God’s Plot to Kill Moses (Exodus 4:24-26) Questions by Joel Cohen
Rabbis, how can this be? God has just “converted” Moses at the Burning Bush — He has changed Moses’ life in one exquisite moment. For any mortal, that moment would feel like the sun, the moon and all the stars falling down on him. God directly demands that the reluctant Moses forget his life of passive happiness, and virtually place his head in the mouth of the lion – Pharaoh. Explicitly following God’s demands, Moses immediately takes his wife and sons, mounts them on a donkey and heads headfirst to the danger that lurks ahead.
For some reason — either Moses’single-minded purpose to travel to Egypt as dictated at the Burning Bush, or his near-fatal decision to not take a moment along the way to circumcise his newborn son — he puts the latter commandment to the side, at least for the moment.
• Yes, Rabbis, circumcision is a really “big deal.” And, yes, even Moses – I guess, especially Moses – needed to follow the letter of the law. But how can one possibly justify God’s actions here in plotting to “kill” Moses for his decision – especially given God’s “order” that he immediately go to Egypt. And please (Rabbi Popack, in particular) don’t cop out by saying “It’s not for us to justify God.” That would indeed be a cop-out.
• Maybe, you both simply conclude that because Zipporah saved the day (as did Moses at Sinai when he saved the House of Israel from destruction), there was “no harm, no foul.” Maybe, then, for you, the near-event at the lodging (just like God’s threat at Sinai to destroy Israel after the Golden Calf) was just an oddity, or simply God “venting.”
Rabbi Adam Mintz
The story of God and Moshe’s family in the lodging place on the way back to Israel is arguably the most difficult story to understand in the entire Torah. However, rather than address the entire episode, I will focus on Joel’s question how God could threaten the life of Moshe, the one He had just chosen to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt.
As with all difficult stories, there is no one definitive answer and I would like to share three possible suggestions:
1. It is noteworthy that Moshe’s name does not appear in these verses. Rather, the passuk says, “And God encountered him and sought to kill him.” Who did God seek to kill? Rashi assumes that God sought to kill Moshe for the fact that he did not circumcise his second son, Eliezer. However, this is not clear from the text. Maybe God wanted to kill Eliezer as the uncircumcised one or maybe even Gershom, Moshe’s older son, for not taking the initiative in the circumcision. While this explanation raises more questions that it resolves, the ambiguity tempers some of Joel’s concerns.
2. If we accept Rashi’s explanation that God sought to kill Moshe, I believe that we can explain this bizarre story through the following lens. God had just instructed a reluctant Moshe to return to Pharaoh and to demand the release of the Jewish people. This was not going to be an easy mission. Maybe God was initiating Moshe to the perils of his duty by showing him that even a minor misstep could put your life in peril. According to this explanation, God did not really want to kill Moshe, he wanted to prepare him for his mission.
3. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch has a slight variation on the previous explanation. He suggests that God had just begged Moshe to serve as leader of the Jews. It might appear that Moshe was indispensable to this mission and that it is Moshe and not God who deserves the credit for he exodus from Egypt. Therefore, God warns Moshe. Your are necessary for this job but recognize that it is God, not Moshe, who is ultimately in control. The same God who begged Moshe to lead the Jews can also slay Moshe for a minor infraction.
The Word Torah shares a shoresh or “hebrew root word” with the word Horaah (Lesson) in every “Story”, passage or verse of the Torah there is certainly a lesson to be learned. Joels questions evoke those lessons and are a sure way to analyze the parsha to extrapolate a learning experience.
In order to understand the gravity of the situation Moses found himself in, let us briefly analyze the Mitzvah of Brit Mila (circumsision) in the Torah.
Circumcision is the first commandment given by G-d to Abraham, the first Jew, and is central to Judaism. Abraham, the father of the Jewish People, had for many years served G-d righteously. Yet it was only after he circumcised himself by G-d’s command, at the age of ninety-nine years, that he was able to reach the ultimate level of “and you shall be perfect” (Genesis 17:1).
It is written in the Torah: “This is My covenant that you shall observe between Me and you and your children after you, to circumcise your every male. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall become the sign of a covenant between Me and you”. This is the only commandment that the Torah calls “the sign of a covenant” between G-d and the Jewish people. In fact, the Torah mentions the word brit (“covenant”) thirteen times in connection with circumcision, which is why the word brit has become synonymous with circumcision. Our Sages say that it is considered the greatest of all the commandments.
The covenant between G-d and the Jewish people is so profound and significant that the circumcision is performed at the earliest possible time in a boy’s life. The Torah tells us that this is on the eighth day after birth.
My good friend Rabbi Sholy Davidson alerted me to an interesting passage in the Zohar (vol 1 93b). When Joseph revealed himself to his brothers it was more than just figurative, Rashi says that he proved to
them that he had a Bris. What’s the connection? The Zohar explains
that the brothers could not believe that he was indeed Joseh. “if you
are our little brother Joseph” they asked, ” how were you able to
achieve such great status in the kingdom, and have the mightiest of
kings completely manipulated?” Joseph replied by reminding them the
power of the Bris, through which the Jew has the power to withstand
the entire world, Pharaoh’s notwithstanding.
When Moses delayed doing the Bris, he had legitimate excuses and
reasonings for doing so. G-d nonetheless, appears to him and says,
“With what do you attempt to stand before the mighty and evil rulers
of Egypt and successfully convince to give up their entire workforce?
By what talent do you think you will be able to lead an entire nation
to redemption. The greatest power that a Jew has is that he obeys the
commandment of G-d to circumcise himself and his children.”
“If you can’t relate to that, then you are sabotaging my sacred mission that i have entrusted to you”
says G-d, “and deserving of capital punishment for betrayal of your
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