Part I: Trust and the Uncircumcised Child
Towards the end of this week’s parasha, Moses takes his wife and children to Egypt to fulfill his mission from God to confront Pharaoh and take the Israelites from Egypt. On the way, God suddenly confronts Moses to kill him and Moses is only saved when his wife circumcises his child. This episode has always confused me, but the Meshekh Chokhma presents an explanation which not only explains this piece but also plays on a general weakness of Moses’s: trusting the Israelites.
Starting this week, I have added explanatory notes in bold next to the English translation of texts when I felt it would be helpful.
שמות פרשת שמות פרק ד
Exodus Chapter 4
(1) Then Moses answered and said, “They will not believe me, nor listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘Hashem did not appear to you.’”
(א) וַיַּעַן מֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמֶר וְהֵן לֹא־יַאֲמִינוּ לִי וְלֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי כִּי יֹאמְרוּ לֹא־נִרְאָה אֵלֶיךָ יְקֹוָק:
(6) Then Hashem further said to him, “Bring your hand to your chest.” Then he brought his hand to his chest, removed it, and behold it had skin disease like snow.
(ו) וַיֹּאמֶר יְקֹוָק לוֹ עוֹד הָבֵא־נָא יָדְךָ בְּחֵיקֶךָ וַיָּבֵא יָדוֹ בְּחֵיקוֹ וַיּוֹצִאָהּ וְהִנֵּה יָדוֹ מְצֹרַעַת כַּשָּׁלֶג:
(7) Then He said, “Return your hand to your chest.” Then he returned his hand to his chest, then removed it from his chest, and behold it had returned to [look like] his [normal] skin.
(ז) וַיֹּאמֶר הָשֵׁב יָדְךָ אֶל־חֵיקֶךָ וַיָּשֶׁב יָדוֹ אֶל־חֵיקוֹ וַיּוֹצִאָהּ מֵחֵיקוֹ וְהִנֵּה־שָׁבָה כִּבְשָׂרוֹ:
שמות פרשת שמות פרק ד
Exodus Chapter 4
(20) Then Moses took his wife and children and mounted them on the donkey; then he returned towards the land of Egypt; then Moses took the rod of God in his hand.
(כ) וַיִּקַּח מֹשֶׁה אֶת־אִשְׁתּוֹ וְאֶת־בָּנָיו וַיַּרְכִּבֵם עַל־הַחֲמֹר וַיָּשָׁב אַרְצָה מִצְרָיִם וַיִּקַּח מֹשֶׁה אֶת־מַטֵּה הָאֱלֹהִים בְּיָדוֹ:
(24) He [Moses] was on the road at an inn, and Hashem accosted him and sought to kill him.
(כד) וַיְהִי בַדֶּרֶךְ בַּמָּלוֹן וַיִּפְגְּשֵׁהוּ יְקֹוָק וַיְבַקֵּשׁ הֲמִיתוֹ:
(25) Then Tzipporah took a flint knife and cut the foreskin of her son; she touched it to his [Moses’s] legs and said, “For you are a blood groom to me.”
(כה) וַתִּקַּח צִפֹּרָה צֹר וַתִּכְרֹת אֶת־עָרְלַת בְּנָהּ וַתַּגַּע לְרַגְלָיו וַתֹּאמֶר כִּי חֲתַן־דָּמִים אַתָּה לִי:
(26) Then He backed down from him [Moses]; then she said, “A blood groom in regards to circumcision.”
(כו) וַיִּרֶף מִמֶּנּוּ אָז אָמְרָה חֲתַן דָּמִים לַמּוּלֹת: פ
תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף צז עמוד א
Babylonian Talmud Tractate Shabbat, 97a
Moses failure to believe that the Israelites would believe is his punishment.
Said Resh Lakish: One who suspects those who are innocent is punished in his body, as it says, “They will not believe me…” (Exodus 4:1) But it was revealed before the Holy One, blessed be He, that Israel would believe.
אמר ריש לקיש: החושד בכשרים לוקה בגופו, דכתיב והן לא יאמינו לי וגו', וגליא קמי קודשא בריך הוא דמהימני ישראל.
Moses’s later final punishment is for not believing properly and striking the rock rather than speak it.
He [God] said to him [Moses], “They are believers the children of believers, but you, your end is to not believe.”
אמר לו: הן מאמינים בני מאמינים, ואתה אין סופך להאמין...
Giving Moses temporary skin disease (which is a sign used to impress the Egyptians) is also punishment for Moses.
With what was Moses struck? As it says, “Then Hashem further said to him, ‘Bring your hand to your chest...’”
ממאי דלקה - דכתיב ויאמר ה' לו עוד הבא נא ידך בחיקך וגו'
משך חכמה שמות פרשת שמות פרק ד
Meshekh Chokhma, Exodus 4
Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, Latvia and Poland, 19th and 20th Centuries
Then Moses took his wife. He was concerned lest they [Israel] not believe him. Therefore he brought his children and wife so it would be known that he trusted the word of Hashem to take them out of Egypt.
