Long before we get to Pharaoh's court and Moses stages his contest of the signs with Pharaoh's scribes, we learn the mysteries of circumcision by cutting its etymology.
Moses sets out on his journey back to Egypt from the land of the Midianites. His son falls ill with a mysterious sickness. His wife, Zipporah, suddenly reaches for a knife and circumcises Moses and his son on the spot. What an act of violence! The sudden affliction is lifted.
In Hebrew, circumcision is itself a pun on language: brit milah means the blessing of words, as if circumcision and circumscription meant the same thing. As if. So Moses later puns when he tries to evade his responsibility to lead the Hebrews out of slavery: "I am of uncircumcised lips," he demurs to G-d. And in Hebrew, the word for language is "lips" (safa), not "tongue" (lashon). "I am of unworded language," protests Moses. I am illiterate.
G-d loses His patience. He shows Moses the signs (the word used in the Torah is ). And He tells him, "If they shall not hearken to the voice of the first sign, then they shall heed the voice of the last sign."
The first sign, of course, is aleph; the last sign, tav.
Language in Hebrew is therefore the covenanted cut, or if you wish to see it as it persists in memory, the circumscar, the single cut denoting the multiple cuts:
Circumcision of the word by the incision of the nothing in the circumcised heart of the other, that's you ... in German, in all the Jewish languages of the world.
- Jacques Derrida, Shibboleth
Another meaning of is the feminine"you."
In all, the scene is a strange etymological rehearsal for the final plague, the last dalet-bet-resh, the slaying of the first-born.