Tag Archives: Eliezer

Two Reincarnations You Need to Know About

This week’s parasha, Yitro, begins: “So Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, took Tzipporah, Moses’ wife, after she had been sent away, and her two sons… to the desert where [Moses] was encamped, to the mountain of God.” (Exodus 18:2-5) After the Israelites safely made it to Mt. Sinai following the Exodus, Moses’ family returned to join him. However, we had previously read that when Moses first left Midian for Egypt before the Exodus, he had taken his family with him! (Exodus 4:20) Where did they go? Rashi answers:

When the Holy One, blessed be He, said to [Moses] in Midian: “Go, return to Egypt” (Exodos 4:19), “and Moses took his wife and his sons…” (Exodus 4:20), and Aaron went forth “and met him on the mount of God” (Exodus 4:27), [Aaron] said to [Moses]: “Who are these?” He replied, “This is my wife, whom I married in Midian, and these are my sons.” “And where are you taking them?” [Aaron] asked. “To Egypt,” he replied. [Aaron] said, “We are suffering with the first ones, and you come to add to them?” [Moses] said to [Tzipporah]: “Go home to your father.” She took her two sons and went away.

Aaron protested Moses bringing his family down to Egypt—there were already enough people suffering there! Ibn Ezra (Rabbi Avraham ben Meir ibn Ezra, 1089-1167), meanwhile, comments that it was Moses himself who sent his wife back home after the “incident at the inn”. Recall that on their way to Egypt:

… it came to pass on the way at the inn, that God met him, and sought to kill him. Then Tzipporah took a flint, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet; and she said: “Surely a bridegroom of blood you are to me.” (Exodus 4:24-25)

These difficult words require a great deal of explanation. Apparently, God sought to “kill” Moses, and Tzipporah saved him at the last second. The classic answer is that Moses’ second son, Eliezer, was born on the same day that Moses first ascended Sinai and met God through the Burning Bush. Moses spent a week on the mountain, meaning he returned on the eighth day—the time for Eliezer’s circumcision. Moses reasoned he needed to leave immediately, as God commanded, so he decided he would get going and do the circumcision at an inn on the way. When he arrived at the inn, he forgot about the circumcision! Tzipporah stepped in and got it done.

At this point, Moses realized that having his little children with him would probably be a distraction from his mission. The Or HaChaim (Rabbi Chaim ben Moshe ibn Attar, 1696-1743) explains that this is why Moses sent Tzipporah and the kids back to Midian. The problem for Tzipporah is that she missed out on the whole Exodus! Did she not deserve to be there as well? (A modern parent “stuck at home with the kids” can probably relate.) How would this lost opportunity be corrected? And what does it have to do with that circumcision at the inn? Why was it so important for the child to be circumcised at that very moment?

Tzipporah: Moses’ Successor

‘Deborah’ by Gustave Doré

Rabbi Menachem Azariah de Fano (Rema miFano, 1548-1620) addresses the first problem in his Sefer Gilgulei Neshamot (Likkutim, 3). He says how Tzipporah was deeply saddened that she had missed out on the Exodus, especially God’s miraculous salvation at the Splitting of the Sea, and the song that followed. So, God gave Tzipporah another chance. He had her soul reincarnated in Deborah the Prophetess and Judge! The “Judges”, Shoftim, starting with Joshua, were the successors of Moses, and the chief Jewish leaders of the era, before the time of Kings.  Deborah was the fourth Judge of Israel after Moses.

When Deborah took the reins, Israel was being terribly oppressed by the Canaanite king Yavin and his mighty general Sisera, who rode with 900 undefeated iron chariots (Judges 4:2-3). Deborah summoned the warrior Barak to lead the Israelite forces against Sisera. Barak told her: “If you will go with me, I will go; if not, I will not go.” (Judges 4:8) The commentators wonder why he insisted that she join him for the battle? In light of the Rema miFano’s teaching, we can understand the answer: Because she had missed it last time, Deborah needed to be there at this redemption, and see God’s miraculous salvation for herself.

Of course, just as with the Splitting of the Sea when there was a great song sung afterwards, Deborah also sang a song following the salvation from Sisera (Judges 5). In fact, Deborah’s song is the Haftarah that we read after the Song at the Sea in parashat Beshalach. The Sages make an explicit connection between the two redemptions. And the connection goes deeper.

