Moshe And Tzipporah At The Inn: The Meaning Of Moshe's Origin Story – Part 1

Moshe And Tzipporah At The Inn: The Meaning Of Moshe's Origin Story

Rabbi David Fohrman

Rabbi David Fohrman

Founder and Lead Scholar

The Burning Bush has come and gone, and Moses is on his way back to Egypt, to confront Pharaoh for the very first time and demand freedom for his people. And then… comes what is quite possibly the most puzzling story in the entire Book of Exodus: the Lord encounters Moses and his wife, Tzipporah, when they are staying the night at an Inn… and seeks to kill Moses.

Why would the Almighty do such an astonishing thing? Moses was doing what he was supposed to do. He was acting as an emissary of God himself, and then God tries to kill him? And what’s with ‘trying’ to kill Moses? If we’re talking about God here – how do you try and kill someone, and then fail?

We kid you not – whether you learned about this in school or not, this story is right there, black on white in the Biblical text. How are we to understand it?

Join Rabbi Fohrman, as he weaves an interpretation of this story into a larger tapestry – giving us a remarkable view of Moses’ origin story, as well as the theological underpinnings of the Exodus from Egypt as a whole.

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Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Now, that you're armed with Chumashim and some of our sparse handouts, a volunteer, in the back, is going to try to make some extra copies for those who didn't get. Let me introduce what we're going to talk about tonight and next week. This is a two-part series and what I'd like to talk about with you tonight is perhaps, well, there's a sort of general thing I'd like to talk about with you and a particular thing.

The general thing I'd like to talk about with you is the Moses origin story. The very first part of the story that we retell every Passover, the story of shibud Mitzrayim (enslavement to Egypt) and yetzi'at Mitzrayim (Exodus from Egypt). If you think about it, much of that story is not the national story of our enslavement or redemption. If that was the only thing that we were interested in, that would be the only story that's there in the Chumash, but what would the name to that story is a story of one person, one man and his origin story. It's such a good story. There's all these interesting things that happen.

It's Moses and he's born at a time when babies are being thrown into the Nile and he's saved by this miraculous act of kindness on the part of the daughter of Pharaoh. He runs away, right, hangs out in Midian, encounters God in the burning bush. We hear about all of these things. His story somehow is woven in to the story of the nation and the question is how do we understand that story?

Whenever you look at a story -- a series of events -- there's always two possibilities. One is that you're looking at a series of disconnected events, essentially, a collection of short stories. If you're looking at Moses, the Moses origin story, you're just hearing about a couple of things that happen to happen to him. Whereas this happened and that happened and then something else happened.

First he was in this little boat and then he got saved and then he was, you know, his mother had him and then he came out and then he saw these people. Then he went to Midian and he saw the burning bush. It's hard to see exactly how it all hangs together. Then the story after the burning bush.

Another possibility is that you're actually looking at a story. In that case, you have a few questions. How do all the pieces connect to each other, so that they become a story? Then he sort of -- then the next question is if it's a story, right, you should be able to say what it's about. In other words, if somebody stops you and says okay, so what's going on in the Moses origin story? What's happening in the Moses origin story? You should be able to answer that in a sentence or two without having to tell the whole story. Right, you should be able to talk about what the story is actually about.

Here, it might be helpful to retreat to some basic principles of storytelling or screenwriting as it were. Aaron Sorkin, for those of you who are familiar with his work, West Wing, Newsroom, other kinds of things. So he taught a class on screenwriting not too long ago and one of his arguments, he says, you know, if you're trying to write a movie or if you're trying to write a play, what makes for a story, right. What's the essence of a story?

If you have an idea for a movie and your idea is that you have this crazy cross-country trip and all these things happen to you and it was wild and all these funky things happen, so I am very interested in your trip, but that's not a story. It's not going to be a screenplay. It's just not. It's lacking the fundamental qualities of a story.

What is the most basic fundamental quality of a story? Two things; intention and obstacle. It's got to be some basic intention. If someone wants to do something really bad -- you want to get to Philadelphia for a job interview, whatever it is. You have to -- you want something really bad and then there's got to be some obstacle, something formidable that's standing in your way, right. That your car's broken down and you don't have money for a train. All you have is $15 in your pocket, but you have to get to Philadelphia, so now you have a story. You have an intention and you have an obstacle of what's going to be. That's the story.

The question is, if the Moses origin story is a story, what are those two elements? What's the intention, what's the obstacle? If you could answer that question, you know what the story's about. What is that story about? Who has the intention? On the part of who, where's the intention and what is the great obstacle standing in the way of realizing that intention? If we can understand that, we can understand what the story is and if we can understand that, perhaps we can understand how it's a part of our national story of redemption.

So one of the things I want to look at, with you, over these next two weeks, is the Moses origin story. That's the general thing, I want to discuss with you. But there's also a particular thing I want to discuss with you and it's actually the climax to the Moses origin story. If you're going to tell the story, every good story has a climax. The climax is the moment where the intention and the obstacle actually reach their zenith and somehow the story resolves itself around what happens with this intention and obstacle.

What is the climax of the Moses origin story? Where do you usually have a climax in a story?

Audience Member: At the end.

Rabbi Fohrman: At the end of the story. It brings us to the question, where is the end of the Moses origin story? When does the story stop being about Moses and start being about the people?

I want to argue that the climax to the Moses origin story is actually one of the most inexplicable episodes of the entire Torah, one of the strangest things that ever happens. That's the particular thing that I want to talk about over these next two weeks. We're going to get back to it next week. We're just going to raise the issue this week. It is that strange story that you never really knew what the heck was going on. What story am I talking about?

Audience Member: The burning bush.

Rabbi Fohrman: No, that's strange enough. What's even stranger than the burning bush? The story of Moses and Zipporah at the inn. What a strange story, right? What a weird story. You know the story? You know the story I'm talking about? It's a really weird story. Let's just take a look at the story. You'll find it in your Chumash.

