Tzippora

  • Rabbanit Sharon Rimon
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Parashat Hashavua
Yeshivat Har Etzion


This parasha series is dedicated
Le-zekher Nishmat HaRabanit Chana bat HaRav Yehuda Zelig zt"l.

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This parasha series is dedicated
in honor of Rabbi Menachem Leibtag and Rabbi Elchanan Samet.

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Dedicated in loving memory of
Shmuel Nachamu ben Shlomo Moshe HaKohen (whose yahrtzeit falls on 10 Tevet),

Chaya bat Yitzchak Dovid (whose yahrtzeit falls on 15 Tevet),

and Shimon ben Moshe (whose yahrtzeit falls on 16 Tevet).

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PARASHAT SHEMOT

 

Tzippora

Rabbanit Sharon Rimon

 

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In memory of my late grandmother, Tzippora Schwegger z"l

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Parashat Shemot introduces Sefer Shemot – the book of redemption – with a description of the subjugation of Bnei Yisrael in Egypt and the first part of Moshe's mission.

 

Moshe is unquestionably the main character in the story of the Exodus.  The Sefer begins with a general overview of the situation in Egypt and then gradually focuses on Moshe.

 

However, there are other characters who also appear in the opening scenes of Sefer Shemot (even if they are not mentioned by name) who seem to be significant for the process of redemption:

a.                       The midwives, who are commanded by Pharaoh to kill the infants, do not obey him and leave them alive instead.

b.                       The "daughter of Levi," whose name is not mentioned in the Torah, but who is known to us as Yokheved,[1][1] gives birth to Moshe and hides him, thereby allowing him to survive despite the decree.

c.                       The sister, whose name is similarly omitted, but whom we know to be Miriam, who watches over her brother (Moshe) from afar and offers the daughter of Pharaoh to bring a Hebrew wet-nurse for the baby.

d.                       The daughter of Pharaoh, who violates her father's command, saves the baby from death, calls him Moshe, and raises him herself.

 

It is interesting to note that the important people involved in Moshe's birth, his survival, and his growing up are all women.  Some of the women in the story of the redemption are especially significant, as the Midrash notes:

 

"Under the apple tree I awakened you" – Rabbi taught: It was by virtue of the righteous women of that generation that [Bnei Yisrael] were redeemed from Egypt.  (Yalkut Shimoni, Shir Ha-shirim 993)

 

It would seem that it was not only those particular women who were directly involved in saving the infants and helping Moshe to survive were partners in bringing about the redemption.  The Torah describes how, despite the harsh subjugation, Bnei Yisrael continued to multiply:

 

The more they oppressed them, the more they multiplied and the more they grew.  (1:12)

 

Every woman who was prepared to go through pregnancy and give birth in Egypt, despite the terrible conditions, was a partner in the redemption.[2][2]

 

Another woman who appears in our parasha is Tzippora, Moshe's wife.  The first time Tzippora is mentioned by name is when she marries Moshe:

 

And Moshe was agreeable to staying with the man, and he gave Tzippora, his daughter, to Moshe.  (2:21)

 

Moshe's marriage to Tzippora is somewhat surprising.  Why would Moshe want to marry a Midyanite woman? At first glance, this woman seems to represent the opposite of what the other women in Parashat Shemot all stand for, and Moshe's marriage to Tzippora seems to cause a delay in the process of redemption.  He marries this Midyanite woman and goes on living with his father-in-law for the next 60 years,[3][3] during which time he is completely cut off from Bnei Yisrael.  He shepherds Yitro's flocks in the desert, demonstrating no interest in the welfare of his brethren in Egypt.

