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Following his experience at the burning bush, Moshe went down to Egypt and led the Bnei Yisrael from there – and now in Parshat Yitro we read how, at long last, Moshe was reunited with his family: Tzipora and their children, Gershom and Eliezer. And how are the two sons described? “Shem ha’echad Gershom”, and then a few words later, “ve shem ha’echad Eliezer.” The name of one was Gershom and the name of one was Eliezer. Now, there’s something wrong here with the terminology:
Throughout the Torah, if you’ve got a list of more than one person, it’s ‘echad’ – one, and then ‘sheini’ – the second – such as in the list of the days of creation. So the Torah should have said, “Shem ha’echad Gershom; ve shem ha’sheini Eliezer” – Gershom was the first and Eliezer was the second. Why one and one?
I’d like to suggest that Moshe was acutely aware of what had transpired in the book of Bereishit. You could easily give a subtitle to Bereishit: “The Book of the dysfunctional family”. Just about every family written about in the book had problems with regard to relationships. There were deep divisions, hatred – even attempted fratricide.
Now Moshe and Tzipporah were raising their own family and they realized that at the heart of the issues in sefer Bereishit was the question of seniority. Who was the bachur, the firstborn? Who had greater rights and who was in a secondary position?
They didn’t want that type of thing for their children. Moshe and Tzipporah, in their own family unit, wanted to recognise that each one of their children would be somebody special in his own right. There wouldn’t be a number one and a number two.
Rather, “Shem ha’echad Gershom” – Gershom, for them, was the one and only. “Ve shem ha’echad Eliezer” and Eliezer too, was the one and only Eliezer.
The message for us, in raising our families today, is that there are enough problems out there, in terms of relationships and tensions. In our family units, let our children know that each and every one of them is a special person in his or her own right.
Every single one is an ‘echad’ – a one and only.