So let's start from the beginning of Chapter 3. Chapter 3, hold on. No, sorry that's not correct. Say shishi, which is going to be Chapter 4, Verse 18. The burning bush has happened, Moses is on his way back to Egypt and he tells Jethro I want to go back to check out how things are doing with my brethren, see if they're still alive, see how they're still living. And Jethro says sure, go and then God tells Moses you should go, don't worry about a thing. The people who were trying to kill you are no longer trying to kill you.

Moses takes his wife, his children, he puts them on a donkey and he heads back to Egypt. On the way, God has one last thing to tell him. "Vayomer Hashem el Moshe b'lechtecha lashuv Mitzrayim," by the way, Moses, as you're going to return to Egypt, "re'ei et kol hamoftim asher samti b'yadecha," remember all of those signs. Remember at the burning bush I gave you three signs. Remember about all those signs. They're going to come in handy when you appear before Pharaoh. "V'asitem lifnei Pharaoh," you should do those signs in front of Pharaoh. If you ever run into trouble, you just remember about those signs.

Remember, Moses, don't get too discouraged. "Ani achazeik et libo," I'm telling you now, I'm going to harden his heart. I'm going to make it tough. Pharaoh's not going to give you an easy pass. "V'lo yeshalach et ha'am," he's not going to send out the people, but if that ever happens, you just tell him, "va'omar eilecha shalach et b'ni," you just tell him that God says send out My kid, My child, "v'ya'avdeini," so that he can serve Me. And you tell Pharaoh, you warn him, "vatema'ein l'shalcho," that if he dares not send out My kid, not send out the Jewish People, "hinei anochi horeig et bincha b'chorecha," I'm going to kill his kids. I'm going to kill his firstborn.

That's what you tell Pharaoh, so you don't worry about a thing. You've got your signs, you've got your speech, you're good to go.

Now, if I just stopped right there and I said okay, on a scale from 1 to 10, how do you think God and Moses are doing? Right, their relationship. How are things going between God and Moses, with zero being absolutely terrible and 10 being really wonderful? How's the relationship between God and Moses doing right now?

Audience Member: Eight.

Rabbi Fohrman: It's pretty good, right? A solid eight, right. God's pretty happy. The burning bush, He's got Moses and it's like, you know, when the kid goes off to school for the first day he's a little nervous and the parent calls out and says hey, by the way, remember I put in your lunchbox that note if you ever get into trouble here's what you can say to your friends, here's what you say to your kids. This is what you should say to your teacher. It's great and your homework's in your knapsack. Have a good day. Right.

That sounds like what God's doing with Moses. It's like bye-bye. It's going to be great. Don't worry about a thing. Don't get depressed if Pharaoh says no. It's going to be great. Go. Right. That's what it sounds like. It's the kid going off on his first day of school. It's great. They're at an eight. It's a great relationship. Which makes the very next verse almost impossible to read.

"Vayehi baderech," and on the way, "bamalon," at a hotel that night, "vayifgisheihu Hashem," God met up with Moses, "vayivakeish hamito," and tried to kill him. How do you even read those words, He tried to kill him, He wanted to kill him.

Zipporah, somehow knows what's wrong, "vatikach Tzipporah tzor," so Zipporah takes thus rock. By the way, you see that little play on words with Tzipporah and tzor. You see that? Take out the Pei of Tzipporah and you've got tzor. Anyway, Zipporah takes this rock. She realizes oh my gosh, we forgot to do milah on our child. We forgot to circumcise our child. She performs -- it's emergency surgery, emergency circumcision. "Vatichrot et arlat b'nah vatag l'raglav vatomer," and then she says, "chatan damim atah li," you're a bridegroom of blood to me.

"Vayiref mimenu az amrah chatan damim lamulot," you're a bridegroom of blood to me through this circumcision. That's the story.

Then, as if nothing happened, "vayomer Hashem el Aharon," God says to Aaron, "leich likrat Moshe hamidbarah," go greet Moses in the desert and they greet each other and they meet up and it's really wonderful. It's like as if nothing happened. It's just that God speaks to Aaron and here you should go meet Moses and it's like Aaron -- you know, how come Aaron doesn't say like You just tried to kill him, right. How come You tried to kill him and how come You did try to kill him? Like, I thought everything was going great. They were pals, it was great. The note in the lunchbox. The whole thing. And all of a sudden, God tries to kill him with no explanation, right, because this thing with the circumcision?

However, the truth is, this is really the last episode in the Moses origin story. From here on in it's all about us. It's all about the battle between Moses and Pharaoh over will the Jews go. This is the culmination of his story. What a weird culmination. But you'd expect in the climax to see a resolution of the intention and the obstacle, so what is the intention? What is the obstacle in this story? What's this story all about and what in the world is this strange climax is this story of Moses and Zipporah at the inn doing here? How do we understand that why would God want to kill Moses at this last minute? It's the strangest thing.

Right, you've come across this story. Does anybody ever ask you about this story? Do your kids ever ask you about this story? Do you ever wonder about this story? Am I crazy, this is a weird story, right? It's not just me, it's a strange story. So we're going to try to explain it this week and next week.

To begin to explain it, I want to begin by talking a little bit about the story that proceeds this one; the story of the burning bush itself. A lot of things happen in the story of the burning bush, but it's a long extended conversation between God and Moses, between God and Moshe. But if you just sort of take a 50,000 foot view of this story, right, just look at the basic story, without all the details, it strikes me that there are two big questions at the heart of this story.

Let me ask you, think about the burning bush story in general. Anything generally speaking always bothered you about the story? Just the story as a whole, what is weird about this story? Anybody? Does anybody find anything weird about this story? Am I the only one? What do you say? What's weird?

Two things are weird. It's really the same question, but you can ask the question from God's perspective or you can ask the question from Moses' perspective. It's just two sides of the coin. The easiest way to see the weirdness is to kind of put yourself in Moses' shoes for a moment. So I'm going to take an involuntary volunteer. I'm going to elect Bobby Feiner (ph) in the front row, over here. Bobby, you're going to be my volunteer.

