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A Nation of Names, Not Numbers

A Nation of Names, Not Numbers

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A Jewish mother walks her son to the school bus on his first day of preschool. "Please behave, sweetie," she says.

"Darling, take good care of yourself and think about your mother who is waiting for you! And come right back home on the bus, my love... Remember, honey, your Mommy loves you a lot!"

At the end of the school day, the bus returns. She runs to her son and hugs him. "So what did the love of my life learn on his first day of school?" she asks.

"I learned that my name is David..."


The second book of the Torah is called "Shemot"—the Book of Names. The simple reason for this unusual name is that this book opens with the word "names" in its opening line: "Now these are the names of the children of Israel..." (Exodus 1:1).

Now this is quite intriguing. Why name an entire book after the seemingly coincidental use of a word in its opening line? Wouldn't it be more logical to name it after its storyline and theme, as it is referred to in most English bibles: the Book of Exodus?

Maturing into a large nation should not translate into neglecting the needs of the individualBut here lies an important lesson about the Jewish approach to the individual member of the community. The second book of the Torah introduces us to very first Jewish community—the new nation of Israel. This book's narrative tells how in a very short period of time the relatively small family of Jacob described in the previous book, Genesis, successfully transformed and proliferated into a quantitatively fruitful nation. Yet, despite this amazing numeric growth, the Torah reminds us not to forget that each individual person has a name and must be recognized and respected. Maturing into a large nation should not translate into, G‑d forbid, neglecting the needs of the individual, or treating him or her like a number or statistic.

Like the young boy who learned that his name was David, we too must treat each and every one of our children as a unique personality and help them discover their uniqueness. They each have a name and talents that are uniquely theirs. We should never lump our children together. Likewise, when dealing with the greater community, we must appreciate the diversity of the different members that make up the community and find creative ways to utilize and enlist the diverse talents of the community.

This all begins with viewing each individual as a person with a name, not just a number!

Rabbi Avraham E. Plotkin is the director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Markham, Ontario.
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