This week we begin a new book of the Torah named Shemot, which means names.The story starts with a list of the names of the people who descended to Egypt. The names were listed earlier in the book of Berashit, why the repetition? Let’s answer this question with a question.
How come the Torah has no introduction? No explanation of what it is?
I would like to posit that the entire book of Berashit serves as an introduction to the Torah. The Torah is an instruction manual on how to live life, why does it need to have stories of our forefathers? Because this serves as an introduction to who we are. A keen understanding of our history, of our genesis before we were born gives us insight into who we are. The first step to understanding how to live is understanding who we are. Identity is directly linked to history.
This is why the names at the start of Shemot are repeated. They serve as an introduction to the national origin story that unfolds in Shemot. We must understand and internalize our history to become self aware individuals. Each person's origin story starts long before they are born. Your grandparents story is a big part of your personal narrative.
This ancestral awareness is juxtaposed to the new Pharaoh who “Did not know Yosef”. He had no awareness or appreciation of the man who saved his country and facilitated its meteoric rise to greatness less than 200 years earlier. Maybe he was not interested in the past, he did not want to know.
My father gave us more information that night. His grandfather had immigrated from Europe and was an orphan. My father did not know his grandfather's last name, but the family that adopted him was named Epstein. As a sign of Hakarat gratitude my great-grandfather took the name Epstein which is why I have that name. After I heard this part of the story I was prouder than ever to call myself Epstein. I feel like this origin story really tells me about who I am and who I am supposed to be. My origin story involves gratitude for the good others provided my great-grandfather, that is who and how I am supposed to be.
Bonus Question : What other origin story do we have in this weeks Parsha?