The Names of Moshe’s Children

Moshe Kempinski

The ability to move through difficult times and to anticipate redemption is not a genetic trait but rather a learned one. It is a trait that the Jewish people have had to adopt and assimilate through generations of exile and difficulties. It is a trait that even Moshe ( Moses) had to grow into as well.

We read how following the triumphant crossing of the Red sea and after the victorious first battle with Amalek, Yitro ( Jethro) the father in law of Moshe arrives on the scene.

“Now Moshe’ father in law, Jethro, the chieftain of Midian, heard all that G-d had done for Moshe and for Israel, His people that Hashem had taken Israel out of Egypt. So Moshe’ father in law, Jethro, took Zipporah, Moshe’ wife, after she had been sent away,” ( Exodus 18:1-3)

What exactly did he hear that prompted his joining Moshe and the people of Israel? Rashi combines the opinions of Rabbi Joshua and Rabbi Elazar in the talmud (Massechet Zevachim 116a), and sees both the splitting of the Red Sea and the victory over Amalek as being the impactful events that together brought about the spiritual and life implicating changes in Yitro.

These were also the events that changed the world’s perception of G-d (as we see in Exodus 15:14-16 and in Joshua 2:9-11) yet most of the world did nothing about it. Yitro, however, heard and he came. He heard and he acted.

What was it about these two events that would prompt such a leader to leave everything he knew and come to be with Moshe and his people?

Reb Simcha Bunim of Psyshcha explained how each of these events represent seemingly differing spiritual directions in this world. The “splitting of the red sea” represented G-d’s active and miraculous involvement in this world. The battle with Amalek represented how human striving and action can bring about G-d’s Divine intervention. Both are critical for the moving ahead of G-d’s ultimate plan of destiny. So he heard and came.

Yet the text hints at a change that occurred in someone else as well.

“So Moshes’ father in law, Jethro, took Zipporah, Moshe’ wife, after she had been sent away,and her two sons, one (Haechad)of whom was named Gershom, because he [Moshe] said, “I was a stranger in a foreign land,” and one( HaEchad) who was named Eliezer, because [Moshe said,] “The G-d of my father came to my aid and rescued me from Pharaoh’s sword.”( Exodus 18:2-4)

The naming of the sons of Moshe reveals much regarding the state of Moshe spiritual psyche at that time. He called one son Gershom, because Moshe painfully felt that “I was a stranger in a foreign land,”. He called the second one Eliezer, because he experienced to joy of “The G-d of my father came to my aid and rescued me from Pharaoh’s sword.” Two conflicting feelings experienced by the same great man.

Yet the choices of these name echoes a similar choice of names made by Joseph. In fact the great amount of similarities between Moshe and Joseph are truly astounding and revelatory. They both were exiled into the crystal prison of Pharaoh’s palace. They both felt a disconnection with their people. They both married women raised in pagan societies. Yet most importantly neither lost the yearning to reconnect their bond with their people.

When we read that when Joseph names his children he also explains his choices.

“And Joseph named the firstborn ( HaBechor) Manasseh, for “G-d has caused me to forget all my toil and all my father’s house.” And the second one ( HaSheni) he named Ephraim, for “G-d has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”( Genesis 41:51-52)

We read of one son and then a second one. Here too, we sense the pain of loss and sadness associated with one name and the joy of redemption with the other.

Yet I could not help but notice a dramatic difference as well.

With Joseph we read a logical sentence structure that talks of a first born son (HaBechor) and then of a second (Hashem ). Events that flow from one to the other.

This is not the case with the naming of Moshe’s sons. There we read of, “one (Haechad)of whom was named Gershom, .. and one( HaEchad) who was named Eliezer”. That is to say that there is “one son” and then another “one son”. Seemingly separated events. Why would that be?

Names are both revealing of the present and the future.

We read in Genesis;
“And out of the ground Hashem G-d formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto the man to see what he would call them; and whatsoever the man would call every living creature, that was to be the name thereof. (Genesis 2:19)”.

From this the Holy Ari teaches that the name the parents choose for their baby is actually a ‘small prophecy’. The choice of name given by parents is in fact a prophetic inspiration of the exact name destined for that child. That name then defines the child’s potential, direction or his or her challenge. Yet at the same time it is also formed by the spiritual state of the parent making the choice.

When Moshe left his brethren in Egypt and escaped into Midian he was a broken man .He felt the pain of being “a stranger in a foreign land”. He also experienced joys and mercies .Yet he did not yet understand that the two spiritual experiences were inexorably linked. So the text describes the naming of one child as ‘the one'( Haechad), followed by the naming of the second as “the one” ( HaEchad)

It was only after the experience of the Exodus, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the complaints and difficulties of the journey did he realize what Joseph intuitively knew. There is always “a first” followed by “a second” as we move along the plan of Hashem’s purpose. They are connected and flow from one to the other. Redemption always comes through trials and tribulations.

In the beginning of this journey we hear Moshe crying out “O Hashem! Why have You harmed this people? Why have You sent me?”( Exodus 5:22). Yet it is later that we see that Moshe has himself understood this deep spiritual truth .It is then that we hear the same Moshe responding to the fears of his people with the declaration “Don’t be afraid! Stand firm and see Hashem’s salvation “(ibid 14:13)

Rabbi Akiva taught the Aramaic idiom, “Kol man d’avid Rachmana l’tav avid- “All that the Merciful One does, He does for good.”

That is the lesson for us all as we experiences the twisting turnings in our personal lives and in the lives of our people.
The keys of growth in this journey seem to be faith patience and hopeful expectancy. May Hashem grant us those qualities.

LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved

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