 

Furthermore, we might even suggest that his marriage to a Midyanite woman (the daughter of a Midyanite priest!) adversely affects his suitability for his special Divine mission of redeeming Bnei Yisrael.  They are redeemed specifically by virtue of not having become assimilated among the Egyptians, and here Moshe goes and marries a Midyanite woman, thereby attaching himself to a Midyanite family while cutting himself off from his own family and nation and – most importantly  - his own culture.[4][4]

 

Why does Moshe agree to stay with Yitro in Midyan, and to marry his daughter Tzippora? Is his settling in Midyan motivated solely by his fear of Pharaoh's sword? What is the meaning of his being cut off from Bnei Yisrael for such a lengthy period?

 

We shall attempt to answer these questions below.  Meanwhile, let us consider the next verse from the parasha, which tells us about Moshe's feelings in Midyan:

 

And she bore a son, and he called his name Gershom, for he said: I have been a stranger (ger) in a foreign land.(22)

 

From this verse it is clear that Moshe feels foreign and alien in Midyan.  Although he has chosen to live there, he does not feel at home.

 

Further on in the verses we discover that God apparently does not regard Moshe's marriage to Tzippora as a problem.  Proof of this lies in the fact that it is specifically Moshe whom God chooses to lead Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt!

 

Thus, his marriage to Tzippora – which is mentioned only briefly, and seems quite marginal – requires further study in order to grasp its meaning and significance.

 

This impression is strengthened when we reach chapter 4 and read the next episode, which takes place on Moshe's journey from Midyan to Egypt, to fulfill the mission with which God has entrusted him:

 

And it was on the way, at the place where they spent the night, that God met and sought to kill him.

And Tzippora took a sharp stone and cut her son's foreskin, and she cast it at his feet, and said: Surely you are a bloody bridegroom to me.

And so He let him go, then she said: A bloody bridegroom concerning circumcision.  (4:24-26)

 

God sends Moshe to redeem Bnei Yisrael, but when Moshe is in the midst of carrying out the command, and is on his way to Egypt, God wants to kill him![5][5]

 

This episode is extremely obscure and difficult to understand.  Whom does God seek to kill? Why does God want to kill him (and why is this reason not written)? How does Tzippora know what to do? Why is it specifically she who manages to save the situation? And what is the meaning of her words, "You are a bridegroom of blood to me"; "a bridegroom of blood on account of the circumcision"?

 

Further on, we will address that episode.  For now, it is clear that Tzippora saves Moshe from death.  It is she who facilitates the continuation of the process of redemption, which almost ends before it has a chance to begin.  This shows that Tzippora is not an obstacle to the redemption, but rather an important factor in its progress.  Thus, she joins the list of women in Parashat Shemot by whose merit Bnei Yisrael were redeemed from Egypt.

 

This is the only story in the Torah in which Tzippora's actions are recorded.  However, she appears in two other places.  One is where Yitro, her father, comes to Moshe in the desert, prior to the Revelation at Sinai (Shemot 18), bringing Tzippora and her sons with him.  From this story we deduce that Tzippora was not together with Moshe and all of Bnei Yisrael, but rather in Midyan, with her father.  Only just prior to the giving of the Torah did she join Moshe in the desert.

 

Once again, this episode conceals much more than it reveals.  At which point during the redemption process did Tzippora return to Midyan? Was she "sent" in the sense of a divorce, or was this a temporary separation? And what was the reason for this separation? Is Tzippora now rejoining Moshe in the sense of resuming normal married relations? The commentators offer various different opinions on these questions; it is difficult to know what the circumstances were.

 

The other appearance of Tzippora is in the words of Miriam and Aharon:

 

And Miriam spoke, and Aharon, against Moshe, concerning the Kushite woman whom he had taken, for he had taken a Kushite woman.

And they said: Is it then only with Moshe that God has spoken? Did He not also speak with us? And God heard it.  (Bamidbar 12:1-2)

 

Here the text does not state explicitly that the woman in question is Tzippora.  If the "Kushite woman" is not Tzippora,[6][6] we are left wondering who Moshe's second wife was, and why he married her, and why we know nothing about her.

 

If the "Kushite woman" is Tzippora[7][7], why is she referred to in this way, rather than by her name?

