by Rabbi Shawn Zell
Where have you gone, Jim Croce? A nation is in desperate need to be reminded of “I’ve Got a Name” the last song you recorded, close to half a century ago. Based on telephone calls I receive, people have either forgotten their names or perhaps out of humility (I am being kind), they neglect to identify themselves. It has become so irksome, that after putting the receiver to my ear and hearing:”Rabbi Zell! How are you?” I typically respond: “I’ll be much better, once I find out with whom I am speaking”. Text messages are even more frustrating, in that voice recognition (for whatever it is worth), is absent. When responding to an anonymous text message, I indicate, that I will be happy to address their concern or question, once the mystery person identifies himself/herself.
Light, the very first creation in the Torah was given a name by HaShem. HaShem called light “Day”. But HaShem did not stop there. HaShem called darkness “Night”. If the Torah deems it essential to convey to us the importance of conferring names on inanimate objects, then surely assigning names to humans, the pinnacle of HaShem’s creations, ought to be of at least as much importance. Yet, one would be hard-pressed to know this, given the absence of identification in the phone conversations and text messages of today’s society. As one who is fascinated by historical trivia, the framers of Israel’s Declaration of Independence were at odds as to whether G-d’s name ought to appear in the document. Only because there were a plethora of names of the divine, were the warring factions finally mollified (Tzur Yisrael or Rock of Israel was finally accepted by all). What then is our excuse for ignoring or deleting one’s name when calling by phone or when texting, wherein the vast majority of cases, there is no other name to serve as a frame of reference?
Yet, HaShem’s name proved to be a hot topic, millennia before David Ben Gurion stood in the Tel Aviv home of Meir Dizebgoff, proclaiming independence for a nascent Jewish state. HaShem’s name proved to be a hot topic as Moses stood before a burning bush, receiving what he could not help but feel was a “mission impossible”. “Now see here”, retorted the reluctant shepherd to the heavenly voice within the flame. “Do you really expect the enslaved masses to buy this here story that I was sent by the G-d of your forefathers? They are going to ask me to give up Your name. What do You expect me to tell them when that happens? After all, they weren’t born yesterday, You know!” Moses ’point was well taken, for HaShem then instructed Moses to reveal His name as “I shall be”. If HaShem, Creator not only of heaven and earth but also of our people realized how essential and necessary it was to identify Himself, then how much more so is it necessary for us mere mortals to identify ourselves as well.
It has been over 40 years since 16 generic, unbranded, or “No Name” items in black and yellow packaging were placed on the shelves of a supermarket chain. These items were initially promoted as “basic products in plain packaging at down-to-earth everyday low prices”. “No Name” promised savings of between 10 and 40 percent over national brands. By deleting our names when communicating with others, it appears as though we too have reduced ourselves to the level of “No Name” supermarket products. Surely, our self-worth forbids us to discount ourselves, the way supermarkets discount the items they sell. Whenever we neglect to state our name in communication, that is precisely what we do. We end up discounting ourselves!
Midrash Tanchuma (VaYakhel) tells us that we are known by three names: the name conferred upon us by our parents, the name we are called by friends and relatives, and the name that we earn through the way we interact with others. Yet, no one requires us to provide all three when identifying ourselves to others. A modicum of decency has every right to expect us to identify ourselves with at least one of these three names – preferably the name we have earned through the way we have interacted with others. As humans, we have every right to demand recognition by others, provided we are prepared to recognize ourselves first.