This week’s Torah portion is Sh’mot, Exodus 1:1-6:1.
The second book of the Torah starts with the following words: “These are the names of the Israelites who came to Egypt with Jacob …”
All the names we will hear are names we already know, with the exception of the midwives Shifrah and Puah, who saved the Jewish boys.
It seems we will have an easy path with names in the book of Sh’mot (that means “names”), But the second chapter tells us a story without names:
“A man from the house of Levi (no name) married the daughter of Levi, (no name), they had a baby (no name), and his sister (no name) took care of him. Pharaoh’s daughter (no name) saved him and called him Moses.”
There are names and names … names of people who will be secondary actors in our lives and names of those who will make the difference.
As the famous Israeli poet Zelda wrote, “Lechol ish yesh shem” — meaning every person has a name.
Our sages taught in the Mishnah (Avot 4:13): “… Rabbi Shimon would say: There are three crowns — the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of sovereignty — but the crown of good name surmounts them all.”
This is a very interesting text. Rabbi Shimon claims there are three crowns and ends up mentioning four. Probably Rabbi Shimon was emphasizing the difference between these three crowns and the last one.
Let’s take a look together at the first three crowns. Keter Torah is the crown of Torah. The Torah comes from above. We received the Torah at Mount Sinai — everyone who wanted received the Torah — and we recreate that reception every year at Shavuot. The Torah comes from the top to the bottom and we are recipients of it.
Keter Kehuna refers to the crown of the priesthood. It is also from top to bottom. You can only be a priest if your father is a priest, and we can go all the way up to Aaron, Moses’ brother. As in the previous crown, the kohanim are recipients of the crown, and there are no merits involved in that reception.
The last crown is Keter Malchut. If you are not a descendant of King David, the chances to become a King are similar to the chances the Redskins have to win the Superbowl this year. The crown of kingship was transmitted, in general, from father to son, from top to bottom, regardless of the merits of the son.
But Keter Shem Tov, the crown of a good name, surmounts them all because it is the only one that comes from the bottom to the top. A good name depends not on the lineage but on the work we do to acquire that name.
No other crown, no other honor, can go higher than a good reputation and a good name.
As we start to navigate the second book of the Torah, let us have present the importance of honoring our names. Let us not forget to be the main actors of our story and not just another name.
As we start the book of Sh’mot, let us be mindful of the fact that every person has a name and our tradition teaches us to honor Hashem, the name.
Rabbi Fabian Werbin is the associate rabbi of Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County, in Bethesda.