Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Gershom (foreigner there)
The question addressed today is how old was Gershom when he was circumcised?
We are told very little about this son of Moshe in scripture so we must delve deeper for the answer. First is the scripture and background.
Yitro had just agreed to Moshe’s request to return to his kinsmen in Egypt to check on their welfare. Moshe took his Midianite wife Tzipporah and Gershom and started out for Egypt. Moshe had G-d’s staff in his hand. Moshe was given instructions by G-d that once he arrived back in Egypt, he was to do all of the wonders G-d enabled him to do in front of Pharaoh although Pharaoh’s heart would not allow the Israelites to leave Egypt; yet. (Ex. 4:18-21).
We pick up at verse 24 and read through verse 26: At a lodging-place along the way, Adonai met Moshe and would have killed him, had not Tzipporah taken a flintstone and cut off the foreskin of her son. She threw it at his feet, saying ‘ What a bloody bridegroom you are for me!’ But then G-d let Moshe be. She added ‘ A bloody bridegroom because of the circumcision!”
So, we need to ask how long it was between Gershom’s birth, the time Moshe left for Egypt, and where along the path did he stop to rest?
If we look at the Hebrew text in the original, the name “Moshe” does not appear in the phrase translated as “touched Moshe’s feet.” The text actually reads “touched feet.” So, Tzipporah could have taken the foreskin and touched either Moshe or Gershom, which would influence the interpretation. But G-d is angry with Moshe in this passage.
Why is G-d angry? We may deduce the answer from two different considerations. One is the difference between circumcision in Egypt and that commanded by the Abrahamic covenant (Josh 5:2-9), Genesis 17, and the circumstances of Moshe’s birth and childhood. (Ex. 1-2).
Circumcision was practiced in Egypt, but the foreskin was not removed. It was split. Any Israelite born in Egypt who was circumcised according to this custom would not have been in accordance with G-d’s covenant. Since Joshua 5:2 states that some Israelite men were being circumcised “a second time,” we can deduce that something was not “kosher” about their procedure. Therefore, the ceremony in Joshua 5 would be a second circumcision for some men and a first-time procedure for others born in the wilderness. Circumcision was not only a sign for Israelite men, but the women needed a “sign’ that the men they were marrying were Israelites. Every married Israelite man was a “bridegroom of blood” a man who had undergone the blood procedure of ritual circumcision.
As other Israelite males were circumcised prior to the conquest of Gilgal, some for a second time as described in Joshua 5;2, we can safely assume that Moshe either had not been circumcised or was circumcised according to the custom of Egypt. When we think about G-d’s protection, we can understand that had Moshe been properly circumcised, he would have been in danger in the Egyptian household.
So, we may deduce that G-d was angry with Moshe because of his negligence in getting circumcised after he became a free man in Midian after he fled Egypt. Exodus verifies that the Midianites were aware of the proper procedure as Tzipporah knew how to circumcise Gershom. Moshe’s complacency in this area of the Covenant was a big deal. Thankfully, Tzipporah had the correct priority.
Back to the meaning of “feet”. Touching the circumcised flesh is not part of the ritual but the Hebrew word translated “feet” (regel) is also used as a euphemism for genitals or genital function; even sexual exposure ( Jud. 3;24; 1 Sam. 24;3; Ezek. 16:25; Ruth 3:4,7.) The phrase in Exodus 4:25 now makes sense only if Tzipporah circumcised her son, which she did. She then symbolically transferred that circumcision to Moshe my taking the foreskin and touching Moshe’s genitals. This act took a lot of courage on Tzipporah’s part as this was a religious rite performed by men only. Moshe had neglected this ritual and now the family was headed back to Egypt. Had Moshe performs the circumcision on himself or had Tzipporah perform the task, Moshe would have been unable to travel. So Tzipporah performed it on Gershom and symbolically on Moshe. She acted in faith and G-d relented and did not kill Moshe. He was now a proper “bridegroom of blood.” So, as the family is allowed to proceed back to Egypt, they are now protected and Moshe is “in synch” with the Covenant of G-d, allowing him to take on the task of glorifying G-d through acting as “G-d” and initiating the plagues on Pharaoh and Egypt. To be most effective for G-d we need to get our own lives “in synch: with G-d’s commands and accept each opportunity to serve Him with a clean heart.
Now that the narrative is placed in its proper perspective, we attempt to address the age of Gershom when he was circumcised. This question is difficult to answer because there are a few possibilities. The easiest would be to assume he was circumcised on the 8th day as G-d commanded, because Tzipporah was a righteous woman evidenced by her faith and trust in G-d thorough her act of taking on the task of circumcising Gershom herself.
The Chumash commentary states that “Moshe set out for Egypt with his family, including his newborn son, who had not yet been circumcised, and. Because he was unconcerned about performing the circumcision in time, an angel was about to kill him. R. Yose taught: ‘Heaven forfend that Moshe did not care about the circumcision. He was faced with a dilemma. Should he perform the circumcision before he went, and then take the child with him?- but the infant would be in danger for the first three days after the circumcision! Should he perform the circumcision and delay the trip for three days?- But G-d had commanded him to go! He decided to travel immediately [since G-d knew about the baby when he commanded him to go]; nevertheless, he was held culpable because, when they arrived at an inn, he began making arrangements for his lodging instead of performing the circumcision without delay(Rashi from Nedarim 31b-32a). Even though he would have had to resume his trip to Egypt after the circumcision-thus putting the infant into new danger and justifying further delay- the inn was close enough to Egypt that the short trip would not endanger the child’s health (Ran. Ibid).”
From the above commentary we learn that Rabbinic scholars often make an honest attempt to justify the actions of some of the greatest biblical figures in G-d’s Torah. Whether Moshe faced a dilemma concerning circumcision for himself and his son or simply planned to put it off until a later time, we cannot know in this world. I submit Gershom was 8 days old at the time of his circumcision previously mentioned.
I appreciate this and other questions posed to me concerning G-d’s Torah and I will always research the answers carefully before posting. May G-d bless us with knowledge and wisdom to use the knowledge for His glory.
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart