“At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and sought to put him
to death.”

In three short cryptic verses (Exodus 4:24-26), God seeks to kill Moses – who is only saved when his wife Zipporah takes a flint, cuts off their son’s foreskin and touches Moses feet with it.

Most ‘excuse’ God wanting to kill his recently chosen servant by blaming the victim.

By not having eagerly circumcised his son, it is argued that Moses undermined his public persona, bringing God’s enterprise into jeopardy.

Why would the Israelites obey God’s commandments if God’s servant neglected a covenantal mitzvah, such as circumcision? But I think the message we should take from this part of the Torah is very different.

It is the intervention of Zipporah, a Midianite woman, who had a cosmic effect that appeased God and saved her husband.

It’s a snippet of an ancient, Israelite pagan narrative that intrudes our monotheistic text and messes with our traditional understanding of the unity of Torah and God’s omnipotence.

A feminist and Liberal Jewish interpretation might focus on the vital role that women associated with the community, not always one of the tribe – think Yael, Rahab and Pharaoh’s daughter – impact on our story.

Zipporah ‘cuts’ her son’s foreskin with the same verb as God uses to make covenants. This reflects a ‘goddess’ strand in the culture of our ancient ancestors.

God is not ‘weakened’ by giving Moses a stay of execution, but endorses the vital role of women in the ancient world to form and uphold covenants;
as I believe women have done throughout time.

It is only a dominant patriarchy that sought to deny this fact.

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein serves Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue

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