Rabbi Simcha Feuerman, DHL, LCSW-R
Our Gemara on Amud Beis discusses Hashem telling Moshe that he now can return to Egypt, as “Those who have been seeking to kill you are now dead.” Moshe was a wanted man with his picture hanging in the Pitom and Ramses post office, for killing the Egyptian, so this was good news.
Moshe had two sons in Midian, Gershom and Eliezer. Gershom named, Ger-Shom, meaning I was a stranger there. And Eliezer, Keyli-Ezri, my God saved me from the sword of Pharaoh. (See Shemos 18:3-4. As an important aside, it is difficult for us to fully appreciate how technology impacts on culture but human need remains the same. In the ancient world, they did not have Snapfish or photo albums, and so they used mnemonics to remember special events such as the circumstances of somebody’s birth. Sometimes the names were quite ugly, but they still were significant because people needed to remember what happened. See later on Daf 66b a woman named “Lachluchis”, which means dirty. Or in the biblical narrative, Binyamin was called “Son of my pain”, “ben oni” by his mother, though his father, probably too perturbed by this memory, reworded it as right hand son “ben Yamin”, see Bereishis 35:18. Or worse, poor “Ma’acha”, who must have come out deformed and mushed, which is the pashut pshat why she was named ma’acha Bereishis 22:24, midrashim notwithstanding,)
In any case, Chizkuni (ibid 2:22) raises a question as to why Moshe did not name his first son Eliezer because he should have been thankful at that time for having escaped Pharaoh’s grasp. He answers, because he still was a wanted man and in some danger (oetgais there was an extradition treaty with Midian), so his thankfulness was not complete. Therefore, his first son was named after being a stranger because it aptly described his situation at the time. He only named the second son Eleazar after he already got word that those who sought his death were no longer alive.
One might wonder, isn’t that a bit ungrateful? After all, Moshe did escape and he was saved. Why was he waiting to thank God until he was completely out of danger?
The idea of honesty in prayer is something not often stressed but I believe important theologically. In order to have a connection that is authentic, we must be honest with ourselves and then with God. There are sources in Chazal that stress the importance of honest language in prayer, (There is a special focus on precision and honesty in prayer, see for example Mishna Berura 46:33, 197:24, 582:16, 591:12, 623:2, .Baer Heytev 475:9, 591:8, Magen Avrohom 299:9, Also see Maharal Be’er Hagolah, Be’er 4:12. Also the whole idea that the rabbis needed to fix a particular nusach for prayer itself speaks of the importance of precision, see Rambam Tefillah 1:4 which implies this. In addition, see Zohar I:184a, where a similar idea is expressed, namely that one must pray with clarity.) Of course, this makes praying when you are not in the right frame of mind a serious challenge, especially if you are honest with yourself. As with many things in life, the real work comes in the preparation before the event and not the event itself. It is then not surprising that the ancient pious would spend one hour meditating before prayer, and one hour after prayer (see Berachos 32b).
Translations Courtesy of Sefaria, except when, sometimes, I disagree with the translation
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