Exodus 4:24-26 describes one of the strangest stories in the Chumash. Moshe was on his way to save the Jewish people, and the Torah says that he stayed with his wife and children in a hotel. Next, we're told that Hashem wants to kill Moshe, and Tziporra takes a rock and circumcises their son. Moshe is saved. She then calls Moshe her husband of blood.

Rashi brings from Chazal (Nedarim 31b–32a) that Moshe was negligent in giving his son a bris milah, so he was punished, or some say that he was busy occupying himself with the hotel, so he was punished. An angel came in the form of a snake and tried to eat Moshe. The angel stopped eating Moshe around his private area, showing Tziporra that the solution would be to give her son a circumcision. She did so, and they were saved.

This doesn't make the story any easier to understand. Is there any commentary which gives some sort of satisfactory explanation for what exactly happened here? Why would Moshe be killed for such a minor infraction? Won't this prevent the redemption of the Jewish people? Why was the angel in the form of a snake? Why did Tziporra touch Moshe's leg with the knife? What are we to take from Tziporra's response that Moshe is her "husband of blood"?

  • This is a great question. It is not at all clear from the text, however, if the snake swallowed most of Moshe Rabeinu or his son. Dec 22, 2021 at 23:50
  • Mitzrayim was the olam ha'dimyon created as a result of the chet etz ha'daas, the purpose of Yetzias Mitzrayim was for Moshe to bring the benei yisrael into the real world at Matan Torah. One of the primary distortions of reality that occurred through the chet etz ha'daas was vis-a-vis the inyan of tashmish, e.g. Rashi Bereishis 3.1 אלא למדך מאיזו עילה קפץ הנחש עליהם, ראה אותם ערומים ועוסקים בתשמיש לעין כל ונתאווה לה. Moshe did not realise that Mitzrayim was pure dimyon and therefore he did not understand the paramount necessity to mal his child before returning there.
    – pcoz
    Dec 23, 2021 at 0:04

2 Answers 2


Based on your question, it sounds like you want an explanation of the story that will appeal to a more rational audience.

Ralbag explains the story as follows: Moshe wanted to follow Hashem's instructions to return to Egypt. He assumed that there was a conflict between leaving right away and circumcising his newborn son, since it would be dangerous to travel with a newly circumcised child, so he chose to leave with his family (Ralbag gives Moshe's rational(s) for bringing his family along), intending to circumcise his child afterwards. However, due to Moshe's high spiritual level, G-d made Moshe fall ill (to the point that he requested [?] death), to show him that he must be extremely zealous to perform Hashem's commandments in the future. Moshe was aware, through prophecy, that this sin of delaying the circumcision caused his illness. Hashem waited until they were at an inn to punish Moshe, so that the child could reasonably be circumcised without being endangered, and Tzipporah was to remain with the child at the inn following. In regards to the latter part of the story, due to Moshe's illness, Tzipporah performs the circumcision, but not very skillfully, and thus, the blood of the child reached his feet, meaning there was a lot of bleeding. She then proclaimed the child a "chatan damim", since the word chatan can refer to any beginning, and this was the first time she had "spilled blood". However, once Moshe recovered, and explained to her that she had not properly stopped the blood, she knew that this was "chatan damim lamulot", the first time one who had been circumcised lost so much blood.

I later noticed this excellent summary article; I trust that there is lots of discussion of the important issues there.

  • לאו דוקא I want a rational approach, even an approach which explains Rashi in a satisfying way. This is a good start though, as it addresses a lot of the issues with the story. Still wondering why the whole thing is in three verses and extremely vague.
    – robev
    Dec 25, 2021 at 18:04

The Midrash says that Jethro worshipped all existing idols and concluded only God was real:

Jethro said: I have not neglected to worship any idol in this world, but I have found no god like the God of Israel. [Midrash Tanḥuma, Yitro 7]

So Jethro wanted a grandson to do as he did: Worship all existing idols and conclude only God was real. This would give him a better appreciation of monotheism. [Mayan Bet Hashoeva on Yitro 18, 4] Moses agreed. To be sure, this is a dubious interpretation of the injunction to teach Torah to our children:

וְשִׁנַּנְתָּ֣ם לְבָנֶ֔יךָ -- Veshinantam levanecha -- and you will teach it to your children. [Deut. 6:7]

One may wonder: Is this why Moses at first did not circumcize Gershom, and God threatened to kill him, and his wife Zipporah had to do it in his stead?

Perhaps Moses intentionally did not want Gershom circumcised because of his promise to Jethro. In the end, the Midrash says that Moses' son became an idolater.

  • The questionnaire brought the chazal that moshe was involved with the hotel before the mila. Meaning he was planning on doing the mila
    – Shlomy
    Dec 23, 2021 at 19:42
  • This is more the prelude to the story but not an explanation of the story itself.
    – robev
    Dec 23, 2021 at 19:46

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