From a plain and simple human point of view

Friday, 5 January, 2024 - 3:55 am

Two sons are born to Moshe Rabbeinu in this week’s parasha, parashat Shemot. Both their names refer to his situation in Midian, with each of them describing a different feeling. The first he named Gershom, explaining: “For I was a stranger (ger) in a foreign land.” The second he named Eliezer – “Because the G-d of my father helped me (be’ezri)and saved me from Pharaoh’s sword.”

The commentators bring up the question as to why he didn’t name them according to the chronological order of these events – first he was saved from Pharaoh’s sword, when the latter wanted to kill him, and only afterwards he escaped to Midian and became a stranger in a foreign land. It would have been more fitting, then, to name his eldest son Eliezer, and his second one Gershom. The commentators bring various explanations for this.

The central commentary says that when Moshe’s eldest son was born, Pharaoh was still alive, and therefore he could not say outright “and saved me from Pharaoh’s sword.” Pharaoh died before his second son was born, and only then could he name his son Eliezer.

Sometimes I like to read the scriptures from a plain and simple human point of view. It seems to me that it is possible to see here an interesting human process.

When a believing person goes through a difficult period in his life, there are two main feelings that will arise in him, at least initially.

One of them, usually the first, will be recognition of his condition. This is accompanied by some pain, of course. It is not always easy or pleasant to face reality straight on, but it is very important to know the situation, be familiar with it and recognize it. The second feeling, which often comes later, will be that of gratitude. It is amazing to me that the faith of people who are going through a difficult and challenging experience is actually strengthened, and they are filled with gratitude. Perhaps this is because during difficult moments we learn that nothing can be taken for granted. In one minute life can be shaken up, turned upside-down. We learn to appreciate the regular, routine stability when it exists. And yes, we feel a need to thank Hashem for what we have, even if at the same time we will be putting in our petition for what we don’t yet have.

Perhaps that is why Moshe decided to name his first son Gershom, and his second – Eliezer.

A similar process can be seen with Yosef Hatzaddik. He named his first son Menashe, which refers to the difficulty and the distance from his family and his father’s home, saying “G-d has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s household.” His second son he named Efraim, referring to his thankfulness and gratitude: “G-d has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”

It is important to recognize reality; it is no less important to thank Hashem.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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