By now we realize that names are significant for a variety of reasons. The prophetic characteristic of a name is one reason that is demonstrated beautifully in the opening verses of this week’s portion.

“Now Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, had taken Zipporah, Moses’ wife, after he had sent her home, along with her two sons. The name of the one was Gershom (for he said, ‘I have been a sojourner in a foreign land’), and the name of the other, Eliezer (for he said, ‘The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh’).” Exodus 18:2-4

If you recall Exodus 2, Gershom is the only son mentioned yet two chapters’ later Scripture mentions Moses’ “sons.” (Ex. 4:20) Referring back to the verse in this week’s portion the intention for delaying the revelation of Eliezer’s name appears clear. At the time, the children of Israel only understood the oppression and the aberrancy of dwelling in a foreign land. Now, they are no longer enslaved and the source of deliverance is reiterated through the mention of Eliezer.

On a more practical note, I marveled at the simple conversation between Jethro and Moses and plan to use it as an example of the proper conversational sequence.

“Then Moses told his father-in-law all that the L-RD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had come upon them in the way, and how the L-RD had delivered them.” Exodus 18:8

The sequence is as follows: Speak of the blessings and the mighty acts of G-d, then mention the challenges you have faced, and finally share how G-d has enabled you to overcome those challenges. Begin and end with praising L-RD. The same sequence is practiced when we eat. We bless G-d before and after. It is certainly no coincidence that both activities involve our mouth. If you have had the opportunity to read the ruminations of the Chofetz Chaim and/or the book of Proverbs you will begin to grasp the vacillating tendency of our mouth and the devastating punishments for misuse. Moses and Jethro’s conversation was important and it sets a high standard for our daily communication. The habitual practice of blessing G-d in each new conversation greatly reduces the opportunity to sin with our mouths.

In conclusion, this portion contains many manifestations of G-d’s awesome power. Not the least of which was the “sound of the trumpet” that “the people saw and trembled.” (Ex.20:18) That must have been frightening. There is also an amazing example of grace within one of the demonstrations of power.

“The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where G-d was.” Exodus 20:21

The word for darkness here is ha’araphel. Not only is this the first usage of this word for darkness but there is a couple other verses that mention the same darkness surrounding G-d. (1 Ki. 8:12, Ps. 97:2) 1 John 1:5 says that “G-d is light” and the previous verses describe the darkness as being around Him. Therefore it was a merciful act of a loving G-d to conceal Himself in a thick darkness so that the people were not immediately killed or blinded. The scene that unfolded in front of the people was magnificent, but it was just enough a human could endure to sear the vivid sight on the minds of every witness. For this reason G-d mercifully allowed Himself to be enshrouded by the cloud so that all would know that He is G-d and there is none other. His mercy with the children of Israel at Sinai reflects His mercy with those He has eternally chosen. Every single one of us deserve His wrath and destruction (Eph. 2:3) but by His unfathomable mercy He came, a little lower than the angels (Heb. 2:7), clothed in human form, and saved us. (Mt. 1:20-21) The final act of redemption will be even more glorious than the act at Mount Sinai and just as we have not forgotten the exodus we will never forget His eternal salvation. (Ps. 40:16)

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