Thursday, January 14, 2010

884. Procrastination

The six verses I chanted at services last Shabbat (Parashat Shemot) included these mysterious ones:

4:24 At a night encampment on the way, the Lord encountered him and sought to kill him. 25 So Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin, and touched his legs with it, saying, "You are truly a bridegroom of blood to me!" 26 And when He let him alone, she added, "A bridegroom of blood because of the circumcision."

This odd interlude takes place right after Moshe begins the trip to Egypt in response to God's order:

4:22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the Lord: Israel is My first-born son. 23 I have said to you, "Let My son go, that he may worship Me," yet you refuse to let him go. Now I will slay your first-born son.'"

Why interrupt the story to talk about circumcision? wondered the rabbi at services. Who is the "him" that God tries to kill (Moshe? the son?)? And what in the world is a "bridegroom of blood"? I was very grateful for this d'var Torah, because I had no idea what I was talking about when I chanted. The rabbi admitted that no one else really knew (our humash, Etz Hayim, says that it might be a fragment of an ancient myth whose meaning is lost) but offered a few suggestions. You'd think that Moshe and family would be in a hurry to begin the trip; why, then, did they stop to rest? Drawing a parallel between the blood of brit milah and the ritual of blood on doorposts that saved the lives of the Israelite firstborn, maybe it's commentary on the need to take action--keep going, don't make camp. (Along these lines, Aviva Zornberg noted the similarity between the word for night encampment [malon] and circumcision [milah].) The story of the Jewish people, over and over again, is one of motion and response.

I'm losing a lot in the retelling (and I was busy studying what I was about to chant as the rabbi spoke, so paid less attention that I should have), but the message I came away with was as in Lekh Lekha: Don't wait. Do something. Last week I was thinking about the contemplative orders of other religions, like monks and nuns. Judaism has nothing like that, and Jewish meditation (at least in my limited experience) even frames itself as a way to create focus to help repair the world--to take better action.

So why did God create beings who so love to procrastinate? (I guess God really does have a sense of humor.)

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