I’ll Do It, But Only With Hesitation

Shelach na b’yad tishlach (Shemos 4:13)

When Hashem appeared to Moshe Rabbeinu at the burning bush and commanded him to return to Egypt to free the Jews from slavery, Moshe initially appeared to consider the mission, asking Hashem for His Name so that he could present it as credentials to the Jewish people. However, after Hashem answered the question, Moshe repeatedly balked and presented numerous arguments in an attempt to exempt himself, culminating in a request that Hashem choose his older brother Aharon instead (Rashi). Why did Moshe behave in this manner, first showing interest in the job and then demurring?

Harav Yitzchok Blazer, zt”l, explains this episode based on the well-known incident in which Eliyahu sanctified Hashem’s name and humiliated the false prophets of the Baal at Har HaCarmel (Melachim I, 18:20-40). Eliyahu selected two bulls, one to be offered by him to Hashem and the other to be offered to Baal. When the assembled Jews would see which deity was able to produce a fire to consume the offering — Hashem or Baal — they would know which truly had power and which was a false god.

The Midrash (Tanchuma Masei 8) teaches that as Eliyahu was preparing the two animals, the one that was designated as an offering to Baal refused to move and began to complain to Eliyahu. The bull argued that both he and the other bull were born and raised together and were essentially identical, and it was therefore unfair that the other bull merited being offered to Hashem while he was condemned to be offered to a false god.

Eliyahu explained that it was the combined effect of both animals — with the one offered to Hashem being accepted by a heavenly fire while nothing happened to the one offered to Baal — that would sanctify Hashem’s name. In essence, both animals would equally bring glory to Hashem’s name, and there was no reason to feel cheated and inferior. Nevertheless, the Midrash says that the bull remained obstinate and refused to budge until Eliyahu took it by force. Why was the bull, who clearly recognized the importance of serving Hashem and wished to be offered to Him, unwilling to listen to His prophet Eliyahu and accept his reasoning?

Rav Blazer explains that there are situations in life in which we know that we are required to act in a certain manner in accordance with Hashem’s will, yet at the same time we recognize that it will be difficult to do so, so we proceed reluctantly. In this case, the bull certainly understood the validity of Eliyahu’s response and accepted the role he needed to play in sanctifying Hashem’s name, but at the same time he also understood that such a job — being sacrificed as an idolatrous offering — should only be undertaken with hesitation. For this reason he did not attempt to run away and flee, but he also did not move of his own volition; he stubbornly stood in place until Eliyahu compelled him to move.

Applying Rav Blazer’s insight to Parashas Shemos, Harav Yitzchok Hutner, zt”l, (Pachad Yitzchok, Pesach 56) suggests that Moshe realized that he needed to accept Hashem’s mission to free the Jews from slavery. At the same time, he recognized that his older brother Aharon was also a great and worthy leader. Thus, Moshe initially responded by asking Hashem for guidance, for he understood that he would ultimately accept the job. Nevertheless, before he actually set out, he attempted to protest as a way of showing that he respected his brother and was hesitant to undertake the job for which Aharon had been passed over.

Applying this concept to our own lives, Rav Blazer remarked that he was often moved to tears when he observed students leaving yeshivah for the secular workforce. He explained that he wasn’t crying over the fact that they were leaving yeshivah, for he recognized that it was Hashem’s will for them to work and support their burgeoning families. Rather, he was crying because the students appeared too eager instead of displaying a reluctance to leave the beis medrash.

Harav Reisman adds that this principle also applies to punishing children. Unfortunately, there are situations in which their behavior warrants an appropriate consequence, but it should be done in a manner that shows our children that this is something we wish we didn’t have to do.

Q: Who was the youngest documented mohel in Jewish history to perform a valid circumcision?

A: The Gemara in Avodah Zarah (27a) cites an opinion that maintains that a circumcision performed by a woman is invalid. The Gemara challenges this from a verse in Parashas Shemos (4:25) that states, “Tzipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son.”

The Gemara answers that she told a male to take the stone and perform the circumcision, and the verse can be read as saying, “Tzipporah caused a sharp stone to be taken and the foreskin of her son to be cut off.” However, Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, questions who this man could have been, for a circumcision performed by a non-Jew is also invalid and all the other Jews were in Egypt.

He answers that the mohel must have been the only Jewish male present at the time: Tzipporah’s son Gershom who, according to the Midrash, was only three years old. He adds that this episode might be the source for the Rambam’s mysterious ruling (Hilchos Milah 2:1) that a circumcision performed by a minor is valid, a ruling for which there is no other known source.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.