The commentaries give us several reasons. B’nai Israel are transitioning into a new phase of existence; they will be enslaved, but will then be freed. As his beloved people, G-d recounts their names as a way of showing His love for us, prior to describing the national trauma which befell us. Rashi offers that the leaders of this generation are listed as exemplars, since the fealty of their descendants was not guaranteed. Other commentators and the Midrash go even further, likening the twelve sons of Jacob to stars whose light will only be seen after the brilliance of Jacob’s sun has been extinguished. Only then will their potential and accomplishments be seen, since, as the sun’s light suppresses that of the stars, so too did the light of Jacob suppress that of his descendants. Absent his brilliance, they (we) were free to achieve our full potential.
Therein lies our challenge. When our skies darken, we must use the light of our stars to illuminate our path. Any and every glimmer of hope or inspiration can be showing a path to accomplishment. Have you fallen down? Look up, because you now have a new perspective on life. Have you suffered a loss? You now have a new way to plug a hole in someone else’s life experience.
Remember the names, the Shemot, of those who came before us. Each person, each personality, and each star shines down upon us and gives us strength and wisdom. Let their light shine, equally between those who dominated the light and those whose subtlety gave meaning to the darkness. On this shortest Shabbat of the year, let’s give meaning to the darkness. Perhaps we can be inspired by what we are meant to see as much as what we can see.
Shabbat ShalomRabbi/Hazzan David B. Sislen