Shemos: Defined by the Present

Nicknames are a funny thing. Sometimes -even if based the most fleeting of activities- a given name can last a lifetime. A well-known baseball player was known as “shoe-less” Joe Jackson because he was once seen playing barefoot. 

In a similar sense, we seem to learn the same phenomenon when it comes to Moshe. “She called him Moshe (to draw)… for from the water he was drawn” (Shemos 2:10). Moshe, the greatest of our leaders, was named after an instantaneous act- one which he didn’t even do! And yet, one could ask a simple question: If this act was the real basis for his name, why was his called Moshe, meaning ‘he draws’, when it should be mashoi, ‘he was drawn’?

One can answer (and the Sforno implies) that Moshe’s name was not simply given based on having been drawn. Rather, his name was indicative of his character; that he was a draw-er. He constantly helped others out of difficult situations (as we see in many ways going forward). He wasn’t defined by what was accomplished in the past (“drawn”), but by what he does now, in the present.

Complacency sets in when we base our worth on the past. Our true selves, however, are judged on who we are now and what we are doing in the present. The name “Moshe” reminds us to view our lives as a constant mission, not one of past accomplishments. When we evaluate ourselves, the question is not simply ‘what have I done?’, but more importantly; ‘what am I doing?’