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The Power of a Name

Topic: Kabbalistic Concepts | Posted:December 18, 2013

The portion Shemot, which means "Names," begins, "These are the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family," and then names the 12 sons of Jacob that came down into Egypt.

In the Torah, there is not usually a repetition of something that has already been shared or revealed. Also, the Torah is almost always in chronological order. However, this week’s portion is different. The story of Jacob and his 12 sons and other 69 members of his family was already told previously, before the end of the book of Beresheet. Additionally, the story that we read in the beginning of this week’s portion is one that occurred many, many years before last week’s portion, Vayechi, with the passing of Jacob, the 12 tribes, and Joseph.

So, why is there both a repetition in the beginning of Shemot, and why is it not in chronological order? What secret, what Light is there for us to take away from this unique portion? The Midrash tells us that the secret behind these 12 names of the sons of Jacob is actually the secret of the Final Redemption; each one of the 12 names represents an aspect of the Final Redemption.

For instance, Reuben, the name of the first son, awakens the pain that the Creator sees, and awakens the Light of Redemption. The name Dan represents judgment upon the forces of Negativity and the forces of death. The name Benjamin represents the aspect of the strength of the Light of the Creator to bring about the Redemption… and so on.

The Midrash is telling us that the mentioning of the names of the 12 tribes here is not simply a recounting of the story; it is actually a unique awakening of Light. And the awakening of Light represents not only the global removal of pain, suffering, and death, but also the awakening of Light to take away each individual’s pain.

The kabbalists teach, and we have spoken about this before, that a person’s name is his or her channel to the Light of the Creator; that for the entirety of a person’s life, his name is the channel through which the Light of the Creator comes into his life. However, if the name of a person is the channel by which the Light of the Creator comes to them, it seems like it would mean that people who have the same name - and in the world there are millions of people who have the same name - should have the same life. So, why is it not the case? What changes in the individual’s life that makes it so that even two people who have the same name have different lives, blessings, and connections?

The answer is that how a person behaves changes the combination of their name. For example, in the Hebrew name David, there are three letters, Dalet, Vav, and Dalet (דוד). And when a person named David is completely connected to the Light of the Creator and has his life focused on his spiritual work, the name is spelled in the correct order, Dalet-Vav-Dalet. However, when a person acts selfishly, when a person acts in a way of Desire to Receive for the Self-Alone, he messes up his spiritual name, so that for instance, instead of it being Dalet, Vav, Dalet (דוד) it is now Vav, Dalet, Dalet (ודד). Through his negative actions, he has changed the combination of his name, which means that now the Light coming down to him will be more constricted, it will be more judgment.

Therefore, we have to remember that every action we do influences the combination of our name. In fact, the kabbalists say that the only reason a person has lack, difficulty, or pain in their lives is because through their actions they have messed up the order of their name; yet, if we have a way to reorganize our name in its proper form, any lack or pain would be removed.

Unfortunately, throughout life, we mess up our name. But on this Shabbat, no matter what we have done until now, our name can be restarted and set again in its perfected state. Therefore, the reason why this portion repeated what was mentioned in last week’s portion - the name of the tribes – is because the names, as they were mentioned in last week’s portion, were organized and ordered in the way of exile. The Israelites, the sons of Jacob, were going down into Egypt, were going down into exile, and therefore the names, as they were ordered at that time, were connecting to the Light of darkness, into the force of exile. But in this week’s portion they are mentioned again, and this time, as the Midrash tells us, they are reordered in the way of Redemption.

And that is what happens to every single one of us on this Shabbat. Just like the names of the 12 tribes are reordered in their perfected way, so too are our names reordered in the perfected way. And when you perfect your name, you can not only remove any lack that you have in your life, but you also have the power to raise up and take back any Light that you have squandered, any Light that you have given over to the Negative Side.

In fact, this Shabbat begins a process of weeks, which are called Shovavim - the acronyms for this and the next portions we read - Shemot, Va’era, Bo, Beshalach, Yitro, Mishpatim. During these weeks we have the ability to take back any Light that we have given over or wasted through our actions of selfishness, of Desire to Receive for the Self-Alone. Why? Because we are given the power to perfect our name on this Shabbat. And when we have a perfected name not only can we remove any lack or darkness that exists in our life, but we can also then have the power to gather any of the Light that we have wasted and given over to the Negative Side.

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