These Are The Names--Where Is Yours?

By listing the names of Jacob's family members who went into Egypt the Torah reminds us of the number of people who affect our lives and our potential to affect the lives of numerous others.

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For the family involved, and for those whose names were read, the time passed pleasantly and quickly. It was only for those who didn't know the people being thanked that the list seemed excessively long. Certainly when you are singled out for special praise you enjoy having your name listed publicly. Look at all the plaques and dedications which festoon our synagogues, community centers, and federation buildings. Those names are there because the honorees and those who love them care about seeing people who perform good deeds recognized by the community.

In precisely the same way, the long lists of the Torah represent an assertion of human worth. We may not care about every name listed there, but the author of the Torah does and wants us to learn to care as well. Those names teach us that more people are involved in our lives than we care to acknowledge, that we are more deeply imbedded in our society than we will ever know.

Who You Are

Just think, for a moment, about all the people who have had an effect on who you are today. Your parents, siblings, grandparents, and close family are only a beginning. Include your preschool teachers and classmates. Add the parents of your preschool friends. Then all the teachers and friends in grade school. Don't leave out your favorite TV characters and books. That inclusion means adding the names of many people you don't even know--the authors of those books and the producers of the television shows.

Include those special teachers of your Religious School days, culminating in your Bar/Bat Mitzvah teacher, your childhood rabbi and cantor. In high school, the list broadens to include even more authors and thinkers who influence your life, athletic coaches, drama instructors, art teachers, people who give you summer and afternoon jobs, people who run your summer camp or summer vacations. And of course, your first romantic awakenings. A lengthy roster already, and this one only goes through high school!

You can see that a list of those people who contributed to who you are today would be tremendously long. To other people, your list would also be boring. But each of us cherishes such a private list of gratitude, since that list represents the many facets of our own personality. By insisting that we endure several such lists, the Torah opens us to recalling our own dependency on others, and also spurs us to be such influences for those people whose lives we can touch.

Whose lists are you on? How many lists could you be on that you have simply not bothered with--getting involved with your synagogue, donating blood with the Red Cross, becoming active in teaching religious school, or working with a homeless shelter, a political campaign, or an art festival? There are so many lists waiting to be assembled. All of them have a space available for your name, and only you can place you name where it should be.

We depend on each other to be able to blossom into the best that we can be. Not only as human beings, but as Jews--a small minority wherever we live--the deeds that we do for each other, the energy and insight we give to building a sensitive, caring, and stimulating Jewish community, the ways we demonstrate our love for our fellow Jews and for all humanity, such deeds can bless innumerable lives in unpredictable ways. "These are the names." Where is yours?

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Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.