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Teach your children well

  • ParshaRabbiPink
While most in-law jokes target the mother-in-law, in this week’s portion, it is the father-in-law – specifically Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses – who interferes to tell Moses how to run his business.
by Rabbi Pini Pink, Chabad Greenstone | Feb 01, 2018

In this week’s portion, Jethro joins the Israelite camp with Moses’ two sons, Gershom and Eliezer. Named while Moses lived in Midyan, Gershom’s name – ‘ger/shom’ (meaning ‘a stranger in that place’) – reminded Moses that he was an outsider in Midyan, while Eliezer’s name – ‘E-l/ezra’ (G-d was my saviour) – was to commemorate G-d coming to Moses’ assistance when Pharaoh had sought to kill him.

The order of the names, however, is troubling. Pharaoh had sought to kill Moses before he fled to Midyan, so why is the older son called for the later event, and the younger son for the earlier event?

There is a profound Midrash which teaches that Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, had demanded as a condition in his daughter’s marriage that Moses’ firstborn would be allowed to find his own feet in religion and not be educated in Jewish rites, much like Jethro found his own way to the Jewish religion. Jethro pronounces in this week’s parsha: “Now I know that G-d is greater than all the other gods.” He had travelled extensively, explored many beliefs and come to the conclusion that the Jewish G-d was the only One. He wanted his grandson to follow his own path too as he felt that coming to the appreciation of G-d of his own accord would engender a stronger love for Judaism.

Moses was unhappy with this idea. The Jewish view is that a child’s earliest years are their most important ones. He knew that Jewish education starts the moment a child is born. So, Moses called his son Gershom – a stranger because we were there – to remind him that this was not the Jewish way.

This past week was Tu B’Shvat, the new year for trees. There is a verse which reads “Ki ha’adam etz hasadeh” – man is compared to a tree in the field.

A child in the first few years of life resembles a seed. During these years, the child is moulded into the person, the adult, they will eventually become. Born so innocent and pure, a child is most impressionable during the early years, and affected more by their surroundings and environment than at a later stage.

Similarly, a seed is most vulnerable before it has begun to sprout or grow roots. Not yet grounded, the little seed is at the mercy of its surroundings. A surplus of rain can make the seed drown, and too little water may dry it out, whereas a fully grown tree would, at most, become slightly withered.

History proved that Moses was right – Gershom’s son became a priest for idol worship, not exactly a good job for a Jewish boy. One of the biggest gifts we can give the next generation is a solid foundation in their Judaism.

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