S.A.L.T. - Sunday, 16 Shevat 5777 - February 12, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg

            We read towards the beginning of Parashat Yitro of the names Moshe gave to his two sons, Gershom and Eliezer.  The name “Gershom” is rooted in the word ger (“foreigner”), and was chosen to express the fact that Moshe lived as a foreigner in Midyan, having been forced to flee from Egypt (18:3).  “Eliezer” is a combination of the words Kel (“God”) and ezer (“help”), and celebrates God’s assisting Moshe when Pharaoh sought to have him executed for killing an Egyptian taskmaster (18:4).

            The Ba’al Ha-turim notes a subtle distinction between these two verses.  In mentioning the name “Gershom,” the Torah explains that this name was given “because he [Moshe] said, ‘I was a foreigner in a strange land’.”  When it comes to Eliezer, however, the Torah says simply, “And the name of the [other] one was Eliezer, because ‘The God of my father assisted me…’”  The Torah here omits the words, “He said,” and instead quotes Moshe’s proclamation that led him to name his son “Eliezer,” without saying that these words were spoken by Moshe.

            The Ba’al Ha-turim suggests that the omission of the phrase “Moshe said” indicates that Moshe did not actually verbalize these words.  Although this remark is the background to the name “Eliezer,” they were not actually spoken, because Moshe did not wish to publicize the fact that he killed an Egyptian and thus needed God’s special protection.  He thought this in his mind, without expressing these sentiments or the memory of that experience publicly.

            Rav Chaim Elazary, in his Darkhei Chayim, finds it significant that, according to the Ba’al Ha-turim, Moshe chose to keep his heroic act, of rescuing a beaten Israelite slave, silent.  There was certainly no shame in intervening to kill a violent Egyptian taskmaster whipping an oppressed slave.  This act, undoubtedly, was noble, courageous and heroic, for which Moshe deserved to feel proud.  Nevertheless, he felt it necessary to conceal this noble deed and not speak about it.  Rav Elazary explains that not every worthwhile and noble act should be openly discussed.  Even in regard to life-saving situations, when killing is justified and even constitutes a mitzva, it is not appropriate to speak openly about what happened.  Taking human life is sometimes necessary for the sake of protecting human life, but it is improper for such deeds to become the stuff of casual conversation and public discourse.  We need to exercise careful discretion in deciding which subjects should be brought out into the open for public consumption, and which should be kept quiet.  Just as Moshe chose not to speak about his violent encounter with the taskmaster, we, too, must carefully choose which information we disclose and which to keep discreet.