This Shabbat we begin reading the second book in the Torah, Shemot. The Hebrew word for the book of Exodus means names. Surprisingly, the opening verses are devoid of names of any living people. The only names mentioned are those of the twelve tribes who had all passed away in Egypt by this point in time. Even Bnei Yisrael is described as a giant, amorphous, growing and swarming mass of humanity, a nameless and faceless reproductive machine. It is not until verse 15 that two individuals are named, the Hebrew midwives Shifra and Puah. When Pharaoh asks these two women to kill baby boys born to Israelite mothers, they refuse. By taking action, Shifra and Puah earn having their names recorded in the Torah. They stood up to tyranny and injustice and made names for themselves.
This past week our Akiba students commemorated Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. They explored what it means to stand up for one's rights and to have an impact on the world-- and what it means to make a name and have a voice.