Parshat Shemos 5781: Sorting Out Moshe’s Priorities and Hashem’s Response?

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua Shemos is being sponsored by Dov and Bracha Moses of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated Lilui Nishmas for Dov’s Father, Avraham ben Chaim Mordechai, z”l, and also for a refuah shleima for Rachel bat Chaya Perel and Shmuel ben Rivka. To the Moses family, many thanks for your sponsorship and continued kindness.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring (or as the case may be, co-sponsoring) a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Shemos 5781: Sorting Out Moshe’s Priorities and Hashem’s Response?

by Moshe Burt

This author begins our Parshat HaShavua by excerpting Rabbi Shmuel Goldin’s Parshat Sh’mos Summary in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text” (Sefer Sh’mos, page 1):

After years in Pharaoh’s palace, Moshe emerges to witness the enslavement of B’nei Yisrael. He observes an Egyptian taskmaster striking a… slave and rises to the defense of the victim, slaying the taskmaster and hiding his body in the sand. [Rabbi Goldin does not include in the summary the other instance which happened the very next day, where Torah relates about the two Jews fighting: Sefer Sh’mos, Perek 2, posukim 13-15] Afraid of Pharaoh’s retribution, Moshe flees to the land of Midian where he encounters and marries Tzippora, the daughter of Yithro, a Midianite priest,

Moshe remains in Midian with Yithro, serving as a shepherd for his father-in-law’s flocks. One day, as he is performing his duties, Moshe is drawn to the sight of a bush which burns, but is not consumed by the fire. When he turns aside to examine this strange apparition, Hashem addresses him from the burning bush. Hashem charges Moshe with the task of returning to Egypt and leading the B’nei Yisrael to freedom….

Moshe begins the return journey to Egypt, accompanied by his wife and two sons, Gershon and Eliezer. Along the way, Hashem suddenly threatens Moshe with death. Tzippora circumcises their younger son. Eliezer, and the danger passes.

Rabbi Goldin now provides a context regarding the Parshat Summary (ibid, page 31):

Moshe, together with his family, departs… Midian for Egypt as he prepares to assume his leadership role and initiate the events that will lead to the Yetziyot Mitzrayim, Along the way, he stops at an inn where Hashem suddenly threatens to kill him. Recognizing the immediate danger, …Tzippora takes a stone and circumcises their newborn son, Eliezer. As a result of Tippora’s actions, the danger passes and the journey to Egypt resumes. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Sh’mos, Perek 4, posukim 20-26)

Rabbi Goldin provides some background, questions and insights regarding these events (ibid, pages 31-32):

No incident within Torah is more frighteningly bewildering than Moshe’s Divinely ordained brush with death as he travels back to Egypt.

After selecting Moshe and charging him with leadership…, why does Hashem, abruptly and without any warning at all, now threaten him with death?

Why doesn’t Torah clarify the reasons for Moshe’s sudden vulnerability?

At risk is much more than Moshe’s life. How could Hashem threaten to end Moshe’s leadership before it even begins, thereby endangering the entire Yetziyot Mitzrayim of the Jews?

Three approaches… are recorded in the Talmud.

1/ Rabbi Yeshoshua ben Korcha accepts the obvious, yet troubling, possibility that Hashem wanted to punish Moshe simply because Moshe was lax in circumcising his son.

2/ Rising to Moshe’s defense, Rabbi Yossi argues that Moshe was actually justified in delaying Eliezers’s circumcision. As he prepares for the return journey to Egypt, Moshe finds himself in a difficult quandary: If I circumcise Eliezer and then leave for Egypt immediately I will be endangering the child’s welfare. If, on the other hand. if I perform the circumcision and wait three days for the child to recuperate, I will be disobeying Hashem’s commandment to return without delay to Egypt.

Moshe correctly determines to postpone the circumcision and return to Egypt at once.

