Parshat Yithro 5770: Yithro and Bris Mila

by Moshe Burt

This past Wednesday, this author bumped into a neighbor in the same building while going to pick up the mail in the neighborhood postal
area box. This neighbor told that another neighbor in our building had just had a boy. So after saying Mazel Tov to the father, the thought occurred on the way to the postal box; Did Yithro have Bris Mila?

This author had forgotten that Yithro did, indeed, have Bris Mila as indicated in the earlier vort on the Parsha, although being hard pressed to remember how we learn it out.

Upon arriving home after checking the mail, this author posed the question to a neighbor — Rabbi Hillel Horowitz who first suggested looking at our Parsha — Shemot, Perek 18, posuk 9; “Vayichad Yithro”, then suggested to go back review perek Cheilik — Gemora Sanhedrin chapter 11, Perek 94A (Perek 94 A3 in the Schottenstein Gemora Sanhedrin).

Rashi on the posuk indicates that Yithro “rejoiced” at seeing B’nai Yisrael free of Mitri bondage, at seeing K’riyat Yom Suf and at B’nai Yisrael’s victory over Amalek. The Gemora, however, cites that Rav and Shmuel disputed the meaning of “Vayichad Yithro”.

Perek Cheilik — Gemora Sanhedrin chapter 11, Perek 94A states:

Rav said the verse conveys that (Yithro) passed a sharp (chadah) sword over his flesh, i.e. he circumcized himself. And Shmuel said it conveys that (Yithro’s) flesh became covered with goose bumps because of the distress he felt at the downfall of Mitzrayim.

We also learn that virtually all of the Jews of the generation that travelled in the desert lacked Bris Mila and were only circumcized uder Yehoshua shortly before entering Eretz Yisrael. Yithro sought to become a Jew, and to come close to Hashem, but he knew that in order to join with B’nai Yisrael, he must have Bris Milah.

But there is more to Yithro’s story regarding Bris Milah. The Midrash Says on parsha Shemot indicates that Yithro cut a deal with Moshe in exchange for Moshe marrying Tzippora. The deal was; in exchange for Moshe marrying Tziporah, that one or both sons must be “consecrated” to avodah zora — meaning that Yithro wanted one or both sons to come to the truth, as Yithro did, by trying avodah zora, by analysing the options and seeking truth by coming to Hashem rather than simply following instructions. The Midrash Says, as well as Rav Harry Greenspan, indicate that the Midrash is understood to refer only to Moshe’s first-born son Gershom. Rabbi Arye Gordon however, understands that the agreement meant consecration of both sons to avodah zora.

The Midrash Says (Sefer Shemot, page 32) later explains that Moshe accepted the deal to marry Tzippora thinking:

Let me first marry this Tzaddeket and fulfill the mitzvah of having children. Perhaps Hashem will guide events in such a manner that I will be able to circumcize my son.

Later, it is explained (The Midrash Says, Sefer Shemot, page 43) that Moshe is instructed by Hashem, by The Burning Bush, to journey and lead B’nai Yisrael in their redemption from Mitzayim. And so, when Moshe leaves Yithro with his wife and two sons, he finds himself with a dilemma of priorities — follow Hashem’s instructions chik chuk and run to Mitzrayim to lead Am Yisrael, or to do Bris Milah on his son first. Moshe chose the former and he and the family headed back to Mitzrayim. Enroute, he encountered by a moloch who nearly swallowed him.

It is written in Midrash Says (Sefer Shemot, page 31) that:

Tzippora possessed the greatness of Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah…

Yes, Hashem did indeed guide events for seeing Moshe being swallowed up until his milah, Tzippora seized a knife (or some render the object a sharp stone and circumcized their son (saving Moshe).

And so we learn out the centrality of Bris Milah — the first siman of the birth of a Jewish male as unifying the B’nai Yisrael, the Jewish people in their closeness with Hashem.

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard, captive Gilad Shalit and the other MIAs be liberated alive returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage to prevent the eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Shevua Tov!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of the Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.