Thought for Shabbat – January 15, 2021
God appears to Moses and identifies himself as El Shaddai, the name of God known to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, with whom there is a covenant that extends to the entire Israelite nation. It is a nation that now screams out with their suffering in Egypt. The name God gives is just one of many names by which God is known in our Scripture. Elohim, El, Adonai, and Eheyeh among others.
“What’s in a name?”, Romeo asks. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet“, referring to Juliet, the object of his infatuation. What’s in a name is a question answered pretty well by Rabbi Shimon in Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of our Fathers. He says there are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of kingship. But the crown of a good name surpasses them all.
In other words, Shakespeare and Rabbi Shimon are in agreement. The name we are given at birth is important, but in the end it is the name we earn through our actions that is the greatest name of all. But names and labels can sometimes be limiting.
In the case of God, when Moses asks what to say to the Pharaoh when he asks who sent him, God responds, “I will be what I will be.” In other words, there is no definition that encompasses me in my entirety and I will not limit myself by any label that can be devised. When there is no label, the possibilities and potential are endless to what I can do.
To understand people and the world in which we live, we sometimes use shorthand to describe other people. That shorthand is a label. Once we come up with a label, we no longer have to think or evaluate and we can move on. Yet by labeling others, we not only do them a disservice, but fail to recognize the possibilities that exist in every living thing. We fail to give people a chance to change or evolve. We fail to give people a chance to live a life outside the lines that we have drawn for them. We simply fail to give people a chance. And after all, isn’t that what we would want for ourselves?
Rabbi Yaier Lehrer
Quote of the week – “Labels are for filing. Labels are for clothing. Labels are not for people.”