This week we begin the Book of Exodus. The first chapter,Shemot (Names), includes the oppression of the Israelites, the birth of Moses and his rescue, his emergence as a protector of the Israelites, his escape to the land of Midian, his first encounter with God, and his meeting with Pharaoh, demanding “Let my people go!”
In the middle of the chapter (Exodus 4:24-26), we read a short, strange story. As Moses is heading to his first meeting with Pharaoh, we read, “At a night encampment on the way, God encountered him and sought to kill him…” What? Kill whom? What’s this about? It appears that our newly appointed leader, Moses, failed to circumcise his first newborn son, Gershom. Who was attacked, the baby or Moses? The narrative doesn’t identify the victim, stating only “he”.
But in response, Moses’ wife Zipporah immediately responds by to the attack by taking a flint and circumcising the baby. Here we understand that the infant, child of the new leader of the Israelites, had not been circumcised. (The commandment of circumcision occurred during the time of Abraham.) Zipporah understood the threat to her son and took it upon herself to circumcise Gershom. Doing so, she protects her son and the crisis passed.
Zipporah is the daughter of a Midianite priest and was not an Israelite, but she performed the mitzvah, commandment, that Moses had failed to do. Zipporah, whom today we would identify as a non-Jew, took upon herself the responsibility of ensuring that the covenant is passed on to her child.
Zipporah represents many people in our own Emeth community, individuals who support our Temple, trust us with teaching their children in our religious school, and like Zipporah, pass on the traditions of their spouses’ ancestors to these same children. As we near the season of Christmas, I want to thank all of our interfaith families and non-Jewish members for the many contributions you have made to the well-being of our congregation. Not only do I sincerely thank you for your support of this sacred institution but I also thank you for sharing yourselves with all of us. You enrich our community by your participation.