This week we begin the Book of Exodus, which is called Shemot or “Names.” Why is it called Shemot? Because we learn of true human connection through Exodus’ first words, which are a listing of names. Consider the following story first shared by Rabbi Daniel Gordis in a recent issue of the International Jerusalem Post.
Staff Sgt. Dvir Emanuel, the first casualty of Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli military action of just over a year ago, was killed by Hamas mortar fire just as he entered Gaza on Jan. 4, 2009. Now fast forward six months, to this past summer, when Dvir’s mother Dalia attended a concert held outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls.
As she waited with her young daughter for the show to begin, Dalia felt someone touch her shoulder. When she turned around, there was a little boy, handsome, with blond hair and blue eyes. Dalia was immediately drawn to him, and she asked if he’d like to sit next to her.
When the boy’s father saw what was unfolding, he called over, “Eshel, why don’t you come and sit next to me and your brother Dvir?” Stunned, Dalia turned and saw that the boy’s father was holding a baby. “What did you say his name is?” she asked.
“Dvir,” he replied. “How old is he?” Dalia asked. “Six months,” was the response. “Forgive me,” she continued, “was he born after Cast Lead or before?”
“After,” he said simply. Whereupon Dalia continued, “Forgive me again, but how is it you came to name him Dvir?”
“Because,” the man explained, “the first soldier killed in Cast Lead was named Dvir.” Almost unable to speak, Dalia paused, and then said, “I’m that Dvir’s mother.”
By now, the baby’s mother Shiri, had overheard the conversation, and wasn’t certain she believed her ears. “That can’t be.”
“It’s true.” And as soon as Dalia Emanuelof’s identity as the soldier’s mother was fully confirmed, the baby’s mother said something Dalia will never forget: “Dvir is sending you a hug, through us.”
How did this come to be?
When Shiri was 33 or 34 weeks pregnant, an ultrasound test revealed a potentially serious problem with the baby. There was nothing to do; the baby would have to be born very soon. A day or two later, Operation Cast Lead began and Dvir Emanuelof was killed.
Shiri and her husband Benny determined to name their baby after him. They told no one, but planned to call Dalia to ask her permission once the baby was born; they also intended to invite her to the bris. But when Dvir was born, the couple became overwhelmed, and it wasn’t even clear when they would be able to have the bris. By the time the doctor gave them the OK, life had moved forward. So they didn’t call her. Not then, and not the day after. And until the moment when a little blond-haired, blue-eyed boy — whom Dalia now calls “the messenger” — decided to tap her on the shoulder, Dvir’s parents told no one about the origin of their son’s name.
Unconnected in any way just a year ago, theirs is a story of unspoken and inexplicable bonds. Theirs is a story of shared destinies. Theirs is a story of the lives of two families now inextricably interwoven by virtue of two sons with a common name.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)