Summary by Channie Koplowitz Stein
After all the miracles Hashem wrought for Bnei Yisroel in Egypt and after Hashem split the Sea to save Bnei Yisroel and drown the Egyptians, Yitro, Moshe's father-in-law, hears of all these wonders, internalizes them, and goes to join up with Bnei Yisroel. He brings Moshe's wife and two sons to reunite with Moshe. The Torah here mentions the names of the sons and again explains the reasoning behind each name: "The name of one was Gershom, for he had said, 'I was a stranger in a strange land,' and the name of one was Eliezer, for 'the God of my father came to my aid and He saved me from the sword of Pharaoh.' "
Several questions arise. First, why repeat the names and their explanations at this time when we were already told, at least of Gershom almost exactly the same words in Parshat Shemot, " For he said, 'I have been a stranger in a strange land.' "Secondly, the logical order would seem to dictate that the first son should be called Eliezer, for Moshe was able to flee successfully from Pharaoh after Moshe killed the Egyptian. Only then did he reside as a stranger in Midian. Finally, each is referred to in the Hebrew as "the one", rather than "the one" and "the other". Yet with all these questions, we are still told that the placement of these verses here is an appropriate introduction to the first of the Ten Commandments, to, "I am the Lord your God Who has taken you out of Egypt..."
Ramban provides a simple explanation. Now, when all the dangers are past, is an appropriate time to thank Hashem for all the good He has done, especially since we do not have Eliezer's name earlier. And now Hashem has informed Moshe that those who wished to kill him were no longer alive, and only now could Moshe feel he was no longer a fugitive and could safely return to Egypt. Only now could Moshe thank Hashem for saving him from Pharaoh, while all this time he had felt he was a stranger in a strange land. Therefore, naming his first son Gershom and his second son Eliezer is indeed the appropriate order.
The Imre Shefer posits that the name Eliezer was actually a prophetic name referring to Hashem saving Bnei Yisroel from Pharaoh and his hordes at the Reed Sea. Therefore, it's most appropriate that the Torah did not tell us his name when he was born before Moshe's return to Egypt.
These names were names not just for Moshe's son but remained as constant reminders of Hashem's help to Moshe and later to the descendants of the flock he shepherded throughout the ages, writes the Menachem Zion. Our nation will constantly be strangers in strange lands, but in all our difficulties and challenges we must remember that the "One is my God, the God of my father" Who will always be with me to save me.
Rabbi Beyfus in Yalkut Lekach Tov puts a different slant on this idea. Citing the Chofetz Chaim z”l and Rabbi Feinstein z’l, he notes that Moshe was living with Yitro, a man who was a priest in an alien culture. Naming his son Gershom would be a constant reminder that they were strangers in this land and would help them retain their separateness and uniqueness so that they would not assimilate into the culture that surrounded them. Only after Moshe saw that we could retain our Jewish identity did he feel comfortable in thanking Hashem for His help in retaining that identity for, if he and the Jewish people had become assimilated, we would not have been worthy of salvation. Indeed, this is the message for all of us to maintain our Jewish pride and Jewish identity wherever we find ourselves. This was the promise of Hashem to Avraham Avinu, your descendants will be strangers in a strange land but they will never lose their identity, they will retain their uniqueness in clothing, in names, and in many other ways. And then I will redeem them writes Rabbi Nissan Alpert z”l in Limudei Nissan.
The message contained in these names goes even further, writes Rabbi Frand, and is a message that carries over throughout time. It's as if Moshe was saying, "Look at me. I was totally privileged, a prince growing up in the king's palace. Yet my fortunes turned overnight, and I became a stranger in a strange land." Our history is replete with similar national examples. We were a highly privileged community in Spain, our golden age coinciding with theirs. Great Jews were ministers and doctors in the king's palace. Yet those fortunes turned, and in 1492 all Jews were expelled from Spain. The same pattern could be seen in Germany, yet one hundred years later Germany foisted the Holocaust of the Jews on the world. We are privileged to live in a medinah shel chessed, a nation full of chessed and kindness where we enjoy all privileges and rights. Yet, there are no guarantees. The name Gershom reminds us of this truth and the name Eliezer reminds us that we always need Hashem's help and can always rely only on Him.
This very same message is alluded to in the first Dibrah, the first of the Ten Utterances at Sinai, contends the Netivot Shalom. It's not just that we accept Hashem as our God, but also that we constantly remember that He took us out of Egypt, and that He can take us out of any of our exiles and situations. We must never lose hope. It is this Utterance that helps us stay focused on anticipating the salvation, and it is this name that Moshe constantly said to himself as a mantra to remember that he is always the Ivri, the one who is different, the stranger awaiting Hashem's salvation, writes Rabbi Mordechai Ezrachi in Birkat Mordechai.
