SHEMOS (Exodus, 1:1-6:1) — “Mrs. Moses Goes Home to Father”

 It was time for Moses, son of Amram the Levite, to leave Midian and go to Egypt.  Moses had married the daughter of Jethro and was working for his father-in-law as a shepherd.

But Moses was about to get a promotion.  He was about to become the Shepherd of Israel.  (See “A Tale of Two Kings”.)  G-d assigned Moses the crucial task of leading his People out of Egypt.  There was, however, a problem.  There was the matter of his pre-nuptial agreement:

Moses promised to dwell with the man, so he gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses.  (Exodus, 2:21)

The Talmud (Nedarim 65a) explains that Jethro refused to allow Moses to marry his daughter without a pledge that he would not leave Midian without his father-in-law’s permission.  Israel was waiting to be redeemed; Moses was the man to do it.  However, he was a man of his word.  He had to clear the trip with Dad.

… Moses … went to his father-in-law and said to him, “Let me now go back to my brothers in Egypt, and see if they are still alive.”  Jethro said to him, “Go to peace.” … So Moses took his wife and sons, mounted them on a donkey, and returned to the Land of Egypt.  (Ibid 4:18, 20)

Let’s fast-forward to after the Exodus:

Jethro … the father-in-law of Moses, heard everything that G-d did for Moses and for Israel – that G-d had taken Israel out of Egypt … Jethro … brought Zipporah, the wife of Moses … and her two sons… (Ibid 18:1-2)

Zipporah … and her two sons?  What were they doing in Midian?  Didn’t we just see them on the way to Egypt with their husband and father?

Well, it seems that there was a little detour.  At one point, Zipporah decided to pack up the boys and go home.  There are various reasons given by the Commentaries.  The Chasam Sofer suggests that all was not well in the ben-Amram family.

When he was on the way, at the inn, G-d encountered him and wanted to kill him.  So Zipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son and touched it to his feet; and she said, “You are a husband of blood to me.”  So He loosened His hold on him; then she said, “A husband of blood because of circumcision.”  (Ibid 4:24-26)

Moses almost died because he had delayed performing his son’s Bris.  Zipporah perceived this, and saved her husband’s life with her quick thinking.

Why hadn’t Moses circumcised his son?  And why did this transgression rise to the level of G-d wanting to kill him?  (These questions were discussed in a previous Torah Talk message — “Pain in the Ukraine”.  We are now presented with another approach.)

The Talmud says that Moses didn’t circumcise his son on the eighth day because he was in a rush to get to Egypt to save his brethren.  The required recovery time after the Bris would have delayed the trip for three days.  The People of Israel needed him; they just couldn’t wait!  As important as the Mitzvah of circumcision is, saving lives is even more important.  The Bris would have to wait.

So why was G-d angry?  The Chasam Sofer says that Moses was guilty of “Chilul Hashem” – desecrating the Name of G-d – by giving his wife the impression that G-d’s Commandments are not all that important.  True, the Israelites were in danger and needed his help.  But Zipporah didn’t know that!

Do you remember what Moses told his father-in-law?

… Moses … went to his father-in-law and said to him, “Let me now go back to my brothers in Egypt, and see if they are still alive.”

Moses did not reveal the true purpose of his trip to Egypt.  Some commentaries say that Moses didn’t want to worry his father-in-law.  Others say that he wasn’t permitted to divulge the prophecy he had received from G-d.  In any event, Zipporah didn’t know the real reason for the journey.  She thought they were going simply to see if there still WAS a Nation of Israel and how they were doing.  She did not know that Moses was on a life-or-death mission of mercy.

As a result, Zipporah had the impression that Moses considered a fact-finding visit to be more important than the Mitzvah of circumcision.  Such a notion was degrading to the importance of the Mitzvah.  This led to Moses’ near-death experience.

G-d sent an angel in the guise of a snake that almost swallowed Moses alive.  Only after the Bris was performed was Moses released.

The integrity of the Mitzvah was restored.  Zipporah now saw that G-d’s Commandments are not just nice philosophical concepts that we adhere to “when we get a chance.”  Mitzvahs are our lifeblood.  Once Zipporah saw the punishment that her husband almost received for being lax about Mitzvahs, his sin of desecrating G-d’s Name was expiated.

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Now Moses’ wife saw how important Mitzvahs were.  But she now had a different problem.  How could her husband have been so negligent?  Why did he consider the life-or-death Mitzvah of circumcision so insignificant that he was willing to put it on hold just to visit some relatives?!

She went home.  If he didn’t care about himself, at least he should show some concern for his family.  She would not accompany him to Egypt.

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So what changed her mind?

Jethro … the father-in-law of Moses, heard everything that G-d did for Moses and for Israel – that G-d had taken Israel out of Egypt…Jethro … brought Zipporah, the wife of Moses… and her two sons…

NOW she understood!  Zipporah had questioned Moses’ dedication to Mitzvahs because she thought he postponed a Bris to go on a vacation!  Now that she and her father “… heard everything that G-d did for Moses and for Israel – that G-d had taken Israel out of Egypt…”, now it all made sense!  Moses wasn’t lax in the fulfillment of Mitzvahs.  Moses was a spiritual giant who knew his priorities.

Now Zipporah finally had the whole picture.  She now understood the absolute magnitude of fulfilling G-d’s Commandments.  She also understood the absolute greatness of her husband.

The marriage was saved.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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 From the Archives 

“My Grandson’s Bris – 2” (2010) 

Read More.

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“My Grandson the Priest” (2009) 

… Jethro recognized that Moses was an Israelite; he proposed a match with one of his daughters.

But there was a catch…Jethro would only agree to allow Moses to marry his daughter on the condition that the oldest son would be raised to be a priest of idol worship.