I'm going to ask you this question. So imagine, Bobby, you're on this way -- you're on the way to the shiur (class) tonight. You're driving in from Lawrence, right, all the way over to Cedarhurst and on the way you're passing Rockaway Turnpike, right, and imagine you're coming with your husband -- I don't know if your husband's here tonight -- but imagine you're coming with your husband, Dr. Feiner, and here you are and along the way, you have a few minutes, you're a little early. Along the way you notice that on Rockaway Turnpike, right at the corner of Rockaway Turnpike and Broadway, there's this dumpster that's on fire. Right, a big dumpster fire.

All the cars are like passing by, but you decide that you'd like to stop and admire this dumpster fire because, you know, your husband says Bobby can we keep on driving? You say no, no, no and you're looking at this thing and you're saying, dear, there's something strange about this dumpster fire. So he's like can we please keep on going. It's like I'm telling you that garbage in the dumpster is burning, but it's not being consumed. It's burning but it's not being consumed. It's like yeah, can we please leave right -- but, no, right.

You're looking at this miracle. This miracle, which by the way, nobody else notices because, if you think about it, the burning bush wasn't such a great miracle. I mean, it sounds like this big dramatic miracle, but in a way it's not a great miracle. Like, if you wanted to get Moses' attention, do you know what I mean, and you were God and your goal was just to get his attention, would you really have settled upon a bush that was burning and not being consumed? Like, how long does it take to look at a bush and realize that that bush is actually on fire, but it's not burning? That's a good 15 minutes, do you know what I mean?

Like, most people wouldn't notice. Right. You just pass. How many people stop and admire dumpster fires? You go, right. Three elephants, you know, flying around a rock, that would have gotten Moses' attention; a burning bush, not so much. But for some reason God decides no, this is the perfect miracle and Moses' realizes it and Bobby realizes it and stops, watches this miracle. No sooner does Bobby, right -- Bobby, do you notice this dumpster fire, then you say oh my gosh, the fire it's burning, but it's not being consumed. An angel appears out of the fire and says Bobby, Bobby and you say hineini, here I am.

Then the angel gives you the mission. Now, if I just said to you, Bobby, how do you see the next five or 10 years of your life playing out and maybe Bobby would have given me this idea oh, well, here I am. I'm in Lawrence and I have my children off in Israel and I go visit them and I'm here and my husband has his practice here and I'm involved in all of these organizations. She has this vision of what her life looks like over here, but all of a sudden, in a flash, the angel upends that vision and the angel says, Bobby, I am an angel of the Lord and I have a job for you.

Now, most people who would see an angel of the Lord, right, you know, you wouldn't really believe it's an angel of the Lord. You'd think, you know, I took one too many Valium last night or something and you think maybe you're hallucinating, but the angel says, you know, you're going to go to sleep tonight and in the morning you'll notice that there'll be a check underneath your pillow drawn on the bank of heaven for $543,000.21. And in fact, you wake up and there's this check and you cash the check and it clears so you know it was true, but the check is there for your purpose. Your purpose is, is that you're supposed to enter politics and you're supposed to run for a seat in the New York State Senate because there's some very important business that God wants you to get involved in, in the New York State Senate.

You're sure that it's God because you -- the check cleared and you know it's -- and the miracle is there. You're absolutely sure it's true, but this is not what you planned. You had other plans. You were going to visit your kids and the last thing you want to do is enter politics, but the angel says no, this is your destiny. This is the Almighty speaking. It's your destiny.

Bobby, what would you do?

Bobby: This is what bothered me about the story.

Rabbi Fohrman: This is what bothered you about the story (laughs).

Bobby: I never understood why Moses protested too much. I wouldn't have protested.

Rabbi Fohrman: Right? Most people would say hey, you know, I had a different vision, but You're God, right. I'm just trying to serve You. If this is what I'm supposed to do, I'm good. Most of us, we try so hard to figure out what we're supposed to do in life, but if the Lord would ever come out and say this is what you're supposed to do with your life, I'll help you, it's like hey, I'm in, I'm in. You know, I'll cash the check. I'll start my campaign. I'm good.

How come Moses doesn't do that? Moses spends his entire time, at the burning bush, finding one reason after another to say no. That's all he does. One excuse after another. No, I can't. I won't. It'll never work. Pharaoh will never listen to me. The people, they're going to want Your name, what am I ever going to tell them? They're never going to believe. It's not going to be true. Besides, I've got this burnt tongue. I can't speak well. One excuse after another. How come Moses can't just say yes like he says no? This is the great Moses, what is he doing saying no? To me, this is the great question of the story, how come he says no?

The flip side to that question is a question you can ask about God. Put yourself in God's shoes. You're God, you pick this guy, Moses, you show him the miracle, he knows it's you, you give him the mission. I want you to go. I need a guy, on the ground, to go to Pharaoh and all he could tell you is no. Not once, not twice, not three times, five times he says no. If you're God, what would you do?

I mean, like, at some point either you would say hey, look, we're done arguing. I'm the Master of the Universe, making an executive decision here, you're going. Right? Something like that, that's one option. Another option is okay, look, I'm not going to argue with you forever. You know, once, twice, three times okay, we'll move on. There's many fish in the see. I'll find somebody else. You're obviously the wrong guy.

Audience Member: Well, maybe that's the kind of person he wanted.

Rabbi Fohrman: Yes, so God does not move on. God doesn't move on. Why doesn't God move on and why does Moses keep on saying no? So you tell me. If you're God, why do you not move on? What's the only way you could explain why you don't move on?

Audience Member: Something unique about this individual.

Rabbi Fohrman: It must be that there's something unique about this individual. It must be you can't move on. You do not have the option of moving on. It must be that there's some sort of prerequisite. There's some sort of job description for what it takes to do this job and the only one who meets the criteria is this guy. It's this guy or nothing because if it wasn't this guy you would move on.

So now, the next question is, okay, so if that's true, what's so special about this guy? How come he's so special?

Audience Member: If he's so special why didn't he want to go?

Rabbi Fohrman: And if he's so special, why does He want to kill him? But if he is so special, what makes him so special? Now, let's get back to the question of why Moses was saying no and let's think about that a little bit. Why did Moses say no over and over again; five different times, five different excuses?

