February 15, 2019
Carrying the Names
“On the two stones (of the ephod, a priestly garment) you shall make seal engravings – the work of a lapidary – of the names of the children of Israel. Having bordered them with frames of gold, attach the two stones to the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, as stones for remembrance of the Israelite people, whose names Aaron shall carry upon his two shoulder-pieces for remembrance before The Eternal.” Exodus 28:11:12
Commenting on these verses, The Jewish Study Bible offers the following insight: “This phrase (bold text above) evokes the formula of ancient graffiti and votive inscriptions that pray that ‘so and so may be remembered (for good) before the deity.’ … Thus, each time Aaron entered the sanctuary wearing these inscriptions he not only represented the Israelites but carried before God an implicit prayer in their behalf.”
The image of Aaron carrying the names of the children of Israel, literally bearing the weight of them on his shoulders, calls on us to consider the names we carry, legally and metaphorically. The names we bear on our birth certificates, driver’s licenses and passports are linked to the first, middle and last names of those who came before us. So, too, there are the names we carry in our hearts, people who made an impact on our lives, who taught us valuable lessons, who lifted us up when we were feeling low. When we remember them, whether we share their names aloud at the prayer for healing, right before Kaddish or in casual conversation, we represent them to those we care for and those who care for us. Furthermore, each time we enter our sanctuaries, or any place we value, we carry before God an implicit prayer to live up to the ideals of those we love, and that those we love will be remembered for good.