Why then, was Moshe punished? Because when he traveled to the inn, he busied himself with his own needs, failing to perform Eliezer’s circumcision as soon as it became possible to do so. [This author notes that Rabbi Goldin does not reference Rashi on Sefer Sh’mot, Perek 4, posuk 24 with regard to this paragraph. However, reviewing the Rashi here indicates: “So why was Moshe to be punished with death? Because he busied himself with making his arrangements at the inn first, before performing the circumcision.” Footnote number one to this Rashi states: “The inn was near Egypt, and the remainder of the journey would have posed no danger to the infant.” — Rashi to Nedarim 32a]

3/ Finally, Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel maintains that Moshe was never the intended victim of the Divinely ordained directive. The target was, instead, his uncircumcised son, Eliezer. (Here is where Rabbi Goldin cites Rashi on Sefer Sh’mos, Perek 4, posuk 24, as well as Ramban on Sefer Sh’mos, Perek 4, posuk 20, Ibn Erza on Sefer Sh’mos Perek 4, posuk 24 and Sforno, ibid)

This author finds this third approach puzzling since Rashi on Sefer Sh’mos, Perek 4, posuk 24 continues:

The angel which was sent to punish Moshe was in the form of a serpent and was swallowing [Moshe] from his head to his thighs and then was swallowing him again from his feet to that place, the male organ. Tzippora understood that it was because of the delay of the circumcision.

Rabbi Goldin continues (ibid, page 33):

Standing alone, the Rashbam offers a strikingly different approach to the narrative, Moshe is faulted by Hashem, not for delaying Eliezer’s circumcision, but for failing to to respond to his newly ordained leadership role with appropriate diligence. Moshe was meant to travel to Egypt alone, without his family. [This author questions: how then would Eliezer be circumcised at all with his father away in Egypt?] By bringing Tzippora and their sons on the journey, Moshe inevitably compromises his own ability to act with due speed and dilutes his total focus on the tasks before him. (Rabbi Goldin cites Rashbam on Sefer Sh’mot, Perek 4, poduk 24)

In stark contrast, the Midrash portrays Moshe defending his position to bring his family to Egypt. He does so to ensure that they are present following the Yetziyot Mitzrayim, when Hashem reveals Himself to the Jews at Har Sinai. (Rabbi Goldin cites Midrash Rabbah on Parshat Sh’mos, Perek 4, posuk 4)

The Ramban… justifies Moshe’s decision to bring his family to Egypt by noting that the presence of Moshe’s wife and children could only serve to encourage the Jews who were then slaves. Obviously Moshe would not endanger his family’s freedom unless he was certain of the immediacy of the impending liberation of the Jews. (Rabbi Goldin cites Ramban of Sefer Sh’mos, Perek 4, posuk 19)

The Ibn Ezra goes on to…. suggest… Moshe’s plan to bring his family to Egypt goes awry when Tzippora is forced to circumcise Eliezer at the inn. At that point, Moshe leaves his family and they return to Midian upon Eliezer’s recuperation. (Rabbi Goldin citing Ibn Ezra on Sefer Sh’mos, Perel 4, posuk 20)

Rabbi Golden concludes (ibid, pages 34-35):

Hashem wants Moshe to recognize that communal leadership cannot be used as an excuse for the abdication of personal responsibility. In fact, within Jewish though, the opposite is true. The higher you rise on the ladder of public leadership, the greater the private standard to which you are held. Moshe learns through bitter experience, even as his journey towards leadership is just beginning, that he will not be excused from fulfilling his own obligations. This lesson, conveyed by Hashem in the most powerful way possible, sets the standard for leadership of the Jews for centuries to come.

As the phenomenon of leadership begins to emerge within the national era of Judaism, Hashem forcefully…. teaches us that leadership must be marked by the highest level of personal conduct. Far from being excused from the rules that govern others, a true leader exemplifies loyalty to those rules, Only then can he “lead” — through example — in an enduring fashion.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now free of his parole and restrictions and that he and his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha are finally home in Eretz Yisrael. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five and a half years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei 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 Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
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.