Let me ask you a question, as a parent, you tell your kid to go clean his room. The kid comes back to you with an excuse, you shoot it down. Still the kid doesn't clean his room. He comes back to you with a different excuse. You shoot it down. The kid argues it again, a third excuse, a fourth excuse. You shoot it down. Five different excuses.

Let me ask you a question. What's the real reason the kid doesn't want to clean his room? Is it one of the five excuses? Probably not. It's something else. The kid just doesn't want to clean his room. It's something more fundamental than the five excuses. If Moses says no and gives you five different reasons why no and I say to you which is the real reason? The probable answer is none of the above.

Now, the question is so what's the reason? It must be something he's not saying. Something he doesn't want to say. Why doesn't he want to say it? Is it too painful? Is it because he doesn't know? Why doesn't he want to say it?

Again, if we look at the question from Moses' perspective or if we look at the question from God's perspective, we can isolate these two questions down to the following core. From God's perspective, what's so special about this guy that You can't move in? From Moses' perspective, what's the real reason you won't go?

Now, I want to suggest to you that maybe -- just maybe -- those two questions answer each other, as you were suggesting. In other words, maybe that which makes Moses special is the reason he won't go. So what is that? Maybe it's all the same thing. What makes him so special? What's the reason he won't go? Somehow, the story of Moses and Zipporah at the inn is tied into all of that.

So here's the game plan. In order to solve these dilemmas we're going to do three things in our remaining time tonight and in our time together next week. The story of what we're looking at, the burning bush, you could really think of that story as having three parts or the Moses origin story you could really think of that being three parts. You could sort of think of it as the burning bush is one part, is the center part and then there's a prologue to the burning bush and there's an epilogue.

The prologue to the burning bush is the beginning of the Moses origin story. Moses' birth, how he -- his early life in Egypt, how he runs away to Midian and then he eventually sees the burning bush.

Then there's an epilogue to that story and the epilogue story is after the burning bush, the story of what happens afterwards. This little story about how he's on his way, he's going back and Aaron's supposed to meet him and he gets caught up -- at the Moses and Zipporah at the inn, Aaron finally meets him; that story.

So you could again think of -- sort of think about it as again prologue, part one; burning bush, part two; epilogue, part three.

What we're going to do is the following. Next week, I want to actually go through the Moses origin story carefully with you and what we're going to do is we're not going to look at the burning bush, but we're going to look really at the story involved in the prologue and the epilogue. Try to piece together that story leading to the climax up to the burning bush. So next week is a storytelling enterprise, right. What is the story? Try to get into Moses' shoes, try to get into the shoes of people there. What's really happening? What are their struggles? What's the intention? What's the obstacle? Who has the intention? Who has the obstacle? What is it?

This week, I want to lay the groundwork for that story with something that's not storytelling, but something that is a process of discovery on our parts as readers, a forensic examination of text. There is a fascinating and mysterious pattern in the prologue and epilogue that I want to show you and somehow this pattern bares on this story. Part of this pattern involves the Moses and Zipporah story, but the pattern covers the entire prologue and epilogue. The pattern I'm referring to is a very elaborate chiasm, a very elaborate At-Bash pattern.

For those who have been around the block with me before, and for those of you who've encountered chiasms, generally, a chiasm or an At-Bash pattern is a pattern of inverted parallels where you have a story and the first element in the story mirrors the last element, the second to first element mirror the second to last element, the third to first element mirrors the third to last, et cetera, et cetera, all converging towards the center.

I want to suggest to you that in our story, the entire Moses origin story is built that way. It's built as one elaborate chiastic structure, one elaborate At-Bash pattern. The center of the story, it's center is the burning bush. The story of the burning bush is the center. The chiasm then proceeds outward right into the prologue and the prologue you're going to find is mirrored as a mirror. Everything that happens in the prologue has a mirror image in the epilogue and that is how your handouts are going to help you.

The handouts that I passed out, if you have these guys, this is going to help you with that chiasm. So take a look and you can just sort of see. If you have the colored version of these, right, you see how the top of the text is sort of pink and the bottom text is kind of pink and then you have orange text after the pink text and before the second pink text. Then you have green and then you have sort of turquoise. You see that? Notice how all of those colors are in mirror image. You've got pink, orange, green, blue followed by blue, green, orange, pink. You've got that? It's a mirror image.

So what's going to happen is, generally speaking, each of those four sections -- let me find a mirror -- the pink section, on the top is going to be mirrored by the pink section on the bottom, orange by orange, green by green, blue by blue. If you don't have one of these just share with somebody next to you and you can look on and we can try to do it.

So let me just kind of show you how this goes. Now, the reason why this is interesting -- why is this forensic explanation interesting? So it gets to a speculative question, but the question is why does the Torah do this? The Torah occasionally does this; it renders its text in strange patterns like this, in chiastic patterns. Why, if you were writing a book, would you use this kind of thing? Why would God use a chiastic pattern?

There's most probably many reasons, but one of the reasons is that a chiasm is actually a way of commenting on the meaning of a text. If somebody asked you and said hey, I'm interested in reading a new commentary on the Torah this year. I've done with shnayim mikrah v'echad targum, I've done my -- did Rashi one year, did Nachmanides another year, did the Seforno the other year. I'm looking for something new, but I want something, like, authentic and early. Give me some new commentary I haven't heard of. So you say well, Onkelos would be great. No, I did Onkelos too. Like, something really early. Well, Midrash? No, I've gone through Midrash.

Like, what's the earliest commentary on the Torah that you can ever imagine? The answer is the Torah itself. What if the earliest commentary on the Torah was in fact the Torah? They say, well, that's crazy how could a book comment on itself? Well, it could comment on itself through something like a chiasm. If you had text arranged chiastically -- think about it -- if I've got a pattern that goes A, B, C, D, D, C, B, A so then if I want to know what's going on in C down here, where would I look for an explanation? C up there. These are pairs. The pairs are going to explain each other. The pairs are going to playoff of each other. They're mirror images of each other.

