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Jewish Pride
A recent poll of baby names raised a furor in Great Britain when it showed that the name “Mohammed” was one of the most popular in the country. The popularity of the name stoked fears that the country was being overrun by Muslims.

However, we need not look to Britain to be alarmed—a full 3.5% of boys born in Israel in 2014 were named for the founder of Islam. It is more popular than the common Hebrew name “Joseph,” which accounted for only 3% of baby names.

These numbers reflect the rapidly rising Muslim birth rate (which exceeds the Jewish birth rate). Still, Muslims are not the majority of the population of Israel. What accounts for the popularity of the name Mohammed?

The popularity of Mohammed indicates that most Muslims are traditional and choose traditional names for their children. In contrast, Jewish parents often choose names for reasons other than tradition. They may choose a name because they like the sound, because it’s unique, or in honor of a popular celebrity.

*

This week’s Torah portion, Shemot, literally means “names,” and is called thus because it begins with a list of the names of Jacob’s children. Our sages teach that the Jewish people merited to be redeemed from Egypt in part because they did not change their names. Despite their exile and enslavement, they refused to be assimilated and maintained their traditional Hebrew names.

A name has two opposite qualities. On the one hand, we are called by our name only by other people. If we were to live alone in a forest we would have no need for a name. So a name reflects only the superficial aspect of a person, and indeed, many people can be called by the same name. On the other hand, people who are in a faint can be revived by calling their name. Hearing their name arouses an essential part of the brain and awakens the person.

These dual qualities of a name reflect on the process of exile and Redemption.

When the Jewish people went down to exile, only their “names”—their most superficial element—went down to Egypt. Their souls were never enslaved. They left exile with the same names as they went in, meaning their identity remained intact. They had control not only over their inner selves but even the part that was exposed to the outside.

When we allow our inner selves to become concealed, that is when we enter into a state of exile. And when our inner self is expressed, we leave exile and enter Redemption.

Through proudly reclaiming our Jewish names we take a step towards affirming our identity and meriting the complete Redemption.

The timeless lesson for us is that despite the hardships that we may face, we must never despair. Our essence is never exiled and can never be concealed. What’s more, our essence gives us the strength not to be deterred by any hardship or obstacle and continue with our personalized mission here on earth. Through doing the job we need to do on earth, we elevate our inner soul as well and bring the immediate Redemption.
 

 


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