At the Splitting of the Sea, the Torah tells us that 600 of Pharaoh’s chariots were drowned. In Deborah’s battle, Sisera’s 900 chariots were drowned as well, as we read: “The Kishon brook swept them away, that ancient brook, the brook Kishon…” (Judges 5:21) The Talmud (Pesachim 118b) asks what the connection is between these two sets of drowned chariots, and wonders why the Tanakh calls Kishon an “ancient” brook? It answers that after the drowning of the Egyptians at the Splitting of the Sea, the Israelites were still afraid and “of little faith”. So, God commanded the Sea (or, the angel in charge of the seas) to “spit out” the drowned Egyptians so that the Israelites would see their corpses. The Sea protested:

“Does a master make a gift to his servant and then take it back from him?!” [God answered with a promise:] “‘I will give you one and a half times their number.” [The Sea] replied: “Master of the Universe, can a servant claim [a debt] from his Master?!” [God answered:] “Let the brook of Kishon be surety for Me.” Right away, he spewed them forth on the dry land…

Many decades later, when Sisera came to battle Israel, his warriors went down

to cool off and refresh themselves in the brook of Kishon. Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to the brook of Kishon: “Go and deliver your pledge.” Right away, the brook of Kishon swept them out and cast them into the sea, as it is said, “The Kishon brook swept them away, that ancient brook” [Judges 5:21]. What does “that ancient brook” mean? The brook that became a surety in ancient times.

And so, the battle with Sisera was a giant spiritual rectification. In the time of Moses, God made a promise to the Sea regarding a quantity of chariots. That promised was filled in the time of Deborah, who was a reincarnation of Moses’ wife Tzipporah. In the time of Moses, his wife Tzipporah missed a miraculous salvation, so she came back as Deborah to witness the spiritual continuation and fulfilment of that first salvation! She got to sing her own song, too, just as Moses did in the past. God made it up to Tzipporah in a big way—as Deborah, she was the Moses of her generation!

‘The Defeat of Sisera’ at the Battle of Mount Tabor, by Giordano Luca, c. 1692

And what exactly had Tzipporah done to merit this? The Rema miFano answers:

“Then Tzipporah took a flint, and cut off the foreskin of her son…” for this she merited to reincarnate in Deborah, and to sing a song through the Holy Spirit. She alluded to this when she said in her song “When locks of hair go untrimmed [bifroa peraot] in Israel…” [Judges 5:2] referring to periat milah [circumcision]…

For that huge mitzvah of circumcising her son and saving Moses’ life, Tzipporah earned the merit to come back as Deborah, lead an entire generation, and witness a miraculous salvation comparable to the Splitting of the Sea. That leaves one last question: why was it so absolutely vital for the child to be circumcised at that particular moment, so much so that God sought to “kill” Moses for not doing it?

The Two Eliezers

The son that Moses was supposed to circumcise at the inn was Eliezer. We know essentially nothing of this person. The Torah does not divulge any details at all about his life (he is only mentioned once, in this week’s parasha). However, there is one other person (and only one other person) in the Torah named Eliezer, and that was Abraham’s devoted servant. Of course, there are no coincidences in the Torah. So why did Moses’ son carry the same name as Abraham’s servant?

Abraham’s servant Eliezer was an exceedingly righteous individual. In fact, the Sages say he was one of only nine (or ten) people in history to avoid an earthly death and “enter Heaven alive” (Derekh Eretz Zuta 1:43). The Midrash famously states that when Abraham tasked Eliezer with finding a wife for Isaac, Eliezer had hoped that Isaac would be able to marry Eliezer’s own daughter. Although Eliezer certainly “converted” (as much as was possible then, before the Torah’s giving), he was nonetheless still impure because he was a Canaanite, cursed since the time of Noah. Abraham told him that as much as he would have liked Isaac to marry Eliezer’s daughter, the fact of the matter was that Eliezer still carried a curse: “You are cursed while my son is blessed, and cursed and blessed cannot go together,” Abraham said (Beresheet Rabbah 59:10).

