Yad Vashem – The importance of names

The Hall of Names in Yad Vashem museum, Jerusalem. Jotpe – Own work

The Holocaust (Shoah) museum in Jerusalem, is called “Yad Vashem”, which means in Hebrew: “A Memorial and a Name”

This term is taken from a quote in Isaiah 56:5

“to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name”

Isaiah 56:4 (NASB)

in 1953, just a short time after the state of Israel was founded, and shortly after the terrible Shoah, the Knesset passed a law that instructs to build a museum.
The name ‘Yad Vashem’ was chosen for a reason: as a legacy of our nation, we want to remember every person that lived.
As much as the Nazis tried to destroy the remembrance of the Jewish people, we will remember each person that lived and died.

And indeed, close to four million eight hundred thousand of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their accomplices are commemorated in the database of the museum. Of course, not all people had someone left to tell about them and some names were forgotten. but stil, so much effort was put by Jewish people and the state of Israel to record every single name that is known to someone.

There is a web site with accessible database of Shoah victims’ names. The interesting story of how this database was created and how all the names were collected can be found here

Importance of namnes

Why is it so important for Jews to remember all names of dead people?
This question can be answered when while reading the Bible.
Sometimes, people ask themselves, while reading the whole of the Bible, why so many names are mentioned from the Jewish and Israelite history. Especially in the book of Chronicles:

The sons of Judah were Perez, Hezron, Carmi, Hur, and Shobal. And Reaiah the son of Shobal begot Jahath, and Jahath begot Ahumai and Lahad. These were the families of the Zorathites. These were the sons of the father of Etam: Jezreel, Ishma, and Idbash; and the name of their sister was Hazelelponi; and Penuel was the father of Gedor, and Ezer was the father of Hushah. These were the sons of Hur, the firstborn of Ephrathah the father of Bethlehem. And Ashhur the father of Tekoa had two wives, Helah and Naarah. Naarah bore him Ahuzzam, Hepher, Temeni, and Haahashtari. These were the sons of Naarah. The sons of Helah were Zereth, Zohar, and Ethnan; and Koz begot Anub, Zobebah, and the families of Aharhel the son of Harum.

1 Chronicles 4:1-8 (NKJV)

Also in Ezra, names and numbers:

Those who came with Zerubbabel were Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah. The number of the men of the people of Israel: the people of Parosh, two thousand one hundred and seventy-two; the people of Shephatiah, three hundred and seventy-two; the people of Arah, seven hundred and seventy-five; …

Ezra 2:2-5

And this continues on and on…

I believe that names are very important to God. In listing all the names, and by us reading those very long lineages, there is a lesson:

All people and all names are important for God!

There are no ‘less important people’ and ‘more prestigious people’ before God. All of us are important no matter what we do or do not do.

Are the names to remember only from Israel?

And here, we get to a very interesting part: the quote from Isaiah 56 that we started with.
In the context of the museum ‘Yad Vashem’, this quote reminds us that God keeps a memorial and a name for each person. But let’s read the whole of the passage carefully, and see to whom does Isaiah really refer:

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from His people.”
Nor let the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”

For thus says the Lord,
“To the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths,
And choose what pleases Me,
And hold fast My covenant,
To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial,
And a name better than that of sons and daughters
; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off.

“Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
To minister to Him, and to love the name of the Lord,
To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath
And holds fast My covenant;
Even those I will bring to My holy mountain
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar;

For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.

Isaiah 56:3-7 (NASB)

So, to whom does this promise refers?
To the eunuchs, who have no children to continue their family – to them who keeps the Sabbaths and do what pleases God, to them there is a promise to have a memorial and a name.

And to the foreigners, the gentiles, who joins themselves to the Lord, to love His name and to be His servants. Those who keep the Sabbath and hold His covenant – they will be brought to His mountain and be joyful in the House of the Lord.

For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.

Shoah

I want to bring another Biblical reference, and this is the word Shoah.

The English term ‘Holocaust’, comes from the Greek word: ὁλόκαυστος which means completely burnt.

The Hebrew word ‘Shoah’ appears several times in the Bible:

When your dread (Heb: Shoah) comes like a storm
And your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
When distress and anguish come upon you.

Proverbs 1:27 (NASB)

Let destruction (Heb: Shoah) come upon him unawares,
And let the net which he hid catch himself;
Into that very destruction (Heb: Shoah) let him fall.

Psalms 35:8 (NASB)

The Holocaust of the Jews in Europe, is called in Hebrew ‘Shoah’. This word is used almost only for this specific event. For other terrible disasters we use other words in Hebrew. The Jewish Holocaust in Europe that took place in the first half of the twentieth century, has a special Biblical word.

Author: Ran Silberman

I am a tour guide in Israel with a passion for the Bible. For many years I work in the software industry as a software consultant. I blog in http://ransilberman.blog

One thought on “Yad Vashem – The importance of names”

  1. Good read Ran, Thanks for posting this important message regarding Yad Vashem. Harkens back to my Poland visit this past summer (after being in Israel) and the Aushwitz experience. There are many many pictures /names (accounting for many who perished at the hands of the Nazi’s) lining the hallways and corridors inside the buildings that remain. Quite an endeavor to keep memories of the victims alive in our hearts as we ponder the magnitude of suffering that occurred there in a desolate wooded area. Unspeakable suffering and pain; one can only cry out to the Lord pleading for the memory of these precious souls to never ever be forgotten. And prayers for their descendants (and all of us) to cherish the legacy of these special people in their hearts.

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