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There is an extremely strange Midrash concerning Moshe Rabbeinu and his father-in-law, Yisro. The Sages teach that when Moshe asked to marry Yisro's daughter, Tzipporah, Yisro demanded of him that he vow that that the first son born to them would be for Avodah Zarah (idolatry) and the next ones for Hashem! Strangely, Moshe agreed to the terms of the agreement. Therefore, the angel wanted to kill him. Furthermore, as a result, Yehonason, son of Gershom, Moshe's firstborn, became a priest to the idol of Michah (see Rashi on Shoftim 18:30).

How can we possibly understand this Midrash? Why in the world would Yisro, who abandoned all idolatry, and even suffered excommunication by his people, in order to serve the True G-d, want his firstborn grandson to be dedicated to Avodah Zarah? And how is it possible that Moshe agreed to these conditions?

The Chidushei Harim enlightens us with a novel explanation which he states is a mitzvah to publicize, lest anyone misunderstand the intentions of these two great Tzaddikim.

Yisro, as we know, served every idol in existence in his time. He learned, first-hand, their falseness and eventually was privileged to learn the truth of Hashem. All of the Jews believed that Hashem is the only true G-d and that all idolatry is false. But their belief was based on hearsay. Only Yisro was able to stand up and declare, "Now I know that Hashem is the greatest of all the gods" (Shemos 18:11). Whereas others only believed, he actually knew for sure.

Yisro wanted one of his grandchildren, the first one of them, to be as strong a believer as he, himself, was. Therefore, he wanted him, too, to study idolatry fully, see its falsehood, and then be a firm believer in the One and Only True G-d.

The Chidushei Harim opens our eyes and tells us to re-read the Midrash carefully. If we do, he says, we'll notice that it does not say that Yisro asked that the first grandson be for idolatry, and the next ones for Hashem; what it says is that the first grandson should be for idolatry and from then on for Hashem! Yisro was referring to the same child, not to the other children to be born after him. He simply wanted that his first grandchild should explore the evils of foreign service and then be as strong a believer in G-d as his grandfather was.

This made sense to Moshe Rabbeinu and therefore he agreed. Why, then, was Gershom's son tainted? If their intentions were so good then what went wrong? What was their mistake?

The answer, explains the Chidushei Harim, is that although Yisro benefited from his past experiences in a bidieved situation (post factum), that does not condone actively pursuing such a path lichatchilla (from the outset). For example, it says that a ba'al teshuvah (a penitent) is on a higher level than one who has always been a tzaddik and never sinned. Would anyone recommend, therefore, that one should go out and do sins so that he can repent for them and be on the level of a ba'al teshuvah? Of course not. If one happens to find himself in that situation, he may benefit from it; but he certainly can not put himself there intentionally.

Similarly, one who has had a problematic background, rebelling against the Torah and hanging around with the wrong crowd, will, when he straightens out, probably be a superior rebby for similar type students than one who was a model student all of his life. He will understand his own students' problems and, as a result, will be able to help them. But certainly one shouldn't go off the path deliberately in order to be able to benefit from these experiences in the future.

That was what Yisro, and even Moshe, didn't realize. They agreed to educate Gershom deliberately the way his grandfather was fortuitously. Therefore, although the influence was not noticeable in Gershom himself, it was manifested in his son Yehonason.

This is an important lesson to all of us. Often we find ourselves debating whether or not to do something which could be beneficial to us in its aftermath. We must remember, then, that the ends do not justify the means and if it is forbidden, then we may not rationalize that it is worth violating in order to reap the benefits later, even if we see someone else who, bidieved, is, indeed, in that situation. We must follow the Torah's instructions meticulously, and then we will be truly happy in this world and the World-to-Come.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel