Dvar Torah Parshat Shemot 2013 5773

The Book of Shemot begins by telling us that Yaakov and his children came to Egypt. Then it says: וְיוֹסֵף הָיָה בְמִצְרָיִם, “…and Yosef was in Egypt.” (Ex. 1,5) Though Yosef was the viceroy in Egypt and though they gave him the name צָפְנַת פַּעְנֵחַ, he nevertheless did not give up his Jewish name. The Torah testifies that he was still Yosef in Egypt. When his two sons were born he gave them Jewish names, Ephraim and Menasheh.

This practice of giving children Jewish names in Egypt helped keep them together as a people. Chazal tell us this is one of the reasons for their redemption.

A name is a great way of identifying a person as a member of a people and it is a dominant influence in keeping a Jew within the Jewish fold. A non-Jewish name can often be the first step of losing one’s Jewish identity.

It is unfortunate that many Jews living in the Diaspora find it proper to give their children a common name used in the country and do not bother to also give them a Jewish name. While this may not be the reason but it is one step that can lead to assimilation.

No matter what name a Jewish child is given so that there is no embarrassment living in a non-Jewish environment, there should also be a Jewish name and the child should know what it is.

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