The righteous Eliezer, too, needed a rectification. The Sages offer a number of explanations as to how his curse was eventually lifted. Eliezer wanted nothing more than to be a full-fledged Jew, blessed from birth. God made it happen: Eliezer the servant was reincarnated in Eliezer the son of Moses! Because of this, it was of tremendous importance that Eliezer the son of Moses be circumcised on the eighth day as required. This was the key to make Eliezer blessed and Jewish once and for all. His entire tikkun depended on it. We might now understand why Moses’ error was so grave, to such a degree that the Torah says God sought to eliminate him entirely! Tzipporah saved the day and merited an incredible rectification of her own. (It is worth mentioning that a part of Eliezer’s soul also reincarnated in Caleb, as the Arizal explains in a number of places.)

‘Eliezer and Rebekah’ by Gustave Doré

Everything comes full circle at the Sinai Revelation, in this week’s parasha. Eliezer the servant—now Eliezer the son of Moses—stands with all the Israelites at Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah. The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 22b) states that it was at this very point when the zuhama—referring to all the curses and spiritual impurities, going all the way back to the Serpent in the Garden of Eden—were lifted and removed from all those that stood at Sinai. Eliezer’s tikkun was complete. Amazingly, Eliezer the servant alluded to this himself back in Genesis, as the Ba’al HaTurim (Rabbi Yakov ben Asher, 1269-1343) beautifully points out (on Exodus 20:13):

The number of words [in the passage of the Ten Commandments] is 172 (עק״ב), which was alluded to by Eliezer [when he gifted Rebecca with jewellery] whose weight was a beka (בק״ע). And the two bracelets that he gave her hint to the Two Tablets. And their ten shekels of gold allude to the Ten Commandments…

By being a most devoted servant of Abraham, and bringing Isaac the perfect wife in lieu of his own daughter, Eliezer merited to stand at Sinai himself.

The Amazing Story of Og, the Giant King of Bashan

Devarim, or Deuteronomy in English, is the fifth and final book of the Torah. Deuteronomy comes from the Greek deuteronomion, meaning “second law”, which itself comes from the alternate Hebrew name of the book, Mishneh Torah, meaning “repetition of the law”. The name stems from the fact that Deuteronomy is essentially a summary of the four previous books of the Torah. The key difference is that it is given in the point of view of Moses, and records his final sermon to the people before his death.

One of the enigmatic figures mentioned in this week’s parasha is Og, the king of the land of Bashan. This character is explicitly mentioned a total of 10 times in the Torah, of which 8 are in this portion alone. He is first mentioned in the introductory verses of the parasha (1:4), which state how Moses began his discourse after smiting Sihon, the king of the Amorites, and Og, the king of Bashan.

Og’s Bed, by Johann Balthasar Probst (1770)

We are later told how Og had come out to confront the children of Israel, and the Israelites defeated his army in battle. Og is said to be the last survivor of the Rephaim (3:11), which were apparently a nation of giants. His bed is described as being made of iron, and being nine cubits long, or roughly 18 feet!

Rashi provides a little more information. He tells us that Og was the last survivor of the Rephaim in the time of Abraham. It was then that the king Amraphel, together with his allies, dominated the Fertile Crescent region, and decimated many nations that inhabited it. One of these groups of victims were the Rephaim, and Og was the sole survivor among them. He was the “refugee” mentioned in Genesis 14:13 that came to Abraham to inform him of what had happened.

So, who was Og? Where did he come from? Why did he initially help Abraham, but then come out to battle Moses centuries later? And was he really a giant?

Half Man, Half Angel

The Talmud (Niddah 61a) tells us that Og was the grandson of Shemhazai. As we have written previously, Shemhazai was one of the two rebellious angels that had descended to Earth. These two angels argued before God that He should not have created man, who was so faulty and pathetic. God told the angels that had they been on Earth, and given the same challenges that man faced, they would be even worse.

The angels wanted to be tested anyway, and were thus brought down into Earthly bodies. Of course, just as God had said, they quickly fell into sin. This is what is meant by Genesis 6:2, which describes divine beings mating with human women. Their offspring, initially called Nephilim, were large and powerful, and were seen as “giants” by common people. However, during the Great Flood of Noah, all of these semi-angelic beings perished. Except for one.