Pretty amazing, no?  Want to hear something even more amazing?  Moses agreed!! …

Read More.

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“Mrs. Moses: Certified Mohelet??!” (2008) 

Several years ago I was driving in the car listening to a discussion on the radio about circumcision.  Being a Mohel myself, I was, of course, very interested in the conversation.  I listened with curiosity and apprehension.

I get very uncomfortable when religious Jews call radio shows.  It is very difficult to explain a profound religious concept in a cogent and articulate manner when the host has his own ideas and can cut you off in mid-sentence.  Yet, the calls were coming in, and the host maintained that circumcision is done for health reasons.

Then an Italian lady called and said that she had her boys circumcised for health reasons, and was glad she did.  He said, “Thank you, dear,” and hung up.  Then he asked, “Hey, I wonder if a lady is allowed to be a Mohel.”

I braced myself for the responses.  A short time later, the host said, “Our next caller, from RocklandCounty, is Moysheh.  Hello, Moysheh.”

“Hello, Mr. Grant.  This is Moishe-the-Moyel from Monsey!”…

Read More.

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“Mrs. Moses Goes Home to Father” (2007)

… Moses was about to get a promotion.  He was about to become the Shepherd of Israel.   G-d assigned Moses the crucial task of leading his People out of Egypt.  There was, however, a problem.  There was the matter of his pre-nuptial agreement…

At one point, Zipporah decided to pack up the boys and go home.  There are various reasons given by the Commentaries.  The Chasam Sofer suggests that all was not well in the ben-Amram family…

Moses’ wife …went home.  … She would not accompany him to Egypt…

So what changed her mind? …

Read More.

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“The Secret Password” (2006)

What are the credentials of a savior of Israel? Imagine the scene:

The Sages of Israel have been summoned to a meeting. They have been enduring unspeakable horrors due to the agonizing slavery that his been placed upon them by their Egyptian taskmasters.  The meeting has been called by a fugitive, a wanted man.  Moses, the twelve-year-old son of Amram the Levite had absconded from Egypt to escape a murder conviction.  Now, as an eighty year-old man, he has returned to Egypt with an announcement…

Do we listen to Moses? Is he for real?  Is he on the level?  We haven’t seen this fellow in sixty-eight years! Suddenly he shows up with a Messianic proclamation, and he expects us to risk our skins by going to the Pharaoh with such an outrageous request!?

They bought it…

Read More.

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 “Pain in the Ukraine” (2004)

… A Mohel went to the Ukraine to usher Jewish men into the Covenant of Abraham.  As a fifteen-year-old Yeshiva student lay on the table, the Mohel read his medical chart.  The boy, as it turned out, was allergic to the anesthesia that the Mohel had brought from the U.S…  The Bris would have to be delayed… No, insisted the boy.  He wanted to have his Bris!  He would not get off the table.  He was adamant.  He was already fifteen years late; he would wait no longer!…The Mohel set out to do his holy work.  There was skin tissue to cut, and wounds to suture and cauterize.  The young man just lay there and endured it all.

He tried to be stoic and motionless.  Throughout the excruciating pain, he was silent.  But finally, he could be silent no more. It was just too painful.  He let out a blood-curdling scream…

Read More.

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“Watch Your Step!” (2004)

… I walked into my Bible class at one of the facilities where I am a chaplain, and presented them with a provocative question.  “How do we know,” I asked, “that G-d gave the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai?”

I wasn’t quite prepared for the response.  A little lady with a kerchief on her head — I’ll call her “Mrs. Cohen” — who almost always sat quietly through my various classes, called out, in a very German accent, “Because it says so in the Tow-raw!” (For those unfamiliar with the German pronunciation: Tow-raw — “Tow,” rhyming with “now”, and “raw,” rhyming with “saw.”)

I was frustrated.  She broke my momentum.  Sure, I thought, SHE believes that, but what about every one else?

“Yes, of course,” I continued, “it says so in the Torah.  But how do we know that the Torah’s description is actually what happened?”

“Because it says so in the Tow-raw!”

I gave up…

Read More.

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“A Tale of Two Kings” (2002) 

[TORAH TALK IN THE JEWISH PRESS:  This message from 2002, updated for the 2007 political season, appeared as an Op-Ed in the Jewish Press.]

…The Egyptians were concerned about the growth of the Jewish population. The Israelites were increasing by leaps and bounds. … The Egyptian people demanded that their king address their “Jewish Problem.”

The king, who at first had demonstrated a bit of integrity, refused. He couldn’t bring himself to take action against Joseph’s people. Joseph had been so good to Egypt. The masses wouldn’t take no for an answer. They ousted the king.

Spending three months as an ex-king was more than he could bear. Thus, “a new king arose over Egypt, who didn’t know Joseph.” The “new” king with a new attitude conveniently “didn’t know,” or, at least ACTED as if he didn’t know Joseph. The persecution began…

Read More.

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“Mother Goose Lied to Us!” (2002)

Moses was pained over the status of his nation.  They were persecuted and afflicted.  The Israelites weren’t just slaves who were forced to work; they were treated like animals.  Moses couldn’t understand why the Children of Israel were suffering so greatly.  He couldn’t understand why G-d had not yet taken His People out of Egypt.  Was He angry with them?…

 Read More.

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“A Helping Hand” (2001)

…Bisya adopted the child and raised him in the palace.  She named him Moshe, “because I drew him (“MISHISIYHU” in Hebrew) from the water.”  (Exodus, 2:10) … the name “Moshe” seems to be grammatically incorrect.    A more accurate name would be “Mashui,” which would mean “one who is drawn.” …

Read More.

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2013 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on January 11, 2007 at 11:16 am  Leave a Comment  

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