Friday, February 10, 2012

Stranger in a Strange Land

Parashat Yitro

By Michael Hirsch

There is a very strange occurrence at the very beginning of this week's parasha, Yitro. In 18:3, the third verse of the sedra, we are told, "And her (Moses' wife Zipporah) two sons; of whom the name of one was Gershom, for he (Moses) had said, 'I was a stranger in a strange land,'"

What makes this verse so odd is that we had already been advised in Exodus 2:22 of the explanation for Gershom's name. Was he such an outstanding/noteworthy personality that he is the only individual throughout the entire Torah requiring such a repeat? Far from it (no disrespect intended). So, why, then, the repetition?

The Ohr Hachaim believes it is due to the time that has elapsed since we were first introduced to Gershom; i.e., lest anyone believe there is another son named Gershom. My limited intellect has difficulty coming to grips with this explanation. Would anyone believe Moses and Zipporah had two sons both named Gershom?!?!

I believe there is a much more powerful message being transmitted to the reader via this repetition: any Jew not residing in the Land of Israel, even a Moses in whose time there was no Land of Israel, must look upon himself/herself as a stranger in a strange land!! It is a mantra—the Torah mentions it twice; those living in "galut" should employ it as well.

The history of the Jews in exile is rife with examples of what transpires when we lose sight of this fact. The Jews of Spain in the fifteenth century had grown very comfortable, fully-integrated into the highest levels of Spanish society. The Inquisition followed. Ditto the Jews of Germany eighty years ago. The Holocaust followed. We are warned not to "open our mouths to the devil," so I will not detail the numerous examples around the globe today of Jewish societies very much at ease, very "comfortable" with their state of affairs.

Beginning with the Second Intifada, many congregations outside Israel began reciting three chapters of Psalms (120,121,130) each day, beseeching G-D to protect their brethren residing in Israel. I believe the time has come for those selfsame congregations to integrate the above mantra—"I am a stranger in a strange land"—into their daily prayer service, in order to assist their congregants to break out of their amnesia-like state, to stop believing they are "home."

May G-D look out for them.

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