The cries of an afflicted nation proved too intense to go unanswered. God tells Moshe that he will be the Divine emissary to emancipate the enslaved Jewish nation and allow them to be a free people in their destined land. Moshe took leave of Yisro and began the journey to Egypt with his wife, Tzipporah and their two children. The Torah then records a strange episode. “Now he was on the way, in an inn, that the Lord met him and sought to put him to death. So Tzipporah took a sharp stone and severed her son’s foreskin and cast it to his feet, and she said, ‘For you are a bridegroom of blood to me.’ So, He released him. Then she said, ‘A bridegroom of blood concerning the circumcision’ (Shemos 4:24-26).” What exactly is occurring in this episode? Just a few verses earlier God insisted that Moshe accept the responsibility of leading the Jewish people and now God stands ready to kill him?
The Talmud (Nedarim 31b) explains that God was upset that Moshe had delayed the bris (circumcision) of his newborn son. The Talmudic sage, Rebbi (Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi) explains that had Moshe circumcised the child while still in Midyan, their journey down to Egypt would have been delayed (a child post-circumcision is in a precarious state of health and cannot travel). Therefore, Moshe decided to begin the journey (as he felt this to be the will of God) and perform the bris in closer proximity to Egypt. If so, why was God upset? “Mipney she’nisaseyk b’malon techila, because Moshe took care of their lodging arrangements first (before performing the bris).” Moshe should have first circumcised his son and only afterwards looked for lodging and accommodations. The Divine wrath was not a result of Moshe’s failure to perform the bris in Midyan (God agreed with Moshe’s thought process), it was a result of Moshe’s seemingly misplaced priorities. The bris should have been performed before securing lodging for the family.
But is this such an egregious error that it should have potentially cost Moshe his life? Moshe was not negating the Mitzvah altogether! He stood ready to comply. Moshe was simply a father, a husband looking to find accommodations for his family. Why such severity in the Divine response? This is Moshe Rabbeinu we are talking about. This was a man who is described as the most faithful servant of God. What is the Torah trying to teach us? What is the lesson?
Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook (Orach Mishpat 143) explains this entire episode in a novel and dramatic fashion. Why did Moshe take care of his lodging arrangements first? After all this is Moshe Rabbeinu, a man who spoke with God, a man who understood that the future and success of the Jewish nation depended on adherence to the word of God. Why didn’t Moshe immediately take care of the circumcision prior to looking for an inn? Rav Kook explains that Moshe didn’t want to simply perform the Mitzvah; he wanted to perform it with “hiddur, additional beauty.” The concept of hiddur mitzvah, beautification of a commandment, directs us to not simply perform the basic minimum to discharge our religious obligations. Rather, we must strive to perform each mitzvah with all its details, beautifying the physical components to indicate how precious and meaningful each spiritual act truly is. Moshe did not want to perform his son’s bris on the side of the road. He wanted the bris of his youngest son to be a beautiful moment of spiritual growth and elation. He wanted to make a celebratory meal, invite guests, and speak about the meaning of this physical bond between man and his Creator. And so, he delayed the bris to find suitable accommodations – not just to house his family but to provide the appropriate venue for the performance of this important mitzvah. Moshe’s delay was to enhance the glory and beauty of the mitzvah, to amplify the Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s name). But God did not agree with this approach. “Mitzvah ha’ba l’yadecha al tachmitzena, if an opportunity for a mitzvah arises do not let it tarry (literally become chametz, leaven);” better to seize an imperfect, present moment than to delay with the expectation of something greater in the unknown future.
This episode carries with it an important message. There are opportunities that cross our life threshold each and every day. Too often we actively allow these opportunities to pass us by because we are “waiting for something better.” Too often, we convince ourselves that if we delay the performance of a particular deed, or we delay the actualization of a life dream, we will be able to do it better or give it more attention. We convince ourselves that we will have more time later and will be able to put more effort into the particular initiative. If we are honest with ourselves, we know that when we delay doing the things we know we must do, they never really get done. When we push off actualizing our dreams until we have more time, there never seems to be enough time. All too often we give up present meaning in the hope of some unknown future. We must find the strength to take advantage of the beautiful life opportunities that present themselves and not waste a lifetime waiting for something better. The old adage is still true, there is no time like the present.