Even as a prince in Egypt, Moshe felt himself a stranger and identified with his Jewish brothers, for he went out to see their burdens and to help them carry those burdens, continues Rabbi Schorr. He suffered with them, identified with them, and could not focus on his own personal pain until he was chosen as the redeemer. We who live in relative ease here in the States must not forget the constant danger so many of our brethren still face in Eretz Yisroel and in other countries.
Rabbi Yosef Fogel notes in Siach Yosef that one of the 48 aspects through which one can acquire Torah is through empathy, truly feeling the pain of another. When Bnei Yisroel camped at Sinai, the Torah records that they camped, using the singular form of the verb. Rashi explains that they were united with one heart, and Targum Yonasan expands on this by saying that they were united in feeling for one another They felt each others' pain and sorrow as well as each others' joy. This is how we should relate to each other Our concern for a sick neighbor should not end when he says he's feeling better, but should continue as we check up on him and see that he has what he needs to keep feeling better and has a full recovery. Can we put ourselves in the shoes of a poor person asking for a handout so that we not only give them a handout but give them dignity as well?
Rabbi Wolbe z”l notes that we must show that we care about the other individual, for part of personal suffering, as King David writes of his personal journey in Tehillim, is that he looked right and left and no one recognized him, noted him, cared about him. Be concerned, and even if you can do nothing substantive, you can always pray for another. This idea is applicable to the whole as well as to the individual. When Moshe was in Midian, he could do nothing for Bnei Yisroel, but through the names he gave his sons, he kept their situation always at the forefront on his consciousness. This is similar to Leah's naming her fourth son Yehudah, saying "This time I will thank Hashem," writes Rabbi Meislish is Sichot Baavodat Hashem. Leah was not limiting herself to thanking Hashem this one time. Rather, every time she called her son by his name, she would remember to thank Hashem. The names of our children remain in our consciousness. This is how Moshe trained himself to continue to be sensitive to his brothers and to believe in their ultimate salvation.
Taking this idea in a more esoteric direction, Rabbi Rebobo in Minchat Michoel notes that we are all strangers in this world until we reach our final destination in the World to Come. If we remember this concept, we will not waste our limited time on this world, for it is only here that we can earn our merits for the final lifetime, similar to a man going on a business trip for a limited time who will use his time to make every good deal possible to sustain him for the coming year, writes Rabbi Beyfus. This is how the Shlah Hakadosh interprets the term am haaretz, someone who is "a man of the land (earth)". He considers himself only of this world, without contemplating the effects his actions have on the future world, as Bnei Olam Habo lead their lives.
We are in this world for such a limited time, and we owe Hashem so much gratitude. It is not a one time thank you, but an obligation 24/7. This intellectual knowledge may be what the Medrash refers to as the har kegigit, the overturned mountain Hashem would have buried us under had we not accepted the Torah. But Hashem wants an emotional connection to us as well as an intellectual connection, writes Rabbi Fryman z”l in Shaarei Derech. If we are to read the Ten Utterances correctly, we will note that Hashem speaks to us in the singular, "I am Hashem your (personal, singular) God Who took you (yourself) out of Egypt." While we know we must serve God, we should desire to serve God out of love and gratitude. It is the presence of God in our lives that makes our lives in this world meaningful.
Hashem speaks to each of us as individuals. Similarly, Moshe named each of his children as an individual. "One was named... and one was named..." There was not one and then another. This fine point is often lost in translation as the translator writes, "One was named... and the other was named." Just as Hashem sees the uniqueness of each of us, so did Moshe, and each son has greatness in himself, writes the Be'er Moshe. As parents and as teachers, we must also see the uniqueness and recognize the individuality of each of our children, never seeing them as clones of each other or as number two, number three, or number four, adds Rabbi Dunner z”l in Mikdash Halevi. We must never compare our children to each other, but appreciate each for the unique combination of traits that comprise his character.
When we recognize and accept the unique qualities of the individual child, we can begin to teach him according to his own path, to serve Hashem as only he can, and not try to mold him into what we, his parents, think he should be. Each child reflects a different aspect of Hakodosh Boruch Hu Himself. Our job is to uncover that aspect and nurture it, and point him in the right direction. Rabbi Friefeld z”l provides a beautiful analogy for this idea. Hashem has given each of us a different set of raw materials, and we are the artists. It is up to each of us to take our particular materials of life, our circumstances, strengths, even weaknesses, and make of our lives a unique and priceless living work of art that emerges from these materials. No two will ever be the same.
That's why Man was created as a single entity, adds Rabbi Wolbe z”l. That's why each of us is a complete world. And that's why this passage is a perfect introduction to receiving the Torah, for Hashem spoke to each of us individually at Mount Sinai, and although together we saw the mountain, and together we heard Hashem's voice, the words themselves of each Utterance were spoken to each of us as individuals, in the singular. Each of us was given the Torah in a way we could hear to fulfill our unique roles.
Each child has a name. Each child has an individual purpose, and Hashem has a unique relationship with each of us.