How to Use Your Name

When Moses meets God at the burning bush, he asks Him a strange question: "When the Israelites asked me what is Your Name, what should I tell them?" God then responds, "I Shall Be that I Shall Be. Thus you shall tell the children of Israel, I Shall Be has sent me to you."

This is a strange kind of a name! Now, I wasn't expecting "Charlie", but I was expecting one of the Names of God that we frequently use. This is more of a statement of how God will continue to exist in the world, but it's not a name! God will be present, God will be existing. Is that actually a name?

The book of Exodus, in Hebrew, is called the book of Shemot, which means "names." It is the book of names, and it is full of them. The Rabbis of the Midrash teach us that a person has three names: 1. The name that God gives us. 2. The name that our parents give us. 3. The name that we give ourselves.

I believe this is teaching us a very significant lesson for life. The name that God gives us is not a name in the traditional sense. I believe it refers to the unique skills and gifts that God imbues each of his creations with. It is our talents and our abilities, our genetic makeup.

The name that our parents give us refers to our education and upbringing. Parents generally give a name to a child expressing their hopes and aspirations for that child. They will follow up the giving of the name with the years of education and teaching to help the child fulfill that name.

Finally, the name we give ourselves is the cumulative effect of the way we interact with the world. With this, we can understand the phenomenon of some of the Bible's names. For example, some of the kings involved in the first war, recorded in the book of Genesis, seem quite unusual. For example: Bera = in bad. Birsha = in evil. Shinav = hates his Father [in Heaven]. I highly doubt that these are the names that these kings were known by. These are the names that these men achieved for themselves, through their evil deeds. When the Torah tells us someone's name, more often than not it is the name expressing their character, not the name on their driver's license. It's the name he gave himself.

So it is with the Names of God. They are simply expressing how God relates to the world at that moment. God's message to the children of Israel, through His Name, is a very powerful one. "I Shall Be." In a world of evil and chaos, the people must know that God continues to exist, continues to be pure and good. They must believe that their bondage is only temporary. They must believe that the goodness of God can be, and will be, revealed. It was a message of encouragement that the Israelite salves badly needed.

The Rabbis in the Midrash claim that the Jews merited redemption from Egypt for having "not changed their names, their mode of dress, and their language." Question. The very same rabbis claim that the Jews had fallen to the 49th level of impurity, and had become guilty of idolatry in Egypt. Why, then, does the fact that they didn't change their names make any difference? What's in a name, if the person is a sinner? And if we are referring to the name one gives oneself through one's behavior, I could argue that they indeed did change their names! They changed them to idolatrous ones.

Rather, in the same spirit of "I Shall Be," we can gain greater insight into a name. Names do not change from day to day or year to year. A name is over a lifetime. God did not name Himself "I Am," rather, "I Shall Be." The name that we give ourselves is not based on our temporary behaviors, but on our overall life's goals and values. It's who we yearn to be, even though at the moment, we are not at that level.

Thus, when Moses asks God what the merit of the people is that will make them worthy of redemption, God answers, "When you take them out of Egypt, you will all serve the Lord on this mountain (you will receive the Torah here)." In other words, even though they are idolatrous and assimilated today, they have never changed their names, the names that reflect their dreams and hopes for the world. They are destined to stand tall at Mount Sinai! That is who they truly are.

Many people are "searching for themselves." I might only suggest that you begin that search with your names. You should look inside your heart to discover the name that God gave you, through your skills, dreams, and passion. You should look at the name that your parents gave you, your education, and, more, their aspirations for you. Based on that, you should assign yourself a name that you will achieve through your life's work.

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