At the beginning of the Parsha we read how Yitro came to Bnei Yisrael along with Moshe’s wife and two children. Not only are we informed of the names of Moshe’s sons, Gershom and Eliezer, but also the meaning behind each of their names. We have already been told about the birth of these boys - back in Parshat Shemot. (Gershom’s birth and name are explained and Eliezer’s birth is alluded to in the episode towards the end of Parshat Shemot when Tziporah circumcises her son in order to save Moshe’s life.) Since we have already been told the reason for Gershom’s name, why is that information repeated again here in Parshat Yitro?
If Yitro is bringing Moshe’s children with him, then the Torah is telling us that they, like Yitro, only heard about the events and miracles that occurred to Bnei Yisrael but they did not experience them firsthand. It is not clear from the Torah when exactly Moshe’s family left him and moved in with Yitro in Midyan, or why. We know that they are all together as Moshe makes his way back to Egypt to reunite with his brother Aharon and begin the process of redemption by initially approaching Pharaoh. But at some point Tziporah takes her sons and goes to live with her family.
Did Tziporah demand that her children not be subjected to the fear and uncertainty of the redemption process, especially since she had a home in Midyan where she could take refuge? Was Moshe, overwhelmed/ busy with the needs of the Jews that had to be in Egypt, amendable to the idea of not having to worry about his wife and sons during the most intense periods of Yetziat Mitzrayim and its aftermath?
It is only now, after the splitting of the sea, the miracle at Mara and the defeat of Amalek that Moshe’s sons finally come back to their nation. It was Yitro who made sure the reunion occurs at this time. Yitro is teaching Moshe, and all of us, a lesson by bringing the boys back, and this lessons is hinted at by repeating the reason behind Gershom’s name.
Moshe’s older son is Gershom because “Ger Hayiti B’eretz Nochriya” “I was a stranger in a foreign land”. Yitro is teaching Moshe: it is understandable and even commendable that you want to protect your sons from experiencing trauma and challenge and fear. But at some point you must stop protecting them and let them experience challenges. You named Gershom at a time in your life that you felt alone and distant and confused. Out of that difficult time you were able to persevere and become the greatest Jewish leader.
Now’s the time to allow your children to experience similar challenges. You can’t protect them forever, we can’t live in a bubble our whole lives. Sooner or later Moshe’s sons must join the Jewish People- and experience all of the challenges and hardships along with their brethren. Additionally, Yitro recalls Gershom’s name which reminds Moshe that real life entails an amalgam of joy and sadness- ie remembering that he was a stranger, while celebrating the birth of a child. By recalling the reason for Gershom’s name, Yitro is telling Moshe life contains an amalgam of joy and sadness, Hashem is with us through it all, and it was now time for Moshe’s sons to experience this along with the rest of Am Yisrael.
We want what’s best for our children, and we don’t like to see them experience any negative feelings or situations. And yet Yitro is reminding us that part of raising strong and resilient children is allowing them to be exposed to challenges, and encouraging them to grow from those experiences.