God, not man

Faced with two commandments, Moses chose the more logical one – saving the Jewish nation. So why does God have an issue with him and threaten the course of history?

MICHELANGELO’S MOSES (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In synagogue these last few weeks, we had the opportunity to read about God’s deliverance of His people from Egypt. Moses is the designated agent to fulfill God’s wishes. However, the role of this Jewish leader is almost cut short when God meets with Moses and wants to kill him (Exodus 4:24).
This is not the first time Moses’s life is in danger, for he was born after Pharaoh decreed to throw all male children into the river. Later, certain people within the Israelite nation were willing to snitch to the authorities about what Moses did to the Egyptian (Exodus 2:14).
This last death encounter, however, is a bit too much to comprehend, for the Divine wishes to take out the very person whom he just promised to make leader.
What did Moses do to deserve the wrath of God? The Bible indicates that it was for not fulfilling the commandment of circumcising his son. One of the Talmudic rabbis declared, “How significant is circumcision! For all the merits that Moses had accrued were of no avail to him when he was lax with regard to circumcision.”
If not for the swift action of his wife, Tzipora, the Book of Exodus might have looked a bit different.
Can you really blame Moses for delaying the circumcision? Did he not have a direct command to go to Egypt? Faced with both commandments of God, Moses followed the more logical of the two – saving the Jewish nation. So why does God have an issue with him and threaten the course of history? There is a striking word in Exodus 4:24 that can decipher the entire puzzle of this story: vayevakesh – commonly translated as “wished” or “wanted.” God does not “wish” to kill; when He determines that a man should die, He kills him. Instead of interpreting va-yevakesh as “want,” it should be translated as “preferred.”
The Bible informs us that God preferred to let Moses die rather than allow him to continue along his journey and carry out his assigned mission in Egypt with an uncircumcised son.
God’s plans are dependent on no man… not even Moses. Everyone is dispensable to God.
The Passover Haggada attributes responsibility for the redemption from Egypt to God alone. The words of the Haggada itself declare: “The Lord brought us out of Egypt not by an angel, not by a seraph, not by a messenger, but by the Holy One, blessed be He...”
This is echoed both in the introduction of the Ten Commandments – I am the Lord Who took you out from Egypt – and in what God promised to Abraham: Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed for 400 years; but I will execute judgment on the nation they shall serve, and in the end they shall leave with great wealth.
God’s plan to redeem His nation does not hinge on Moses’s involvement or existence.
In recounting the Jewish nation’s story in the desert, Moses takes this lesson to heart when mentioning the death of his brother Aaron (Deuteronomy 10:6,7): “And the children of Israel journeyed from Be’erot Benei Ya’akan to Mosera; there Aaron died, and there he was buried; and Eleazar his son ministered in the priest’s office in his stead. From thence they journeyed unto Gudgod...” Despite the loss of the beloved national leader, the journey continues.
One could conclude that redemption depended absolutely on the efforts of this one man, Moses. Without him, the Egyptian liberation could never have been undertaken.
However, God, right from the outset, demonstrates that He would prefer that Moses die on his way to Egypt before ever confronting Pharaoh, rather than lead the Jewish nation with an uncircumcised child.
We must never forget that God rules the world and we are simply His instruments.
Even the mission to save the Jewish people does not take away someone’s personal responsibility to the laws that God established through His Word. Man can never feel he is above the law, not even when ultimate power is granted to him.
David Nekrutman is Executive Director for The Center for Jewish- Christian Understanding & Cooperation in Efrat, Israel