So if I don't know what's happening here, but I can understand its mirror image, so now I have a clue because I can get it. I have some sort of reference point. So the Torah is actually inlaying in its own text the commentary. Buried in the text itself is the key to understanding it.

So if we're trying to figure out what's happening with Moses and Zipporah at the inn, and we can't figure out what's happening there, where might we look for answers? Well, if it's part of a chiasm the question to ask is what's the pair? The pair is the mirror image, right. The pair is going to comment on it. So what's the pair?

Let's look at the chiasm and see what we find and that's going to be, pretty much, our work for tonight and then we'll get into all of the storytelling behind this next week.

So what I want to do is kind of start in the middle, the burning bush is in the middle and then we're going to branch out from the middle. So pretty much what we're going to do is every step we're going to take is going to be a step backwards in the prologue and a step forwards in the epilogue. Right, that's how we're going to go. So what I'm going to do, and I'm going to challenge you, okay? I'm going to start reading the epilogue and I want you to see if you can find what text counts as the mirror of that in the prologue?

So to make it easier for you, I'm going to start in the blue section and what I want you to do is look in the blue section on the top of the page -- I'm going to go to bottom blue and you're going to look at top blue. I'm going to read something in bottom blue and you tell me what in top blue mirrors this. Okay? Are you ready?

So here we are, the burning bush is over, in the epilogue. I'm in bottom blue and the first thing I have is "vayeilech Moshe vayashav el Yeter chotno," after the burning bush Moses goes and he returns to Jethro, his father-in-law. Moses goes and he returns to Jethro. So what would be the mirror image of that in top blue, can you find it?

Audience Member: -- Yitro chotno, mentioning Jethro.

Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. So I have a mention of Jethro, but it's more than just a mention of Jethro. What's happening with Jethro and Moses in the first line of the top blue. Look at what's happening. Let's read it. "U'Moshe hayah ro'eh et tzon Yitro chotno," and Moses was shepherding the sheep of his father-in-law, "kohein Midyan," "vayinhag et hatzon achar hamidbar," and he shepherded the sheep through the desert until, "vayavo el Har Ha'Elokim Choreivah," until he came to the mountain of God, at Herob.

What's happening there that's the mirror image of bottom blue, "vayeilech Moshe vayashav el Yeter chotno?"

Audience Member: (Interposing)

He's the first one who's coming back.

Rabbi Fohrman: Exactly. Do you see what's happening? In top blue, what is Moses doing? Moses was shepherding the sheep of Jethro, he's leaving his job shepherding the sheep of Jethro and he's walking through the desert until he gets to the Mountain of God at Horeb. That's what's happening in top blue. What's happening in bottom blue? Where has he been at the burning bush? The Mountain of God at Horeb. Now, what's he doing? "Vayeilech Moshe vayashav el Yeter chotno," he's going from the Mountain of God and now he's going through the desert and he's going to return to Jethro where he's supposed to be shepherding sheep.

So you see it's like a perfect parallel. At the top; shepherding sheep for Jethro, walking through the desert, coming to Mountain of God. At the bottom; leaving the Mountain of God, walking through the desert, coming back to Jethro where presumably he's going to shepherd sheep. Right? Leaving Jethro, going to mountain, leaving mountain, returning to Jethro.

Okay. Let's go to the next element of blue. I'm going to keep on reading blue, bottom blue and you tell me what in top blue mirrors what I'm about to read in bottom blue.

So right after "vayeilech Moshe vayashav el Yeter chotno," in the epilogue to the burning bush, the next thing that happens is that Moses says to Jethro, "vayomer lo," Moses says to Jethro, "elcha na v'ashuvah el achai asher b'Mitzrayim v'er'eh ha'odam chaim," Jethro, I'd like to ask permission, leave of absence, I'd like to take some time off from my job shepherding sheep. Could I please go and return to my brothers in Egypt. I want to see how they're doing.

Can you find anything in top blue that reminds you of this language? Again, the language. Moses is saying "elcha na," I want to go please and walk and return to my brothers and see how they're doing. What do you see in top blue that reminds you of that?

Audience Member: (Interposing).

Rabbi Fohrman: There it is. Take a look at Verse 3 in top blue. In Verse 3 in top blue, "vayomer Moshe," Moses says something else, "asurah na v'er'eh." Now, you see how close that is? In top blue, "asurah na v'er'eh;" in bottom blue, "elcha na v'er'eh." You got that? "Elcha na v'er'eh," "asurah na v'er'eh."

Why are these mirror images of each other? Let's translate the words. What does it mean if I say "elcha na v'er'eh," what am I saying? Jethro can I please -- elcha means go -- I'd like to go. I'd like to walk and see. Let's just visualize what that means? What would it mean to walk? Here I am, I'm walking. So if I'm walking and I go like this, I'm going to walk, right. This is me walking.

Now, what's the mirror image of me walking? Instead of saying "elcha na v'er'eh," I'm going to walk so instead of walking -- the opposite of walking would be?

Audience Member: Staying where I am.

Rabbi Fohrman: Staying where I am and if I walk I'd go straight. The opposite of going straight would be?

Audience Member: Asurah.

Rabbi Fohrman: To turning to the side. What does asurah na mean? I'd like to turn to the side and see. "Asurah na v'er'eh" means let me see. Moses is encountering this burning bush in the prologue and here he is and he's saying something in my peripheral vision is weird. What's going on over there? What's happening with that bush? I'll stay right where I am, I'm not walking anywhere. "Asurah na v'er'eh," I'm going to tilt my head over here. What's happening with that bush? It's the opposite of "elcha na v'er'eh." It's the mirror image of "elcha na v'er'eh," but the words are very similar. Instead of "elcha na v'er'eh," I'm going to go and see, I'm going to stay where I am, I'm going to turn and see.

That is blue two. We have blue one and blue two. Now, we're up to blue three, the third parallel in blue. So I'm going to read the next words and you tell me what is the -- what's the opposite of them? You're ready? The next thing I have is "elcha na v'ashuvah el achai asher b'Mitzrayim v'er'eh," and now the question is what is he going to see? Remember, in the epilogue, Moses is telling Jethro hey, I want to go and walk and see and now, the question is what do you want to see?

