The Family Moishcovicz: Circumcision, Circumvention and Circumnavigation

The Family Moishcovicz: Circumcision, Circumvention and Circumnavigation
Type: Oil
Dimensions: Width/Height (in inches) 60/48
Year: 2005

This painting portrays Moses’ family which includes his wife Zipporah, their two children, Gershon and Eliezer, his father-inlaw, Yitro, and his unnamed Cushite wife. There is much biblical ink spilled concerning the details of Moses’ life as a leader, a man of G-d, a prophet, and as a noble public servant. Very little is discussed concerning his private life, in particular his role as husband and father. Much of this portion of his life can be inferred from what is not said, and most of these personal details can be culled from a very mysterious obscure paragraph that discusses the circumstances of the circumcision of one of his sons.

G-d recruits Moses to go to Egypt and talk to Pharaoh and redeem his brethren from bondage. G-d tells him how he will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and how ultimately he will kill the Egyptians first -born. Then suddenly and inexplicably, the Torah states that G-d met “him” on the way, and attempts to murder “him”. Only pronouns, not names are used. The assumption is that it is Moses who G-d wants to kill presumably because he has failed to circumcise his son on the eighth day as prescribed by law. His wife Zipporah comes to the rescue to save Moses and her son. She circumcises their child, and throws the “orlah,” “the circumcised flesh”, in front of Moses’ feet, thereby averting disaster. The narrative then proceeds as though nothing of consequence has occurred.

This painting explores the interfamilial relationships of the major characters. Moses’ is seen with his back turned to his wife and family. He is identifiable by the rays of light emanating from his face, and by the staff which he carries to Egypt which can turn into a snake. The staff is seen as the mechanism of G-d’s attempted murder of him threatening to bite his shoulder. The tail of the snake is seen wearing a Pharoic headdress, stepping back from Moses when the orlah is thrown at Moses’ feet, in front of the snake, thereby satisfying Hebraic law.

After Moses is told to go to Egypt, he places his wife and two children on a donkey to set off to Midian where his two children are raised by his Father in-law Yitro. Moses’ entire family is absent from the redemption of Egypt, until they are returned from Midian by Yitro for the receiving of the law at Mount Sinai. It is Yitro that Moses is happy to see and to whom he regales with tales of redemption, whereas nary a word is exchanged between Moses, his wife and children. It thus appears that Moses is somewhat of an absentee father with his back turned to his family, and his face turned to his second Cushite wife, who he appears to have time for, but not for his wife and children. On the back of his coat is written the biblical verse which G-d tells Moses, but which now Moses uses on his family, “You can only see my back, but my face you will never see”.

Zipporah who is the long suffering heroine in this story is portrayed in the physical act of hurling the orlah to Moses’ feet after she has circumcised her son with a flint. One sees the bleeding penile cut, the bleeding flint, and her bloody hand. The bleeding orlah is at Moses feet. The overhead sky is ominous and frightening. She is both fearful and hopeful that her act will save her son and husband, and angry at her husband’s absence, and love of another woman and of G-d, her two major competitors. Her recently circumcised child is suckling for post-circumcision comfort. Her older son Gershon, feels abandoned by his father, and is being comforted by Yitro, his grandfather, a pagan Midianite priest, who will mentor him more than his father ever will. On Gershon’s shorts is written “Gerlahashem” a pun on his name meaning “stranger to G-d”. On Gershon’s arm is written the question “Where is father going?” The talking donkey answers “to greet his “kallah”, “his newly -wedded wife” which is a double entendre for both “bride” and “G-d”. This is perhaps why the sons of Moses never succeed their father, and have absent to silent biblical roles. How could it be other wise? The descendants of Moses are listed in the book of Chronicles, and it appears that a line of Gershonites participated in pagan rituals, a sad commentary on Moses’ communication skills with his children. There is even a paucity of medrashim concerning the fate of Moses’ children. One of the most popular ones is that they reside with the ten lost tribes across the mystical river Sambatyon, the river which flows with water and rocks six days of the week, and rests on the Sabbath, thereby confirming the existence of G-d. “Sambatyon” is written in red Hebrew letters on the body of water behind Zipporah and family.

To the far right is Yitro dressed in midianite priest garb. One of the recurrent words used in this story is the word “Chattan” meaning either “bridegroom” or “in-law”. Yitro is wearing a necklace that says “Moses’ in- law.” Moses is called “Chattan Damim”, “bridegroom of blood”, and their circumcised son is called “bridegroom of circumcision”. Written on Yitro’s priest cap is a crossword of his name with “torah”, which is the root of the word “yitro”, meaning to teach, instruct, most likely relating to his role in teaching his grandchildren, as well as teaching his son-in-law, Moses. . Yitro is also called “Reuel”, “he who fears/sees G-d”. In the upper left background of the painting is an Egyptian obelisk, Moses’ destination upon leaving his family.