Moses was the Man of God par excellence – redeemer, king, teacher. While he painfully and tragically missed completing the task of leading the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, his entire being was dedicated to preparing them to be a kingdom of priests in the Holy Land.
It’s easy to forget Moses was married to Tzipporah. They met while Moses was a fugitive in Midian, before his epiphany at the Burning Bush, and she spent much of her married life in isolation from him.
She apparently stayed with her father in Midian while Moses returned to Egypt during the Exodus (Rashi, Exodus 18.2).
In a poignant narrative, Tzipporah reveals to her sister Miriam that she doesn’t lead a normal married life (Numbers 12).
We do learn, however, of her stature in a perplexing incident (Exodus 4.24). As they make their way to Egypt, Moses and Tzipporah stop at an inn with their young children.
He (it is unclear who – Moses or their son?) is then attacked by an angelic figure, upon which Tzipporah grabs a flint, and circumcises their son, flinging the foreskin at his feet. This enigmatic passage has engaged commentators throughout time. Who attacked them, and who was being attacked, and why? How did Tzipporah know to circumcise? What do her comments ‘a bridegroom of blood for circumcision’ mean? While the precise narrative is debated, we see in this critical incident that Moses was seemingly helpless, and Tzipporah saved him through her performing a specifically male mitzvah.
She was insightful, proactive and courageous, breaking convention and probably risking her own safety.
While we may struggle to understand the dynamics of the relationship between Moses and Tzipporah, we see she was not
a passive player in life, and brought her sterling and steely character to their marriage.
ω Rabbi Wayland is an educator with United Synagogue Living & Learning