(כ) ויקח משה את אשתו. הוא חשש פן לא יאמינו לו, לכן הכניס בניו ואשתו, אשר יידעון כי הוא בטוח בדבר ה' להוציאן ממצרים,
For if it not so, who would take his children and wife to a place of servitude and danger such as this?
כי אם לא, מי יכניס את בניו ואשתו אל מקום עבדות ומסוכן כזה?!
Therefore, just as he was punished for saying, “They will not believe me,” (Exodus 4:1) so too he was punished for taking his children with him and not circumcising his son since he did not need to take his children on the road [someone at a health risk such as traveling would be exempt from circumcision].
ולכן כמו שנענש על שאמר "והן לא יאמינו לי", כן נענש על מה שלקח את בניו עמו ולא מל את בנו כיון שלא היה צריך ליקח את בניו בדרך.
Therefore, the commandment [of circumcising] did not protect him, and, “Then He sought to kill him,” since he did not wish to circumcise his his son due to the danger [of traveling].
לכן לא הגינה עליו המצוה, "ויבקש להמיתו" עבור שלא רצה למול בנו משום סכנה ודו"ק.
Part II: Is Milk Kosher?
Here I present the back and forth of the Talmud on why we are allowed to drink milk. While it is not so clear why milk might be forbidden, one might think that milk falls under the prohibition of eating a limb from a living animal. Alternatively, since there is a Rabbinic tradition that milk is made from an animal’s blood, it falls under the prohibition of eating blood. Interestingly, the Talmud does not attempt to argue on philosophical or conceptual grounds why this is not the case. Instead, it seeks textual proof that God permits milk. In the end, it is the description of the land of Israel that stands as the one text which works without a challenge.
שמות פרשת שמות פרק ג
Exodus Chapter 3
(17) Then I have said, “I will take you up from the poverty of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites to a land flowing with milk and [date] honey.
(יז) וָאֹמַר אַעֲלֶה אֶתְכֶם מֵעֳנִי מִצְרַיִם אֶל־אֶרֶץ הַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַחִתִּי וְהָאֱמֹרִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי וְהַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי אֶל־אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ:
תלמוד בבלי מסכת בכורות דף ו עמוד ב
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Bekhorot 6b
וחלב דבהמה טהורה מנלן דשרי?
From where to we learn that the milk of cattle is permissible?
The Gemara asks how we know that milk from a kosher animal is permitted.
אילימא מדאסר רחמנא בשר בחלב הא לחודיה שרי.
I can say that since the Torah prohibited [the combination] of milk with meat, [but] this [milk] by itself is permitted.
This is our first attempt to prove milk’s permissibility. If milk by itself was prohibited, there would never need to be a prohibition on milk and meat together: that would be like stating one should not eat cow with pig!
ואימא חלב לחודיה - אסור באכילה ומותר בהנאה, בשר בחלב - בהנאה נמי אסור!
Say that milk by itself is forbidden to be eaten but permitted for benefit, [while] milk with meat is forbidden for benefit as well [as for eating].
We knock down the first proof. We suggest that it might be the case that milk is forbidden from eating but we can still benefit from it ( eg sold, given to an animal). We would still need to teach that milk and meat together are prohibited since they are prohibited not just from eating but from any benefit.
ולר"ש דשרי בהנאה משכחת לה - למילקי על בישוליה!
And to Rebbi Shimon who permits [milk and meat] for deriving benefit, he [could find that the prohibition of the two together] is for giving lashes for cooking it [the mixture].
Even if you follow Rebbi Shimon’s thinking which says that a mixture of milk and meat is only prohibited from consumption but not other benefit, the Torah could assume milk is prohibited and need to teach us that eating milk and meat together garners more punishment than just eating milk on its own.
אלא, מדגלי רחמנא דבפסוליה מוקדשין התזבח - ולא גיזה, בשר - ולא חלב, הא דחולין - שרי;
Rather, since the Torah showed that for unfit consecrated animals” you may slaughter” (Deuteronomy 12:15) - but not shear - the meat and not the milk [is permitted]. So that which is unconsecrated is permitted [in the drinking of its milk].
If an animal is consecrated, develops a blemish, and is then redeemed, the Rabbis understand the meat of such an animal to be permissible, while its production - such as wool and milk - are off limits forever. Based on that restriction, milk for unconsecrated animals must be permitted, or why specifically prohibit the milk in the redeemed case.
ואימא דחולין - אסור באכילה ושרי בהנאה, דקדשים - בהנאה נמי אסור!
But say for unconsecrated animals [the milk] is forbidden for eating but permitted [only for benefit], while for consecrated animals even for benefit it is forbidden.
Again, we knock down the logic that a prohibition of a specific type of milk implies that regular milk is permitted.