 

In any event, we need to understand what Miriam is saying.  What does Miriam regard as being problematic about Moshe's marriage? And what is the connection between his marriage and his prophecy?

 

All of the biblical sources that discuss Tzippora and her marriage to Moshe are obscure.  Despite the difficulty of explaining these narratives, we shall attempt to analyze them and propose an idea that may represent the significance of the relationship between Tzippora and Moshe and resolve some of the questions that we have set out above.

 

We shall start by examining the marriage in its broader context.  The reason for Moshe's arrival in Midyan is set out in the verses:

 

Pharaoh heard this matter and sought to kill Moshe, and Moshe fled from Pharaoh, and settled in the land of Midyan, and he sat at the well.  (Shemot 2:15)

 

Moshe is fleeing from Pharaoh because Moshe killed the Egyptian who was beating one of his Hebrew brethren.

 

Moshe faces death for more than just his act.  Pharaoh understands that this young man, who grew up in Pharaoh's own palace, is rebelling against the injustice perpetrated by Pharaoh and the entire Egyptian nation.  Pharaoh realizes that Moshe may end up leading a rebellion against him.[8][8] Moshe is therefore forced to flee.

 

However, if Moshe has begun to grasp the injustices going on in Egypt, and he has a strong desire to rebel against Pharaoh, surely he would not be so quick to run away.  Rather, he would hide in Egypt, or somewhere close by, and continue his subversive activities from there.  Fleeing is not appropriate to a person who is prepared to lead a rebellion.

 

We may therefore suggest that perhaps his flight is driven by more than just the fear of Pharaoh.  Perhaps Moshe has seen the injustice of Egypt and has decided to help Bnei Yisrael, but then notices another phenomenon: "And he went out on the second day, and behold, two Hebrew men were fighting."[9][9] He sees that amongst Bnei Yisrael, too, there is injustice.  And when he tries to intervene, the response is sharp:

 

He said to the aggressor: Why are you striking your neighbor?

And he said: Who made you a prince and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?

 

The response to Moshe's attempts to correct injustices are not particularly encouraging.  The people involved prefer to continue in their set ways; they have no interest in having someone come and try to change them or their habits.

 

Moshe feels that the nation that he seeks to save, may not cooperate with him.  Moreover:

 

Moshe feared, and he said: Indeed, the matter has become known. 

 

He understands that their attitude is such that they may even report him and hand him over to Pharaoh.

 

It is possible, then, that Moshe leaves Egypt not only out of fear of Pharaoh.  He leaves Egypt with a sense that there is no possibility of changing what is going on there, and of saving Bnei Yisrael, so long as the people themselves have no intention of correcting the injustices among themselves.  There is no hope of helping them if they will not help themselves, to change their internal moral situation, as well as their external state of servitude to Pharaoh.

 

(This psychological state finds its strongest expression at the burning bush, where God asks Moshe to go and redeem Israel, and Moshe tries to refuse the mission.  The arguments that he raises having nothing to do with fear of Pharaoh; rather, they express his feeling that Bnei Yisrael are not ready to be redeemed,[10][10] and his sense of personal unsuitability for the mission.)

 

Hence it is possible that Moshe's arrival in Midyan is not only the reverse side of his flight from Pharaoh, but also an abandonment of what is going on in Egypt, with a conscious decision to settle elsewhere:

 

And he settled in the land of Midyan….

 

In Midyan, by the well, the first story featuring Tzippora takes place:

 

…And he sat at the well.

And the priest of Midyan had seven daughters, and they came and drew water and filled the troughs to water their father's flocks.

And the shepherds came and drove them away, and Moshe arose and helped them, and he watered their flocks.  (15-17)

 

This incident is recounted without any focus on Tzippora at all.  The text mentions the seven daughters of the priest of Midyan.  Why is Tzippora not mentioned, nor even the name of Yitro? Apparently, the story is trying to draw our attention not to the women, but rather to the moral actions of Moshe.  In keeping with his earlier behavior in Egypt, now too he acts against injustice that he encounters.