The Sole Survivor

Midrashic texts famously record that Og was the only survivor of the Great Flood, aside from Noah and his family. When the torrential rains began, Og jumped onto the Ark and held on tightly (Zevachim 113b). He swore to Noah that he would be his family’s eternal servant if Noah would allow him into the Ark (Yalkut Shimoni, Noach 55). The Talmud (ibid.) states that the rain waters of the Flood were actually boiling hot. Yet, the rain that fell upon Og while he held unto the Ark was miraculously cool, allowing him to survive. Perhaps Noah saw that Og had some sort of merit (after all, his grandfather was the one angel that repented). Noah therefore had mercy on Og, and made a special niche for Og in the Ark. This is how the giant survived the Flood.

A variant account suggests that Og survived by fleeing to Israel, since the Holy Land was the only place on Earth which was not flooded.

Abraham’s Servant

As promised, Og became the servant of Noah and his descendants. The Zohar (III, 184a) says that he served Abraham as well, and as part of his household, was also circumcised. As Rashi says (on Genesis 14:13), Og informed Abraham that his nephew Lot was kidnapped, and that the armies of Amraphel and his allies were terrorizing the region. Rashi quotes the Midrash in telling us that Og hoped Abraham would go into battle and perish, so that Og would be able to marry the beautiful Sarah. For informing Abraham, Og was blessed with wealth and longevity, but for his impure intentions, he was destined to die at the hands of Abraham’s descendents (Beresheet Rabbah 42:12).

Whatever the case, the giant soon fell into immorality. The Zohar continues that although he had initially taken the Covenant upon himself (by way of the circumcision), he had later broken that very same Covenant by his licentious behaviour. He used his physical abilities to become king over 60 large, fortified cities (Deuteronomy 3:4). When the nation of Israel passed by his territory, he gathered his armies to attack them.

It is said that Moses feared Og for a number of reasons: Og had lived for centuries, and was also circumcised, so Moses figured the giant had a great deal of merit. God told Moses not to worry, and gave Moses the strength to slay Og himself. As the famous story goes, Moses used a large ten-cubit (roughly 20 foot) weapon to jump ten cubits high in the air—and was only able to strike Og’s ankle! Still, it caused Og to trip over and be impaled by a mountain peak. (On that note, there is a little-known Midrash which states Og survived the Flood simply because he was so large, and the floodwaters only reached up to his ankles! See Midrash Petirat Moshe, 1:128)

It is important to remember once more the old adage that one who believes that the Midrash is false is a heretic, yet one who believes that the Midrash is literally true is a fool. It is highly unlikely that Og was actually so immense (especially considering that this would make him bigger than the dimensions of Noah’s Ark). The Torah tells us his bed was nine cubits long, which the most conservative opinions estimate to be closer to 13 feet, a far more reasonable number.

There are many more colourful stories about Og, including one where a Talmudic sage found his thigh bone and ran through it (Niddah 24b). Another suggests that Og is actually Eliezer, Abraham’s trusty servant (Yalkut Shimoni, Chayei Sarah 109). This is an intriguing possibility, and might help explain how Abraham and Eliezer alone were able to defeat the conglomeration of four massive armies (See Genesis 14, with Rashi).

Archaeologists have even found mention of Og in ancient Phoenician and Ugaritic texts. One clay tablet from the 13th century BCE (Ugarit KTU 1.108) is believed to be referring to him as Rapiu, or the last of the Rephaim—as the Torah states. It suggests that Og’s grandeur got the better of him, and he began to consider himself a god among puny men:

May Rapiu, King of Eternity, drink [w]ine, yea, may he drink, the powerful and noble [god], the god enthroned in Ashtarat, the god who rules in Edrei, whom men hymn and honour with music on the lyre and the flute, on drum and cymbals, with castanets of ivory, among the goodly companions of Kothar…

Perhaps this hubris was Og’s fatal flaw, and brought about his ultimate downfall.

Dolmen (courtesy of www.museodeidolmen.it)

Dolmen (courtesy of www.museodeidolmen.it)

Interestingly, there are also a number of dolmen found in the modern-day area that would have been Bashan. These dolmen are massive stone structures that were erected millennia ago, with some rocks weighing many tons and perplexing scholars as to how they were put together. It is thought that dolmen served as burial tombs, and perhaps have a connection to the tradition of giants living in the Bashan area.

This is an excerpt from Garments of Light: 70 Illuminating Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion and Holidays. Click here to get the book.