SHEMOS (Exodus, 1:1-6:1) — “My Grandson the Priest”

Jethro was a man of great integrity.  Having served as the High Priest of Midian, he had been, in the past, highly respected in that country.  The problem was that after much thought, he decided that he no longer believed in the national religion.  He could have “faked it” and kept his job and his reputation.  But he wouldn’t do that.  (I know of a case where a priest asked one of his bishops for advice; he had trouble accepting several of teachings of the Church.  “No problem,” said the bishop.  “Don’t worry about it.  Many of us feel the same way.  Just do your job!” — Today, that priest is a Jew.)

Jethro informed his countrymen that he could no longer continue as their prelate.  (Can you imagine what the reaction would be if the pope were to trade in his white yarmulke for a black one and a pair of Tzitzis?!!!)  As a result, he and his family were ostracized and harassed:

The Priest of Midian had seven daughters.  They came and drew water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s sheep.  The shepherds came and chased them away… (Exodus, 2:16)

Along came Moses, who assisted them.  Jethro was very appreciative of Moses’ assistance.  Rashi tells us that Jethro recognized that Moses was an Israelite; he proposed a match with one of his daughters.

But there was a catch.

The Baal HaTurim quotes a fascinating Midrash that states that Jethro attached a stipulation to the match.  Jethro would only agree to allow Moses to marry his daughter on the condition that the oldest son would be raised to be a priest of idol worship.

Pretty amazing, no?  Want to hear something even more amazing?  Moses agreed!!

Why would either one of them want to see such a thing happen?  Jethro had abandoned the idol worship of his past.  Moses had been raised to know that such a thing was an abomination.  What was going on?

Sifsei Chachomim explains that Jethro’s conversion to Judaism was a work in progress.  At this point in his life he had rejected MIDIONITE idolatry, but there were still plenty of other denominations to try out.  In fact, our Sages tell us that Jethro had experimented with ALL the world’s religions and eventually rejected them all before he accepted Judaism as the true path.  At the time of his daughter’s marriage to Moses, he wasn’t there yet.  He wanted his grandson to practice his new religion (whatever that was.)

And why did Moses agree to such a crazy idea?  The Baal HaTurim explains that Moses knew where Jethro was eventually headed.  He knew that he would have a positive influence on his father-in-law.  It was a safe bet.  In fact, well before Moses’ firstborn son Gershom was grown up, Jethro had converted to Judaism and had abandoned his earlier ambitions for his grandson’s career.

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Another explanation that I have heard is that Jethro was already there.  He rejected it all, and was approaching the point where he would convert to Judaism.  But he was troubled by one thing.

Jethro had sampled the theologies of the world.  He knew from personal experience that it was all wrong.  As a result, his faith was rock-solid.  But what of his grandson?  If Gershom would be raised in a Glatt Kosher home with Glatt Kosher values and attend a Glatt Kosher yeshiva, and never be exposed to the realities of the outside world, he would never learn to think for himself!

Wouldn’t it be better, reasoned Jethro, for Gershom to see all that the world has to offer, and then come to the conclusion, as Jethro had done, that it was wrong?  Then Gershom would have a stronger appreciation for the Torah.  He would be as firm in his beliefs as his grandfather was!

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There is a certain amount merit to Jethro’s logic.  There are many “Baalei Teshuvah”, literally “returnees”, who have accepted Torah Judaism later in life.  They have seen it all and tried it all.  Their dedication to Torah is uncompromising.  (See  “An ‘FFB’ Marries a ‘BT’“) Very often, people from religious homes, who haven’t “run the gauntlet,” don’t have the same appreciation of their heritage.  As a result, it sometimes happens that they are more “casual” in their commitment.

So could it be that it’s not such a bad idea?

NO!!! It’s a terrible idea!  Sometimes it does turn out that way, but at what cost the risk? While it may be true that sampling “forbidden fruits” makes one stronger when they come back, what happens if they don’t come back?!  Does it really make sense to abandon Torah in order to observe the Torah?  (“Honest, Sweetheart, the only reason I was unfaithful to you was so I would love you all the more when I finally came home.  I did it for YOU!!”)

