Mystery at the Malon


English Study Guide: PDF     Hebrew Study Guide: PDF

Who, What, and Why?

The episode described in Shemot 4:24-26 is one of the most enigmatic stories in Torah. As Moshe travels from Midyan to Egypt to begin his mission, the family stops at a lodging place and trouble strikes:

(כד) וַיְהִי בַדֶּרֶךְ בַּמָּלוֹן וַיִּפְגְּשֵׁהוּ ה' וַיְבַקֵּשׁ הֲמִיתוֹ. (כה) וַתִּקַּח צִפֹּרָה צֹר וַתִּכְרֹת אֶת עָרְלַת בְּנָהּ וַתַּגַּע לְרַגְלָיו וַתֹּאמֶר כִּי חֲתַן דָּמִים אַתָּה לִי. (כו) וַיִּרֶף מִמֶּנּוּ אָז אָמְרָה חֲתַן דָּמִים לַמּוּלֹת.

Filled with ambiguous pronouns, difficult phrases and an unknown backdrop, these verses hide more than they reveal, raising a host of questions:

A Prophetic Interruption

The immediate context of our story raises additional difficulties. Shemot 4:18-20 introduce Moshe's journey back to Egypt, and our episode would seem to be the logical continuation of these verses. Yet, the intervening verses of 4:21-23 appear to suddenly switch gears, recounting how Hashem told Moshe of Paroh's looming obstinacy and commanded him to relay a warning to Paroh about the Plague of the Firstborn. The placement of this prophecy is puzzling as Hashem has previously given Moshe much of this information, and the warning seems somewhat premature as Paroh has not yet been approached. These difficulties make one wonder whether the prophecy has some other meaning or purpose and to what extent it is connected to the mysterious events at the inn.