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   by Jacob Solomon

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As Moses followed G-d's call to return to Egypt from his refuge in Midyan, in order to lead the Exodus:

G-d encountered (Moses) in a… lodging, and wanted to kill him. Zippora (Moses' wife) took a sharp stone and cut of the foreskin of his son… (4:24-25).

This very sudden incident moves the story into different direction. The narrative relates how G-d appeared to Moses with directives to promote and lead the Exodus. Moses views his Call from G-d with apprehension:

(a) 'Who am I that I should go before Pharaoh, and take the Israelites out of Egypt?' (3:11)

(b) 'The (Israelites) will not believe me, and they will not listen to my voice' (4:1).

(c) 'I am not a speaker… I am heavy of mouth and heavy of speech' (4:10).

(d) 'Please G-d: send me through whoever you will send' (4:13).

In each case, Moses - 'the humblest of all people' (Num. 12:3) - was entreated by G-d to act against his own nature of reticence and humility. Each time, G-d reassures him - which keeps him on his mission ultimately leading to the foundation of the Israelites as a 'People treasured above all peoples' and a 'Holy Nation' (19:5-6). And Moses, as always, acceded to G-d's guarantee however anxious he might have been.

Yet Moses' omission in circumcising his own son - when he was far away from contact with his own people, incurred G-d's displeasure to the degree that 'He met (Moses) and wished to kill him'. There is no death penalty or even excision for non-circumcision on the part of the father (Gen. 17:12-14). Why was G-d prepared to do just that to Moses?

In response, the Maharal brings the following insight into circumcision. He relates it to the natural order of the Creation. That involves cycles of seven, such as seven days of the week, and seven years of the Shemitta agricultural cycle. In this context, the number eight suggests going 'beyond the limitations of nature'. By commanding the Israelites to circumcise male children on the eighth day, G-d teaches that one's ability to remove the barriers to spiritual ascent to transcend the natural order of life. Nevertheless, G-d gives Man the ability to do it, and since he can, he must.

G-d, as we have noted, commanded Moses to go beyond the limits of human nature. He was to suspend nature with His support and collaboration in effecting the miracles leading to, and accompanying the Exodus. But G-d required Moses' support, as it were. Moses, with misgivings, conceded G-d's demand to act publicly to act on His behalf. Would his private life match his public life? He had not 'suspended his nature' by going out of his way to circumcise his son as soon as it was feasible. He could not expect G-d to go out of His way if he would not do the same. And that was the lesson that G-d taught Moses… through his wife Zippora… so that when he subsequently arrived in Egypt 'the people believed…' (4:31).

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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