So the next part of the verse is going to answer what I want to see. What is it that Moses wants to see, he tells Jethro. He wants to see "ha'odam chaim," are my people really still alive. In other words, there's sort of a question mark explanation here which is like oh my gosh, I can't believe they're still alive. Like, look at what they're going through. "Ha'odam chaim," are they really still alive? They've gone through suffering and pain and affliction and they're really still alive. That's Moses.

Now, that's mirrored in top blue, right, top blue three, the third mirror in top blue is, again, an explanation of what is seen? Now, remember Moses in top blue, what's he looking at?

Audience Member: Sneh.

Rabbi Fohrman: He's looking at the burning bush, right. So he says I'm going to turn and see. What are you going to see and now, we're going to hear what are you going to see. What is he going to see?

The answer is he's going to see "et hamar'eh hagadol hazeh madu'a lo yiv'ar hasneh," he's going to see this incredible thing, this incredible thing, right. "Madu'a lo yiv'ar hasneh," how come that bush won't burn.

Now, here's the puzzling thing and here you're going to begin to see the explanatory power of a chiasm. Because something here is mysterious and the chiasm is going to help explain it. What is mysterious in blue three, two elements in two three? What Moses is going to see in the story of Jethro -- he tells Jethro I want to go back to Egypt and see my people, are they still alive; that's one element in blue three. The other element in blue three is what Moses is seeing on his way to the burning bush when he sees this bush on fire, "madu'a lo yiv'ar hasneh," how come that bush won't burn?

Now, there's something mysterious here in one of these elements, which is what?

Audience Member: The bush stays alive.

Rabbi Fohrman: The mysterious thing is the burning bush itself. Now, it might not seem such a mystery to you, but just realize that, you know, one of the problems that you have with reading the Torah is that you know it too well. You've read this story over and over again and you can't even imagine that it would ever be different, but, of course, it could have been different and sometimes you have to ask yourself why did things happen the way they happen, it could have been different?

One of the questions you sort of have to ask in that vein is if you're God and you really wanted to get Moses' attention -- this is the question I raised before with Bobby -- would I really have chosen a burning bush, it's a pretty lousy miracle. How many cars passed by the dumpster fire until one stopped for 15 minutes to notice, you know what, the garbage isn't burning. No one's going to notice that. A miracle, Moses noticed it.

If you're God, why would you use such a difficult, low-grade miracle for your great introduction to Moses? It must be --

Audience Member: (Interposing).

Moses is going to see the symbolism of it.

Rabbi Fohrman: It must be that the point you're making with that miracle is so overarching important that it outweighs the drama of the miracle. It had to be a burning bush. God was making a statement -- an urgent statement -- with that burning bush and that statement was so important to make that there's no other conceivable miracle. You can't do three elephants flying around a rock because that doesn't mean anything. I don't want to just have a miracle, I want to say something with my miracle.

Now, the question is what was He saying? What was the meaning of the miracle? If you want to know the meaning of the miracle, you know where you'd look? You'd look in the parallel. You'd look in the mirror image. The meaning of the miracle is in the mirror image. What is the chiasm telling you? You want to know the meaning of the miracle? Don't just look at what Moses was seeing in the prologue, when he turned and looked at the burning bush; look at what he's going to see in the epilogue.

What's he going to see in the epilogue? What does he tell Jethro? I want to see the people, ha'odam chaim. He can't believe they're still alive.

Now, tell me what the meaning of the burning bush was?

Audience Member: The people are still alive.

Rabbi Fohrman: That was the meaning of the burning bush. There is a symbol here. There's a bush and it's on fire and it's not burning. Now, the question is what's the bush and what's the fire?

Audience Member: (Interposing).

Rabbi Fohrman: The bush is the people. They're on fire. What's the fire?

Audience Member: (Interposing).

Rabbi Fohrman: The fire is the Egyptian servitude. The Egyptian servitude, it was terrible, right.

By the way, go back a couple of verses in the burning bush story and look at what immediately proceeds the burning bush story. Right before we get to the burning bush, let me see if I can find it here with you. Here, right before Moses goes and sees that burning bush. Take a look at Chapter 2, the end of Chapter 2. "Vayehi bayamim harabim haheim," and it happened in those days, "vayamat melech Mitzrayim," the king of Egypt died, "vayei'anchu Bnei Yisrael min ha'avodah vayiz'aku," the People of Israel, they sighed from their work and they screamed, "vata'al shav'atam el ha'Elokim," and their screams rose up to God from the work.

"Vayishma Elokim et na'akatam," and God heard those screams, "vayizkor Elokim et Bnei Yisrael," and he remembered His people. "Vaya'ar Elokim," and he saw, "vayeida Elokim," and God knew and God connected to that.

If you even think about that notion, hear the people and they're screaming and the screams rise up to heaven and now, think about the next thing that you see which is a burning bush that's on fire. What happens when a bush is on fire? Where does the smoke go?

Audience Member: Up in the air.

Rabbi Fohrman: The smoke goes up to heaven. It's almost like the screams were the smoke going up and it's the people, right, because the people are on fire. Now, here's the thing. The bush isn't being consumed. The bush isn't consumed, what does that tell you?

Audience Member: They're alive.

Rabbi Fohrman: They're alive, but should they be alive?

Audience Member: No.

Rabbi Fohrman: No. Why? Think back to the Brit Bein Habetarim (covenant of the pieces). "Ger yihiyeh zar'acha b'eretz lo lahem," your children will be enslaved for 400 years, "l'arba mei'ot shanah." They're going to be enslaved and they're going to be oppressed for 400 years and then I'm going to come and I'm going to take them out.

That itself is weird. You know what's weird about it? In the history of man, in the way the history works, if you take a nation that's a powerless nation, that's an immigrant nation, that's a ger (convert), that's a nation of converts, that have no civil rights, that the host population turns on them and subjugates them. It doesn't just subjugate them, but with sadism tortures them. What is going to happen to this people? They are going to vanish. They're not going to be around for 400 years.