 

Furthermore, the first encounter with Tzippora's family is the fact that this involves "the priest of Midyan."

 

Further on, too, the Torah continues to describe only the relations with Yitro, with no mention of Tzippora:

 

And they came to Re'uel, their father, and he said: Why have you hurried back today?

And they said: An Egyptian man delivered us from the hand of the shepherds, and he also drew water for us and watered the flocks.

And he said to his daughters: And where is he? Why then did you forsake the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.  (18-20)

 

Moshe arrives at Yitro's home not in pursuit of Tzippora, nor any of her sisters.  It is Yitro who invites him.  And Moshe stays on at Yitro – not for the purposes of marrying any of his daughters, but simply to be with him:

 

And Moshe was agreeable to staying with the man….  (21)

 

In the wake of Moshe living with them, Yitro gives him Tzippora as a wife:

 

… and he gave Tzippora, his daughter, to Moshe.

 

We are not told why it is specifically Tzippora who is chosen to marry Moshe.  We know nothing of Moshe's view of her, nor of her character or actions.  Apparently, the essential point here is the connection between Yitro and Moshe, with Moshe's marriage to Tzippora merely expressing this connection.[11][11]

 

Moshe continues to live in Midyan, and shepherds the flocks of Yitro, his father-in-law.

 

It appears that Moshe's settling in Midyan is not coincidental.  He grows close to Yitro, and therefore marries Yitro's daughter, and continues to live with his father-in-law for many years and to shepherd his flocks – not out of obligation,[12][12] but willingly.

 

What causes Moshe to become so close to Yitro? The Torah gives us no answer.  Perhaps the essence of the matter is the dwelling close to the wilderness, a place that is conducive to meditation and achieving closeness to God.  (The experience of the burning bush, while shepherding in the wilderness, testifies to the high spiritual level that Moshe had attained.  It was by virtue of this that he was worthy of this revelation, and of the mission entrusted to him.)

 

Beyond this, though, perhaps there was something special about Yitro himself that drew Moshe close to him.  In his commentary on 2:16, Rashi writes:

 

"And the priest of Midyan" – the greatest among them.  He had separated himself from idolatry, and they banished him from their midst.

 

Ibn Ezra goes even further:

 

Every "priest" referred to in Tanakh serves either God or idols… and Yitro was a priest to God.[13][13]

 

According to these commentators, Yitro was not a priest of idolatrous worship,[14][14] but rather a servant of God.  He was a spiritual personality with great significance.[15][15] If this is indeed the case, then Moshe's close relationship with Yitro is quite understandable.

 

For some 60 years Moshe lives in Yitro's home, and together they worship God.  Apparently, they nurture one another's spiritual development.  Later on, too, when Yitro visits Moshe in the desert (Shemot 18), although Tzippora comes with him,[16][16] the text emphasizes mainly the connection between Yitro and Moshe, and the conversation between them concerns spiritual matters.[17][17]

 

The question that arises here is whether Moshe had divorced Tzippora, or merely sent her to her father's house.  What was the reason for their separation, and what happened once she rejoined him in the desert? The Torah does not elaborate on any of this, and once again we have the distinct impression that the essence of the bond is between Moshe and Yitro.

 

Against this background we may perhaps suggest an explanation for Miriam's speech against Moshe, in Parashat Beha'alotekha.  There, Miriam makes a connection between Moshe's marriage and his level of prophecy.  What is the connection between these two issues?

 

Most of the commentators take Chazal's lead and explain that Moshe separated from his wife because of his intense level of prophecy.[18][18] It is this that Miriam rails against, claiming that a prophet need not separate from his wife.

 

God, in response, tells her that Moshe's level is special, and different from the level of other prophets.