It is mind-boggling that so many people abdicate their parental responsibilities to television, Internet, and unrestricted access to any friends their children want to associate with.  Rather than provide moral guidance to their children, they allow them unfettered exposure to all the garbage that the “modern” world has to offer.

“Oh, I don’t want to put limitations on my child’s education.  I don’t think it’s fair to force my values on my children.  They will learn about the world and learn to make responsible decisions.”

Then they cry “how could he/she do this to me?” when their children turn their backs on them and their values.  (Or, at least they used to.  Many parents simply don’t care.  “I’m ok, you’re ok.”)

In the final analysis, every person has free will.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give our children the guidance they desperately need to help them make good decisions.

Moses led us to Mount Sinai where we heard G-d tell us how to live our lives.  It wasn’t a suggestion; it was an order.  We are required to serve G-d and observe His commandments.  It is not our job to “strengthen” our children’s faith (or our own!) by weakening it.

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In the end, there was no harm done, right?  As the Baal HaTurim points out, Moses succeeded in changing Jethro’s outlook, and Gershom was never harmed by the evils of idolatry, right?

Well, yes and no.

The Book of Judges (18:30) tells us of a Levite and his children who served as idolatrous priests.  His name was Jonathan, son of Gershom, son of Manasseh.  In the text, the Hebrew letter “Nun” in the word “Manasseh” is suspended above the other three letters.

The remaining letters spell “Moshe.”  Jonathan, son of Gershom, son of Manasseh?  No.  It’s actually Jonathan, son of Gershom, son of MOSES!  Rashi and other commentaries write that in Moses’ honor, the text altered his name so as not to directly associate him with his sinful grandson.

Maybe  it wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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 From the Archives 

“My Grandson’s Bris – 2” (2010) 

Read More.

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“My Grandson the Priest” (2009) 

… Jethro recognized that Moses was an Israelite; he proposed a match with one of his daughters.

But there was a catch…Jethro would only agree to allow Moses to marry his daughter on the condition that the oldest son would be raised to be a priest of idol worship.

Pretty amazing, no?  Want to hear something even more amazing?  Moses agreed!! …

Read More.

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“Mrs. Moses: Certified Mohelet??!” (2008) 

Several years ago I was driving in the car listening to a discussion on the radio about circumcision.  Being a Mohel myself, I was, of course, very interested in the conversation.  I listened with curiosity and apprehension.

I get very uncomfortable when religious Jews call radio shows.  It is very difficult to explain a profound religious concept in a cogent and articulate manner when the host has his own ideas and can cut you off in mid-sentence.  Yet, the calls were coming in, and the host maintained that circumcision is done for health reasons.

Then an Italian lady called and said that she had her boys circumcised for health reasons, and was glad she did.  He said, “Thank you, dear,” and hung up.  Then he asked, “Hey, I wonder if a lady is allowed to be a Mohel.”

I braced myself for the responses.  A short time later, the host said, “Our next caller, from RocklandCounty, is Moysheh.  Hello, Moysheh.”

“Hello, Mr. Grant.  This is Moishe-the-Moyel from Monsey!”…

Read More.

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“Mrs. Moses Goes Home to Father” (2007)

… Moses was about to get a promotion.  He was about to become the Shepherd of Israel.   G-d assigned Moses the crucial task of leading his People out of Egypt.  There was, however, a problem.  There was the matter of his pre-nuptial agreement…

At one point, Zipporah decided to pack up the boys and go home.  There are various reasons given by the Commentaries.  The Chasam Sofer suggests that all was not well in the ben-Amram family…

Moses’ wife …went home.  … She would not accompany him to Egypt…

So what changed her mind? …

Read More.

