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1460: Yitro 22nd of Shevat 5773 02/02/2013

It seems that very little is known about Tziporah, the woman who "stood behind" Moshe.

This week's Torah portion begins with the royal visit by Yitro, Moshe's father-in-law, to the nation of Yisrael in the desert. Yitro is received with great respect – Moshe, Aharon, and the elders of the nation go out to greet him and join him for a meal. But Yitro did not come alone. He brought with him Tziporah, Moshe's wife, and their sons Gershom and Eliezer. Where were they all this time? When Moshe went to Egypt he took his wife and their sons with him, why weren't they still together when the people left Egypt?

The Torah hints at what took place with the short phrase, "After she was sent away" [Shemot 18:2]. Rashi explains:

"When the Holy One, Blessed be He, spoke to Moshe in Midyan and said, 'Go and return to Egypt' [Shemot 4:19], Moshe took his wife and his sons with him. And then Aharon came out to meet him... He asked, Who are these people? Moshe replied, this is the wife I married in Midyan, and these are my sons. And he asked, Where are you taking them? Moshe replied, To Egypt. Aharon said: We are still in sorrow about the earlier sons, and now you want to add more? So Moshe said, Go to your father's house. And she took her two sons and left."

Tziporah returned home because of the harsh conditions of slavery, and perhaps also to avoid interfering with Moshe's great mission. She did not know when she would see her husband again.

The Betrothal

Like Yaacov before him, Moshe meets his wife at a well. And like Yaacov, Moshe too rescues the daughters of Yitro from the other shepherds and gives water to their sheep. Why did Moshe choose Tziporah from among her sisters? According to Yalkut Shimoni, when Yitro heard that Moshe was fleeing from Pharaoh he threw him into a pit. Tziporah found out about this and secretly fed him. She explained to Yitro that Moshe remained alive because of the protection of the G-d of Yisrael. Yitro was impressed by the "miracle" and gave her to Moshe as a wife. According to a different Midrash, Tziporah recognized Moshe's great potential and arranged the match, without any connection to a threat to him: "The love for Moshe entered her heart, and she demanded that her father give her to Moshe. And she married him." [Midrash Haskel].

The Significance of her Name

According to the Midrash, Tziporah's name is testimony of her beauty and her pure heart. "Why was she called Tziporah? Everybody who saw her would admit to her beauty... Tziporah – look how beautiful she is... She was called Tziporah because she ran like a bird to bring him (Moshe)... She purified the house from the abomination (of idol worship) like the bird of a leper which purifies him from his impurity..." All of these examples from the Midrash imply that she was a righteous and beautiful woman externally and internally.

A Covenant of Blood

When Moshe's life was in danger – "And G-d met him and wanted to kill him" [Shemot 4:24] – Tziporah abandoned her anonymity and took action to rescue her husband. "And Tziporah took a sharp stone and cut off her son's foreskin ... and He let him alone." [4:25]. She understood that G-d was angry with Moshe because he did not circumcise his son. Without hesitating, she improvised a circumcision for the baby. From then on, Moshe is "a groom of blood" (she repeats this phrase twice). She renews her possession of him with the blood of the circumcision.

After this event, Moshe sends Tziporah to her father's home, and he turns to his great mission, taking the nation of Yisrael out of Egypt. The family is reunited right before the giving of the Torah (or right after, according to some of the rabbis), but evidently for a short time only. We understand from the discussion by Miriam and Aharon about Moshe and his wife that because of his exalted level of prophecy, Moshe kept separate from his wife. Tziporah, the faithful wife who had saved Moshe twice, paid a high personal price and gave up her married life for the good of Yisrael as a whole.

For all Generations?

Did Tziporah make any lasting impression? What remains of her or her legacy? The Torah tells us nothing about Gershom and Eliezer. In the affair of the idol of Micha, in the book of Shoftim, we are told about the young Levite Yonatan Ben Gershom ben Menasheh (or Moshe...) – evidently a descendent of Moshe and Tziporah – who was a priest for idol worship. This hint leaves us with a bitter taste.

However, as the history of Yisrael continues we will once again encounter a woman in the image of Tziporah – Yael, the wife of Chever, the Keini.

Yael, who is also a descendent of Yitro, picks up a dangerous weapon and once again draws blood. But this time it is the blood of Sissra. With this action she saves the lives of many people of Yisrael. In her epic poem, Devorah praises Yael: "Let Yael be blessed among the women... Let her be blessed from among all the women in the tents." [Shoftim 5:24]. It would seem that this praise is also fitting for Tziporah, who stood by Moshe with modesty and with initiative even though she was not privileged to remain in his tent for her whole life.

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