was daybreak, and as people passed the fool, they kept tilting their caps respectfully to him. He could not understand why such respect was warranted until he looked down – and saw he was wearing the priest’s clothing. Slapping his head in frustration, the fool said, “Oh no, the clerk woke up the priest instead of waking me!”
Are we the same fool, identifying ourselves with our jobs, cars, friends or designer clothing? Who are YOU?! Do you identify yourself by…your real Etzem, the reason for your creation, your name, making sure it lives up to its potential?