At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
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Wednesday, February 01, 2006


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This post is for Steg (dindš), and also for Rabbi Jeremy Rosen, who is a grandfather for the sixth time (mazel tov!), and who consequently mentions bris in a recent shiur.
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Steg (dindš) writes: "Moshe describes himself as ‘aral sefatayim — "of uncircumcised lips". When he is attacked by God on the way back from Midyan to Mitzrayim, Tzipora saves his life by circumcising their son. In cutting away their son's foreskin with a stone knife, she circumcises her husband's lips. The child is now unblocked from entry into the Hebrew/Israelite covenant; Moshe is now unblocked from leading the Israelite Nation into the future."

[See: ]

To which I commented:
vatikach tzipora tzor vatichrot et-arlat bena vataga leraglav vatomer ki chatan-damim ata li

Assuredly one of the most meshune statements in the parsha.
Even subsequently modified into "chatan damim lamulot", it makes scant sense. But note that in the entire parsha, this is the clearest statement about circumcision, which is only hinted at, though several times, before.

Where upon Steg (dindš) naturally asked "Where are other hints, other than `aral sefatayim?"

In answer thereto:
Moses' mother:
Psook 2:2 "vatahar haisha vateled ben vatere oto ki-tov hu vatitzpenehu shelosha yerachim" (And the woman conceived, and bore a son; and when she saw him that he was a fine child, she hid him three months).

Why did she hide him? Could she not have claimed, if asked, that it was the son of an Egyptian that she was looking after or wetnursing? Had the child been uncircumcised, yes. But since the days of Abraham, as a sign of the covenant, Hebrews had been circumcised.

Pharaoh's daughter:
Psook 2:6 "vatiftach vatirehu et-hayeled vehine-naar boche vatachmol alav vatomer miyaldei ha-Ivrim ze" (And she opened it and saw it, the child, and behold a boy that wept, and she had compassion for him, and said 'this is one of the Hebrews' children').

She saw at once that the child was circumcised.

Pharaoh's daughter and Moses' sister:
Psook 2:7 "vatomer achoto el-bat-paro haelech vekarati lach isha meineket min haivriyot, veteinik lach et-hayaled" (then said his sister to Pharaoh's daughter 'shall I go and call you a wetnurse of the Hebrew women, to nurse the child for you?').

Why a Hebrew woman? If the infant was circumcised, which was not the custom among the Egyptians, Pharaoh's daughter knew where he came from. The evidence was on him, so to speak.

[Note also that a lactating Hebrew woman would have recently given birth - this suggests a knowing complicity between the two women. A woman nursing a daughter would've shared her milk, and given the greater share to her own child. A woman without a son would've been able to give the infant her undivided attention. Why would these considerations not have occured to Pharaoh's daughter? But this is not mentioned in this passage. Which indicates that no questions were asked.]

Psook 2:11 "vayehi bayamim hahem vayigdal Moshe vayetze el-echav vayar besivlotam vayar ish mitzri make ish-ivri meechav" (And so it happened in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren, and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian strike a Hebrew, one of his brethren).

His brethren: he knew that he was Hebrew, because the mark of the covenant was on his body, and only Hebrews had had cause to cast a boy-child into the Nile, as had happened to him - which is why his adoptive mother had named him Moses, as it says in psook 2:10 "vayigdal hayeled vateviehu levat-paro vayehi-la leven vatikra shemo Moshe vatomer ki min-hamayim meshitihu" (And the child became big, and she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, and he became to her as a son, and she called his name Moses, and said 'because from the water I drew him').

We can assume that his mother and Pharaohs daughter did not hide this from him, and that he therefore knew also the significance of circumcision.

Maybe you will ask 'was there no difference in appearance between Egyptians and Hebrews?'

It has been suggested that Hebrews and Egyptians indeed did not look alike, but there is a hue of bias in that suggestion, a shade of that nine-teenth century European despicion of the Meditarranean type.

Instead think back to the last book, when Yosef's brothers saw him in Egypt, they at first did not see Yosef, but saw an Egyptian instead.

And still to come, when Bethuel's daughters answer their father's question, they respond "... ish Mitzri hitzilanu miyad haroim vegam-dalo dala lanu vayashke et-hatzon" (... an Egyptian delivered us from the hand of the shepherds, and moreover he drew water for us, and watered the flock).
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[Editorial note, February 5th: When I wrote Bethuel (above), I meant Reuel.

As it says in Psook 2:16 "Ulechohen midyan sheva banot, vatavona vatidlena, vatemalena et-harhatim lehashkot tzon avihen" (Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and drew water, and filled the troughs to water the flock of their father);
Psook 2:17 "Vayavou haroim vayegarashum vayakam Moshe vayoshian vayashke et-tzonam" (And the shepherds came and drove them away but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock);
Psook 2:18 "Vatavona el-Reuel avihen vayomer 'madua miharten bo hayom'" (And when they came to Reuel their father, he said 'How is it that you returned so soon this day?');
Psook 2:19 "Vatomarna 'ish mitzri hitzilanu miyad haroim, vegam-dalo dala lanu vayashke et-hatzon" (And they said: 'An Egyptian man delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds, and furthermore drew water for us, and watered the flock').

Nope, no idea why I made that mistake. But in relation thereto, a meise shehoyo: Once the reverend Spooner (Rev. William Archibald Spooner, 1844 - 1930) delivered an entire sermon, and, having finished thought for a moment. Whereupon he ascended the podium again, and informed the audience, which had listened to him as if spellbound, that everytime he said Aristotle, he had actually mean Saint Paul.
For further Spoonerisms, I recommend a brief side-track into this:
And this is like that.]

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Postscript:Shmos chapter four verse 25: "vatikach Tzipora vatichrot et-arlat b'na vataga l'raglav vatomer ki chatan damim ata li" (then Tzippora took a flint and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his (Moses') feet, and said 'a bridegroom of blood are you to me').

Circumcision is an element that is first mentioned here in this narrative, but seems ever-present; surely Moses was circumcised (how else would Pharaoh's daughter instantly know that he was a Hebrew baby), and Moses himself would undoubtedly been keenly aware of the practise as a mark of the Abrahamic covenant.

How odd then that Moses had NOT taken care of his own son's circumcision, and that it was left to the daughter of a Midianite priest to do so. Especially in light of the task Moses had been given.

Please give me your feedback, comments, and reactions.
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  • At 7:41 PM, Blogger Mar Gavriel said…

    Ancient Egyptians, too, practiced circumcision-- not just Hebrews.

  • At 9:35 AM, Blogger The back of the hill said…

    That is not mentioned in Torah.

    It may be factual (which I believe it is), but anthropology and archeology are not factors in reading this text.

    Discourse over Torah meanings must be confined to that which is in the Torah. The parameters are set by the text.

    That does not need to mean that, in real terms, it has to be real.


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