Parashat Sh'mot

The Book of Names

Our names are our essence.

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How do I relate to those different than me? How do I relate to the world beyond my immediate surroundings, for example, to the rainforests? To the cows at the factory dairy farm whose milk I drink every morning? To the chickens at the industrial poultry shed near my house? When I buy brand new sneakers, do I consider who made them? How was that individual human being treated while he or she made my shoes?

If we deny the names--the unique identity--of other people, of the creatures and plants and places of the earth, we risk becoming like Pharaoh and all the other despots of the world. Threatened by the complexity and variety of the world, they chose to see others as nameless resources, as nothing more than a means towards their own personal goals. Such a path, while often seeming to increase comfort and efficiency in the present, ultimately leads to slavery and oblivion.

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Udi Hammerman

Udi Hammerman studies psychology and Jewish philosophy at the Hebrew University. He also works extensively in outdoor Jewish education with teens and young adults, guiding trips and as part of the Program and Curriculum Development team for Derech Hateva, an association connected with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.