אלא מדכתיב: ודי חלב עזים ללחמך ללחם ביתך וחיים לנערותך;
Rather in that it is written, “And enough goats’ milk for your bread [food] and the bread of your house and the life of your children.” (Proverbs 27:27)
The Talmud now attempts to prove that milk is permissible to drink based on a verse about having plenty of milk.
But perhaps this is just for selling?
The Talmud knocks down this proof by suggesting the verse might merely be about having enough milk to sell, not to drink.
אלא מדכתיב: ואת עשרת חריצי החלב;
Rather in that it is written, “The ten cheeses [literally: troughs of milk].” (1 Samuel 17:18)
This verse, from Samuel, is about David bringing supplies to his brothers and their military unit during war with the Philistines.
But perhaps this was just for selling?
Again, the we knock down the proof text by suggesting the cheese is for selling.
אטו דרכה של מלחמה לסחורה?
Is it the way of war to [use such things] for selling?
We now knock down the challenge by surmising that David is unlikely to bring supplies to a battle field for the purpose of selling them!
ואיבעית אימא מהכא: ארץ זבת חלב ודבש, ואי לא דשרי - משתבח לן קרא במידי דלא חזי?
If you would like to say so, [it is derived] from here: “A land flowing with milk and honey.” (Exodus 3:17) For if it were not permissible would the Torah exalt something which is not fit [for consumption]?
Even though the Talmud seemed to uphold the proof text from Samuel, it suggests an alternative which is from our parasha and rather strong. After all, how can Israel be a land praised based on its flow of milk and honey if we are not allowed to consume milk?
Part III: Reheating on Shabbat
For the book of Exodus, I want to look at various laws about Shabbat. Here the Arukh Hashulchan lays out some basic laws for reheating food on Shabbat. Based on these, he justifies a local practice of on Shabbat putting onions and garlic into a hot pot - removed from any heat source - with hot food in it. He brings up the idea that there is no intention to cook the onions and garlic, that is just a consequence of combining them with very hot food. At the end he makes clear that there are authorities who did not like this practice, but he supports it.
ערוך השולחן אורח חיים סימן שיח
Arukh Hashulchan OC 318
Now, according to what we explained according to the view of the Rambam, anything which is boiled or baked before Shabbat], even if it is just cooked to its [bare] necessity, and even if continuing to cook improves it, its [continued or re-] cooking [on Shabbat] is permitted from the Torah but forbidden from the Rabbis.
והנה כפי מה שבארנו לשיטת הרמב"ם כל דבר שנתבשל או נאפה אם רק נתבשל כל צרכו אפילו מצטמק ויפה לו מותר מן התורה בבישולו מדרבנן אסור בבישול
But to place them in a hot vessel, even a first level vessel (a vessel in which food was cooked) is permissible.
אבל ליתנם לכלי רותחת אפילו של כלי ראשון מותר
But to warm them up in an oven, if the oven it hot and fit for cooking, is forbidden.
אבל לחמם בתנור אם התנור חם וראוי לבישול אסור
And such is the rule for things which do not require cooking.
וכן הדין בדברים שא"צ בישול
And it seems that according to this, the placing on Shabbat afternoon of onions and garlic into a cooked dish is permitted for their [normal] manner [of being eaten] is not through cooking.
ונראה דלפ"ז מה שנותנים בשבת שחרית בצלים ושומים לתוך תבשילים מותר שהרי אין דרכן בבישול
And even though we put them in the cooked dish in order to cook them, however those which we place in the cooked dish during the time of eating damages them, and our intention is not that they will be cooked, as is well known.
ואע"פ שלתוך התבשיל נותנים אותם לבישול אך אלו שנותנים בעת האכילה הבישול מקלקל אותם וכונתינו שלא יתבשלו כידוע
If so, even when the cooked dish is hot, since it is not on the fire, there is no [issue] of cooking per the Torah and even cooking per the Rabbis is not here, for this is a matter which is not intended.
וא"כ אף כשהתבשיל חם הרי אינו אצל האש ואין בו בישול תורה וגם בישול דרבנן אין בזה שזהו דבר שאינו מתכוין
On the contrary, the opposite is intended.
ואדרבא מתכוין להיפך
Further, this is not a case of an inevitable consequence [which is forbidden on Shabbat], for we experience the taste which in the majority of cases is not a cooked taste at all.
וגם אינו פסיק רישא שהרי אנו מרגישים בהטעם שברוב פעמים אין בהם טעם מבושל כלל
And even a case of inevitable consequence which is not favorable is permissible according to many halakhic decisors. And even to Rashi, anytime the opposite [result] is intended it is permissible as we wrote about earlier.
והרי אפילו פסיק רישא דלא ניחא ליה מותר להרבה פוסקים ואפילו לרש"י כל שמתכוין להיפך מותר כמ"ש בזה בסי' רמ"ב
Therefore, due to all of these reasons, there is no prohibition, and some great thinkers protested against this for no reason [as it seems in my humble opinion].
ולכן מכל אלו הטעמים אין בזה שום איסור ולחנם ערערו איזה גדולים על זה [כנלע"ד]