SALT - Sunday, 12 Shevat 5778 - January 28, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Torah in Parashat Yitro briefly mentions the names of Moshe’s two sons, and the reasons for these names: “One’s name was Gershom, because he [Moshe] said, ‘I was a foreigner [ger] in a strange land’; and one’s name was Eliezer, because ‘my father’s God assisted me [Elokei avi be-ezri] and saved me from Pharaoh’s sword’” (18:3-4).
            A number of commentators noted that the word “amar” (“he said”) is omitted from the Torah’s explanation of Eliezer’s name.  Whereas in reference to Gershom’s name the Torah makes it clear that Moshe said, “I was a foreigner” which formed the basis of this name, when it comes to Eliezer the Torah writes only, “because ‘my father’s G-d assisted me,’” without saying that these words were spoken by Moshe.  The simplest explanation, as Ibn Ezra writes, is that the word “amar” used in the context of Gershom’s name refers also to the explanation for Eliezer’s name, and there was thus no need to mention it in the latter context.
            The Riva (one of the Tosafists), however, suggests that this omission points to a difference between Moshe’s two proclamations which he commemorated through the names of his sons.  The Torah writes that Moshe said “I was a foreigner” because this was spoken on one occasion.  The second proclamation, however – “My father’s God assisted me” – was something that Moshe said regularly, and not just at one particular time.  This was something that he carried within his mind and heart constantly, and which he frequently expressed, and this is indicated by the omission of the word “amar,” which would imply that these words were articulated just once.
            The message which the Riva here conveys is clear: we should be reflecting upon our blessings and our appreciation of all what we have far more than we reflect upon our troubles and hardships.  It is certainly natural, and acceptable, to express one’s distress and anguish, just as Moshe expressed his disadvantaged position as “a foreigner in a strange land.”  However, when reflecting upon our lives, our primary point of focus must be on “Elokei avi be-ezri” – all the many blessings that we’ve been granted, all the ways in which we have been helped, all the good fortune we have received for which we should feel grateful.  Many times, we find ourselves doing just the opposite – underscoring in our minds our struggles and difficulties, and overlooking our good fortune.  The Riva, noting the Torah’s subtle shift in its discussion of the names of Moshe’s sons, teaches us to focus our attention on the many blessings we have been given, and to minimize, as much as possible, our feelings of grief and frustration over our struggles in life.