However they are. How come they are? The answer -- how come they're still around? How come the bush isn't burning? "Madu'a lo yiv'ar hasneh." That is the question. How come the bush isn't burning?

Audience Member: It's a miracle.

Rabbi Fohrman: The answer is because God is saving them. Let me ask you another question. Here's this moment where God hears the screams of the people and decides to act because He remembers His covenant. Which covenant?

Audience Member: Brit bein Habetarim.

Rabbi Fohrman: The covenant going all the way back to that covenant of the pieces when He promised that there would be something like the burning bush, when He promised that for 400 years this people wouldn't get destroyed. God remembers that covenant.

One of the weird things about the redemption from Egypt is that here is God, He hears the screams and He decides to save us. Imagine, though, that you were an angel that took a dim view of this and you wanted to argue to God and say it isn't fair. What would you say?

Audience Member: What took You so long?


Rabbi Fohrman: Here's what I would say, if I had enough chutzpah as an angel. I might say God, what are You doing? What's Your plan? You come make signs and miracles at the Red Sea, plagues. You're getting involved. You can't do this. You have a world to run. You're the God of creation. You made nature. Nature runs by rules. You know what's wrong with miracles? It upends all of that. What's the laws of nature? Who cares about that? You can't do that all the time. What? If You do it here, You're going to have to do it there. Every Tom, Dick and Harry. You know sometimes bad things happen to nations. It happens, nebach, you know, it happens. All right, let it happen.

It's for that reason that it wasn't just God's empathy. If He remembers the covenant -- you know, if I was God what I would say to that angel, I can't let it happen. When nations get destroyed, how do they get destroyed? You suffer a civilization ending event like slavery, like sadistic slavery something like that. How long does it take? It's over, right. You know, two years, three years, five years it's over. In this case, it was never over. For 400 years we were burning and we weren't consumed.

Why? Because God made us a promise. I'm already involved. I didn't let them die. If I didn't let them die, I'm involved, I'm a party in a way to their suffering. Even if you blame the Egyptians for their suffering, I'm the one that's allowed this to go on for 400 years. I wouldn't let them die. I wanted them to be here. They were My children and therefore I am going to come out of the clouds and I'm going to save them.

This is the burning bush. God hears the screams of His people and is moved by the pain of a bush. It would be one thing if you suffer a civilization ending event and nebach it's over quickly and it's done, but it's not and they're on fire and they're not being destroyed and the pain just lasts and it lasts and God sees that and is moved.

How do you know that that's the meaning? Look at the inverse, look at the flip side of it. Look at blue three in the epilogue. If the burning bush is a parable and that's blue three in the prologue the nimshal, the explanation of the parable is found in blue three in the epilogue. In what Moses says, he's going to look out when he's going to go to Egypt. What does he tell Jethro he's going to look at? I'm going to look at the people and what does Moses say with astonishment?

"Ha'odam chaim." Are they still alive? Everything they're going through and they're still alive? They shouldn't be alive, but they still are. That's the crazy thing. That's the explanation, that's the burning bush.

By the way, how do you know it's too true that blue three mirrors -- blue three in the prologue mirrors blue three in the epilogue. That what Moses sees when he looks at the burning bush is what Moses is going to see when he goes to Egypt and says "ha'odam chaim," are they still alive.

Take a look at those words, ha'odam chaim. How do you spell odam? Ayin-Vav-Daled-Mem. Now, look at blue three in the prologue. What does Moses say about that burning bush, in astonishment? If Moses' words in astonishment in the epilogue are "ha'odam chaim," are they really still alive, what's his astonished words when he looks at the bush?

Audience Member: Madu'a.

Rabbi Fohrman: "Madu'a lo yiv'ar hasneh." How do you spell madu'a, anyone? Mem-Daled-Vav-Ayin. Backwards. Odam backwards is madu'a. They're actually the exact flip sides of each other. One's the parable, the other is the explanation.

By the way, just parenthetically because we just had Purim, this isn't the only time in Tanach that you have a madu'a and odam paired with each other. There's one more time in Tanach that madu'a and odam go together in the same book.

Audience Member: In the Megillah.

Rabbi Fohrman: In the Megillah. In the Megillah you have madu'a and odam. Where do you have odam? "Odam midabrim imo." It happens towards the end of the Megillah. It happens with Haman and Zeresh. Haman, right before he's doomed -- actually if you have a Megillah we can go and find it. I'll read it to you really fast.

In the middle of Chapter 6, where is it? Yeah, Chapter 7, sorry. Right before Chapter 7. Chapter 6, Verse 13, "Vayisaper Haman l'Zeresh ishto u'l'chol ohavav et kol asher karahu," Haman tells all the terrible things that befell him, right. That he went and had to lead Mordecai through the street on the horse. "Vayomru lo chachamav v'Zeresh ishto," and his wise men Zeresh, his wife, says to him, "im mizera haYehudim Mordechai," if it's really Mordecai, from the Jewish People, that you're trying to fight against, "asher hachilota linpol lifanav," that you've begun to fall with him, "lo tuchal lo," whatever you end up doing you're not going to succeed. You're going to fail, "lo tuchal lo," you will fail, "ki nafol tipol lifanav," you will fail before them.

Then, "odam midabrim imo." There's that very unusual word, "odam midabrim imo," they were still talking to him when the knife -- when the guillotine falls, when the messengers come to bring Haman to Esther's feast where he's going to be killed. That's the odam, where's the madu'a?

Where is madu'a in the Megillah?

"Madu'a atah over et mitzvat hamelech." Let's go find that. That's in Chapter 3. Mordecai will not bow. "Vayomru avdei hamelech," and all the king's servants, "asher b'sha'ar hamelech," who were supposed to bow they're bowing, "kor'im u'mishtachavim l'Haman ki chein tzivah lo halemelech," because that's how they understand the command of the king, but, "u'Mordechai lo yichra v'lo yishtachaveh," Mordecai will not bow. "Vayomru avdei hamelech asher b'sha'ar hamelech l'Mordechai," and so the servants of the king say to Mordecai, "madu'a atah over et mitzvat hamelech," why are you in fact defying the king's decree. Madu'a, why are you defying the king's decree?