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“The Secret Password” (2006)

What are the credentials of a savior of Israel? Imagine the scene:

The Sages of Israel have been summoned to a meeting. They have been enduring unspeakable horrors due to the agonizing slavery that his been placed upon them by their Egyptian taskmasters.  The meeting has been called by a fugitive, a wanted man.  Moses, the twelve-year-old son of Amram the Levite had absconded from Egypt to escape a murder conviction.  Now, as an eighty year-old man, he has returned to Egypt with an announcement…

Do we listen to Moses? Is he for real?  Is he on the level?  We haven’t seen this fellow in sixty-eight years! Suddenly he shows up with a Messianic proclamation, and he expects us to risk our skins by going to the Pharaoh with such an outrageous request!?

They bought it…

Read More.

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 “Pain in the Ukraine” (2004)

… A Mohel went to the Ukraine to usher Jewish men into the Covenant of Abraham.  As a fifteen-year-old Yeshiva student lay on the table, the Mohel read his medical chart.  The boy, as it turned out, was allergic to the anesthesia that the Mohel had brought from the U.S…  The Bris would have to be delayed… No, insisted the boy.  He wanted to have his Bris!  He would not get off the table.  He was adamant.  He was already fifteen years late; he would wait no longer!…The Mohel set out to do his holy work.  There was skin tissue to cut, and wounds to suture and cauterize.  The young man just lay there and endured it all.

He tried to be stoic and motionless.  Throughout the excruciating pain, he was silent.  But finally, he could be silent no more. It was just too painful.  He let out a blood-curdling scream…

Read More.

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“Watch Your Step!” (2004)

… I walked into my Bible class at one of the facilities where I am a chaplain, and presented them with a provocative question.  “How do we know,” I asked, “that G-d gave the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai?”

I wasn’t quite prepared for the response.  A little lady with a kerchief on her head — I’ll call her “Mrs. Cohen” — who almost always sat quietly through my various classes, called out, in a very German accent, “Because it says so in the Tow-raw!” (For those unfamiliar with the German pronunciation: Tow-raw — “Tow,” rhyming with “now”, and “raw,” rhyming with “saw.”)

I was frustrated.  She broke my momentum.  Sure, I thought, SHE believes that, but what about every one else?

“Yes, of course,” I continued, “it says so in the Torah.  But how do we know that the Torah’s description is actually what happened?”

“Because it says so in the Tow-raw!”

I gave up…

Read More.

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“A Tale of Two Kings” (2002) 

[TORAH TALK IN THE JEWISH PRESS:  This message from 2002, updated for the 2007 political season, appeared as an Op-Ed in the Jewish Press.]

…The Egyptians were concerned about the growth of the Jewish population. The Israelites were increasing by leaps and bounds. … The Egyptian people demanded that their king address their “Jewish Problem.”

The king, who at first had demonstrated a bit of integrity, refused. He couldn’t bring himself to take action against Joseph’s people. Joseph had been so good to Egypt. The masses wouldn’t take no for an answer. They ousted the king.

Spending three months as an ex-king was more than he could bear. Thus, “a new king arose over Egypt, who didn’t know Joseph.” The “new” king with a new attitude conveniently “didn’t know,” or, at least ACTED as if he didn’t know Joseph. The persecution began…

Read More.

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“Mother Goose Lied to Us!” (2002)

Moses was pained over the status of his nation.  They were persecuted and afflicted.  The Israelites weren’t just slaves who were forced to work; they were treated like animals.  Moses couldn’t understand why the Children of Israel were suffering so greatly.  He couldn’t understand why G-d had not yet taken His People out of Egypt.  Was He angry with them?…

 Read More.

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“A Helping Hand” (2001)

…Bisya adopted the child and raised him in the palace.  She named him Moshe, “because I drew him (“MISHISIYHU” in Hebrew) from the water.”  (Exodus, 2:10) … the name “Moshe” seems to be grammatically incorrect.    A more accurate name would be “Mashui,” which would mean “one who is drawn.” …

Read More.

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2013 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on January 15, 2009 at 11:13 am  Leave a Comment  

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