How to Save a Life: Shemot 2018 II

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: How far would you go to preserve the life of a loved one? Are there things you could never bring yourself to do, even if a loved one is in danger?

In one of the most curious episodes in the story of Moses, Zipporah saves a life (which one, we’re not quite sure) by circumcising her son:

The Pitch: “At a night encampment on the way, Adonai encountered him and sought to kill him. So Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched his legs with it, saying, ‘You are truly a bridegroom of blood to me!’ And when [God] let him alone, she added, ‘A bridegroom of blood because of the circumcision.’” – Exodus 4:24-26

Swing #1: “The narrator also does not give any indication why God attacked. Was the noncircumcision of his son the reason that Moses (or the son) got into danger? This is the suggestion of the Targumim and midrashim, but God knew that the son was not circumcised when God commissioned Moses. God may have attacked Moses or the uncircumcised son so that Zipporah would save with blood, thus foreshadowing the way Israel would save their firstborn children in Egypt with the blood of the lamb.” – Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of Their Stories

Swing #2: “Many modern scholars have suggested that the function of Exodus 4:24-26 within its redactional context is to have the redemption of the Israelite first-borns, and indeed of Israel itself, God’s first born (Exodus 4:22). Zipporah’s first-born is redeemed from death through the blood of circumcision; the Israelite first-borns are redeemed from death through the blood of the Paschal sacrifice.” – Shaye J. D. Cohen, Why Aren’t Jewish Women Circumcised?: Gender and Covenant in Judaism

Swing #3: “According to the opinion that it was Moses who was attacked, when Zipporah saw him swallowed by the angel leaving his genital organ exposed, she understood that it was because of this organ, but she was not sure why. It could have been because Moses had married her, and it was not proper for him to be intimate with the daughter of a man who had been an idolator. On the other hand, it could have been because he had neglected to circumcise his son. Not taking any chances, she immediately circumcised the child. When the angel did not release Moses immediately, she cried out, ‘You are a husband of blood because of me! It is because you married me that your blood is now being shed! I have circumcised the boy, but you are still being killed.’ The angel then released Moses. Relieved, Zipporah said, ‘A husband of blood because of circumcision! My husband was not in blood danger because of me, but because of circumcision.’” – Hizkunei

Late-Inning Questions: Do you believe that God is trying to kill Moses or his son? How would you evaluate Zipporah’s actions in this episode? It is more an extraordinary act of courage or an ordinary act of defending one’s family? What causes you to shift from ordinary activity to extraordinary action?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Tickets are going fast for our 8th annual Jews, Brews, and Ques Kosher Cookout! Please join us to be a part of one of the great programs in Jewish Charleston.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of extraordinary achievement in high-pressure circumstances, one name that always comes to mind is Jack Morris, who pitched a 10-inning shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Morris was inducted this year into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and although his case for being in the Hall is borderline at best, the way he pitched that one game was probably the deciding factor in the minds of many voters.

Shabbat Shalom!