Three Foundations of Judaism: Language, Names, and Clothing
Before delivering the Children of Israel from Egypt, Hashem commanded Moses: “Please speak in the ears of the people: Let each man borrow from his fellow, and each woman from her fellow, silver vessels and gold vessels” (Exodus 11:2). During the plague of darkness they could actually circulate freely among the Egyptians, since there was light for the Children of Israel but complete darkness for the Egyptians. They therefore saw everything that the Egyptians kept in their homes, and they knew exactly what to ask them for: “Bring me that garment, the one you keep in that room and in that closet.”
All the same, the Sages have said that Israel were redeemed from Egypt because “they did not change their names, they did not change their language” (Vayikra Rabba 32:5), and “they did not change their way of dress” (Pesikta Zutah, Shemot 6:6). As a result, how could they have taken non-Jewish garments from the Egyptians, since they were forbidden to wear them? The answer is that by borrowing them from the Egyptians, the Children of Israel were simply obeying Hashem’s command. They were to despoil Egypt, rendering it like husks without grain, like a net without fish, as the Sages have said (Berachot 9b). However He never commanded them to wear these clothes, only to borrow them from the Egyptians. If the Sages have said that the Children of Israel were delivered from Egypt by the merit of these three things (language, names, and clothing), it is because they represent the foundations of Judaism.
Joseph understood the 70 languages of the earth, yet when he finally revealed himself to his brothers, how did he prove that he was their brother? The verse states, “For my mouth is speaking to you” (Genesis 45:12), which Rashi explains as meaning “in the sacred tongue.” Even though Joseph understood every language, he only used the sacred tongue. It is what distinguishes us – we the Jewish people – from all other peoples and nations. It is not without reason that it is called the sacred tongue, for it is a language of holiness, a language that has been handed down to us through the generations. One who wants to become “progressive,” to be like all the other peoples, starts off by speaking their language. He replaces his own language with a non-Jewish one, which embodies absolutely no sanctity. What eventually happens to him? He becomes increasingly drawn to the actions of non-Jews and their way of life, until he falls to the lowest of levels, to the bottom of the abyss. Unfortunately, even when a person actually speaks the sacred tongue, the Jewish language – Hebrew – he may still end up changing his language. If a person heaps insults on others and speaks lies, if he utters forbidden words, this is also included in the concept of changing one’s language, and this also leads a person to lose out. That is why each of us has the duty to be extremely vigilant in this area and not change our language – and everything it entails – for this is the goal of the redemption.
As for the second principle, a person’s name is an important foundation of Judaism. Kabbalah teaches that a person’s name is his strength, the root of his soul. Let us imagine the root of a soul. What kind of Jewish strength can a person acquire if is name is, for example, Nimrod? What about Ishmael? What of a child named Hagar, like Hagar the maidservant of Sarah? What spiritual strength can a person absorb if he carries a foreign name?
This topic is very relevant to us. To our great regret and shame, we find Jews everywhere who give their children foreign names because are they are “nice.” How are they nice – for the root of an impure soul? Why and in whose name can people inflict such spiritual suffering on their children for the future? A foreign name leads a person to think that it may be better to live as a non-Jew, to the point that he will not be ashamed to act like one, since everyone knows just how “enlightened” he is.
A Jewish name has no equivalent, and it never will. An original Jewish name is pure and pleasant to all Jews, and fitting for each and every Jew. We should therefore be proud of our Jewish names, and we should give our offspring only Jewish names, for this is an important foundation of Judaism.
Above all else is the third principle, namely clothing. When we walk outside and see how non-Jews dress, every Jewish soul feels a sense of revulsion. It is forbidden to describe what their attire is like, or how they walk outside in these types of clothing, without any sense of modesty or shame. What should we do about it? We must distance ourselves from them as from a burning building. We must separate ourselves as much as possible from their style of dress, for their clothing is extremely provocative.
To our great regret, however, our generation has been somewhat affected even in this domain. Some people are attracted by this kind of fashionable clothing. We are not speaking of far-off places here; the evil inclination grows stronger wherever people go around dressed fashionably. It eventually leads a person to despise everything Jewish and all distinctive Jewish signs, until he reaches a very low level.
We should therefore strengthen ourselves in these three great principles: A pure Jewish language that is our very own, a pure Jewish name, and modest Jewish clothing. We will hasten the Final Redemption in this way, much like the Children of Israel hastened their deliverance from Egypt.