Among the top challenges faced by our people is navigating a rich Torah life in an alien society, balanced with the need to make a living and live in harmony with our non-Jewish neighbors. For the last two and half thousand years, Jews have endured many different forms of Galus, and we too struggle to find the right balance to enable our families and communities to thrive.
Among the top challenges faced by our people is navigating a rich Torah life in an alien society…An interesting insight into the proper approach can be gained from studying how Moshe Rabbeinu conducted himself during his many decades in Galus in Midian. This week’s Parsha begins with the account of Yisro joining Klal Yisrael in the desert. The Torah states that Yisro came with Tzipora and Moshe’s sons and says: (Shemos 18:3-4)… The name of one was Gershom, for he said “I was a stranger in a strange land”; and the name of the other was Eliezer, for “the G-d of my father came to my aid and saved me from the sword of Pharoah.”
The question raised by a number of Mefarshim is the order of the sons’ names. The first is named Gershom, which the Pasuk explains commemorates Moshe’s sojourn in a foreign land. The second one’s name, Eliezer, commemorates Moshe’s miraculous salvation from Pharoah. The names are seemingly reversed! The first born should have been named after the first event – which was Moshe’s being saved from Pharoah and the second should have been about being a stranger in Midian. How can this be understood?
HaRav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l in Sefer Darash Moshe (p. 54) asks a second question – how is sojourning in Midian something worth commemorating in a child’s name? What benefit did Moshe receive that he should memorialize the experience?
HaRav Feinstein answers that naming his son Gershom was a praise to Hashem for giving him the strength to remain In Midian as an alien sojourner, and not assimilate into the fabric of Midian society. A man of Moshe’s stature and abilities was surely in demand to qualify him for almost any leadership position he would have applied for. Moshe, however, preferred living in seclusion so he could serve Hashem without disturbance or temptation to adopt Midianite ways.
Being saved from Pharoah’s sword was only meaningful and of value if he could then remain free from the influence of his surroundings in Midian. This was the reason he named his son Gershom. Being saved from Pharoah’s sword and being blessed with a son to carry on his beliefs was only meaningful and of value if he could then remain free from the influence of his surroundings in Midian. Had he assimilated into the life of Midian he would have had no enduring reason to rejoice over having been saved from Pharoah. So once there was a spiritually anchored life in Midian, there was Gershom, and only after that became a reality was it meaningful to praise Hashem for his miraculous salvation from Pharoah, hence Eliezer came second.
How well or poorly we balance our lives as Torah Jews in the American Galus will have deep repercussions for our children. Experience has shown that communities without Yeshivas don’t survive even one generation. Families who may observe some basics but lack pride and passion in their Yiddishkeit are hard pressed to find even the second generation protected from intermarriage.
All the blessings that Hashem showers upon us are worthwhile … if we enjoy them …within our spiritual safe-zone.If our embrace of the non-Jewish American culture is too strong, despite our own inspiration and inclination to matters spiritual, our children may likely be drawn to the greater attraction of what’s outside, rather than emulating the internal feelings of the parent. The insurance of a Yeshiva education in guaranteeing our children remain faithful to our beliefs is meaningful, but it is only strong if we extend the fortress-like protection to our home. Allowing in the immoral decay of contemporary society through media and devices into our children’s minds and hearts minimize or may even eliminate the protection a Yeshiva education affords.
All the blessings that Hashem showers upon us are worthwhile and worthy of praise and thanksgiving, if we enjoy them within our Torah environment, our spiritual safe-zone. Protecting and nurturing our children in such an environment will guarantee our legacy of a Jewish future and will be the foundation for our children’s success and fulfillment.
Have a wonderful Shabbos,