Shabbat Shalom: What’s In a Name

Jan 20, 2022

Each of my two daughters has a birthday this week, one yesterday, one over the weekend. And each bears a name that is, for my wife and myself, layered with meaning and history and the hopes and aspirations of their then-young parents that they should be healthy and capable, caring and kind, strong and empathetic.

How we name and what we name establishes both relationship and responsibility. Traditionally, each Torah portion derives its name from the first distinctive word in the reading. In Bereshit, the first Torah portion, God made the light and then called the light day and the darkness night. I liken it to how some cultures once named their children. The parents would look out upon their world, and what they saw in the moments following their child’s birth was then captured in the child’s name. (Imagine such names today: Panicked Spouse; Beeping Machine in Delivery Room… but I digress.)

This week’s Torah portion, per the biblical naming tradition, is Yitro because “Yitro” is the first essential word in the reading. But in light of recent events, it strikes me that that name carries an added significance.

The first words of the portion, Yitro heard everything that God did to Moses and to Israel, tells an entire story, and to some, that story is a narrative of faith: Yitro heard all that God had done “to Israel,” and he was thus moved to join the people of Israel. I offer another thought: Yitro hears first what God had done “to Moses.” He understands the pressure on his son-in-law, and he comes to help lift that burden. Read this way, the Torah portion points to the importance of the empathetic self, the self that identifies with the feelings of others, that recognizes we are all human and all deserving of understanding.

The events in Colleyville demonstrate in a multitude of ways that such compassion, such sympathy and sensitivity, is alive and well and universal, even when it seems as if the gulf between us is unbridgeable. It is reflected in the instinctive welcome that Beth Israel Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker extended to the man who would ultimately take him and three congregants hostage. It is reflected in the Secure Community Network training that led the hostages to try to establish a connection with their captor, a connection that bought them time and that ultimately enabled them to escape safely. And it is reflected in the outpouring of support for the hostages, for their synagogue, and for the Jewish community—during and after the ordeal, from across the country and the world.

Many heard what had happened; many answered the call. Dedicated men and women in government, law enforcement, and other faith communities reached out to help. In our own community, 8,000 viewers gathered for Responding to Antisemitism: An Interfaith Call to Action.

While these days are heavy, we are not alone. There are, among us, many Yitros. Many who hear, many who see, many who care. We are not alone.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jay Strear
President & CEO

Please email Rabbi Strear at CEO@JEWISHcolorado.org with comments or questions.

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