Madu'a and odam, one more time in Tanach. It's strange. Would it be connected to this stuff? It might be. Is the madu'a and odam in the Megillah connected? Take a look at what happens right after the madu'a in the Megillah, the very next verse. Right after the servants of the king say "madu'a atah over et mitzvat hamelech," why are you going to defy the command of the king. "Vayehi b'amram eilav yom vayom," they would say this to him every day, "v'lo shama aleihem," and Mordecai would not listen, "vayagidu l'Haman," so they eventually decided to tell Haman about this outrage, "lir'ot," to see, "haya'amdu divrei Mordechai," would what Mordecai says stand.

By the way, how do you spell ya'amdu? Ayin-Mem-Daled-Vav. The same letters rearranged. The Megillah is playing anagrams with us; with odam, madu'a and ya'amdu. "Haya'amdu divrei Mordechai."

"Ki higid lahem asher hu Yehudi," can you relate the madu'a and the odam in the Megillah. How do they relate to each other? They're mirror images of each other. How are they mirror images? What is the madu'a? The madu'a is going to be the downfall of Haman. Mordecai is not bowing and therefore the people say madu'a atah, how come this outrage? How can you possibly do this. So they tell Haman to see "haya'amdu divrei Mordechai," will Mordecai's words stand. Will they be allowed to stand?

Now, go to the odam. It's a terrible thing to befall Haman. Now, Haman is telling Zeresh instead of being told something about Mordecai, he's telling terrible things to Zeresh. What does Zeresh say? "Im mizera haYehudim Mordechai," if it's really Mordecai, "lo tuchal lo," you won't be able to overcome him. What's going to happen? "Nafol tipol l'fanav," you will fall before him.

To stand and to fall, to stand and to fall. The first story is will Mordecai actually be able to stand and the implication is, of course, not. But then Zeresh comes along and says about her husband, you know what, no matter what you do you're going to fail. No matter what you do, Haman, you're going to fall, but it's not just stand and fall, it's more than that.

Think about what Zeresh was saying. How could she be so sure? She looks at her husband and says I have news for you. If Mordecai is really a Jew, I've come to this realization that "lo tuchal lo," that no matter what you plot, no matter what you do "lo tuchal lo," you will be unsuccessful. Why? What was she seeing? How would she know that no matter what he did it wasn't going to work? It looked like it was going to work back with the madu'a. It looked like it was going to work back when all the servants told him about Mordecai who wasn't bowing and he was going to get killed, but now, it doesn't look like it's going to work.

She's seeing a pattern. What is she seeing?

Audience Member: History.

Rabbi Fohrman: She's seeing a pattern in history. What does she see even -- or the author of the Megillah wants us to see her see it even if she doesn't consciously see it -- what does she see? Where's the only time you have madu'a and odam before this? The burning bush. What is the promise at the burning bush? What is that promise that harks all the way back to the covenant of the pieces that says you can burn and you burn, but you will not be consumed? That promise that the people of Israel are eternal. That there is no way to extinguish them. There's no way to wipe them out. You can light them on fire and they will burn. They will suffer pain, but they will not be destroyed. There is an eternality to that nation.

It's something that Zeresh begins to understand. Zeresh is looking at a burning bush moment because what is Haman trying to plot? What is he trying to do?

Audience Member: Destroy the Jews.

Rabbi Fohrman: Every man, woman and child in one blood-soaked day. Haman is trying to create a civilization ending event and the promise is there is no such thing as a civilization ending event. That's what the burning bush is.

So the mystery of odam and madu'a comes back one more time in Tanach, in the Megillah.

I'm just about out of time with you; I'm sort of out of time with you. So what I'm going to do, we're about half way through the chiasm, right, but what happens here at -- let me see if I can -- what's that?

Audience Member: Don't rush it.

Rabbi Fohrman: Don't rush it, okay. So I won't rush it. I just want to show you one last little thing, for literally 60 seconds. The very next element, just because it's so cool. You know, I can't resist. The very next element, the last element in blue and I'll just finish off with the last element in blue.

The next thing that happens is "vayomer Yitro l'Moshe leich l'shalom," so Jethro says to Moses go in peace. It'll be fine, go in peace. Now, what does that remind you of in top blue? If bottom blue Jethro says to Moses go in peace, what would you say is the opposite of go?

Come. Now, what is the opposite of yes, go?

Audience Member: Stay here.

Rabbi Fohrman: No, come. So the opposite of yes, go would be no, come. So Jethro says go l'shalom. Now, what's the opposite of peace, everything's going to be fine, don't worry, go in peace? The opposite of that would be it's very dangerous, you can't go in peace.

Think about that and ask yourself what's the opposite of "vayomer Yitro l'Moshe leich l'shalom?"

"Vayomer," it's in the burning bush when Moses sees the burning bush and the angel comes and says, "al tikrav," which means do not come close, which is the opposite of yes, go. Do not come close and the opposite of shalom is it's very dangerous so therefore what should Moses do? Do not come close, take off your shoes, otherwise you're destroyed. Take off your shoes. It's very dangerous.

Just so you know it's true, what are the words for take off your shoes, strange words? "Al tikrav halom shal na'alecha mei'al raglecha." Halom, don't come too close. Shal, take off those shoes. Say it fast. Halom, shal. Halom, shal. Halom, shal leich l' --

Audience Member: Shalom.

Rabbi Fohrman: Shal-om. You get it? Lom, shal. Lom, shal backwards is shalom. Again, madu'a backwards, odam. Shalom backwards, lom-shal. Right? The idea; don't come too close it's too dangerous versus go in peace it's going to be fine.

At the very end of this chiasm we will get to Moses and Zipporah at the inn, the strangest of all possible stories. The chiastic pair will explain to us why God wanted to kill Moses and with that we will understand the intention and the obstacle that's at the heart of the story.

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