 

Rambam explains thus, in his Laws of the Foundations of the Torah, chapter 7, law 6:[19][19]

 

… Thus we conclude that all the (other) prophets, when the prophecy left them, returned to their tents – which is a physical need – like the rest of the people.  Therefore, they did not separate from their wives.  But Moshe Rabbeinu did not return to his original tent.  Therefore he separated from his wife forever, and from all like matters, and bound his intellect to the Rock of the universe, and the majesty never left him, and his face shone, and he was sanctified like the angels.

 

This is unquestionably the generally accepted interpretation, and it has great significance for understanding Moshe's level of prophecy (and its consequent effect on his relations with Tzippora); we will return to it below.  However, it also gives rise to a difficulty: the verse states that Miriam spoke about Moshe taking a Kushite woman; it does not state that she spoke about the wife being sent away, or about Moshe separating from her.

 

The literal meaning of the text would appear to indicate that Miriam draws a connection between the marriage to Tzippora and Moshe's prophecy.  What could this connection be?

 

On the basis of our discussion thus far, it would seem that Moshe shared a unique spiritual connection with Yitro, which contributed to his spiritual development.  Marrying Tzippora was an expression of the special spiritual connection between himself and her father.  It may be this that Miriam finds inappropriate.

 

Miriam cannot understand the reason for Moshe connecting himself to the "priest of Midyan" and drawing from him different ways of achieving spiritual progress.  She cannot understand the special contribution that Yitro is able to offer Moshe.  As she sees it, Moshe's prophecy is no different from that of other prophets, and therefore she cannot understand why Moshe has chosen to connect himself to Yitro and to Tzippora, his daughter.

 

Returning to Parashat Shemot: When Moshe is given the mission of taking Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt, he takes leave of Yitro and ceases to live in his house, but takes along Tzippora and their sons.  On the way to fulfilling their mission, the strange episode of the circumcision takes place:

 

And it was on the way, at the place where they spent the night, that God met him and sought to kill him.

And Tzippora took a sharp stone and cut her son's foreskin, and she cast it at his feet, and said: Surely you are a bloody bridegroom to me.

And so He let him go, then she said: A bloody bridegroom concerning circumcision.  (Shemot 4:24-26)

 

What is the meaning of this narrative?

 

A great many interpretations have been offered, and we shall not review all of them here.  The great majority of the commentators conclude that God sought to kill Moshe,[20][20] and this would appear to reflect the literal meaning of the verses.  But why does God want to kill Moshe right now, as he in on the way to fulfill his mission?

 

Apparently, this episode must have some deeper significance.

 

The narrative is introduced with a very unusual wording: "God met him" (va-yifgeshehu Hashem).  This is a unique manner of connecting with God.  Usually, the Torah describes God's word to someone, or the appearance of an angel.  Nowhere else do we find a meeting with God.

 

As we know, Moshe's level of prophecy was extraordinary.  Here we have evidence of this for the first time: there is an encounter between Moshe and God.  A meeting – like one person meeting another.  Indeed, this is the very image that God uses – in Bamidbar 12, in the very same context of Miriam speaking about the Kushite woman and Moshe's prophecy!

 

Mouth to mouth I speak to him, manifestly, and not in riddles, yet he does not behold the image of God.[21][21]

 

Prophecy of this level requires a very high state of readiness on the part of the person who will experience it.  When there is a "meeting with God," even the tiniest defect is unacceptable and may bring death.  Abarbanel explains:

 

Prophecy could descend upon Moshe at any time, so he had to be constantly ready, in his meditation and with his thoughts on his mission.  Therefore, when he came to the place where they were to spend the night and busied himself with matters pertaining to their staying over, and was not concentrating on the matter of his mission, then when his prophecy began, it worked out that as the Divine outpouring (of prophecy) came to him, it found him unprepared for prophecy… and since he was found to be unprepared to receive that Divine outpouring (of prophecy), therefore that trouble and danger came upon him….

 

According to Abarbanel, the defect that stood in the way of the "meeting with God" was Moshe's occupation with the details of their staying over for the night, instead of meditation and readying himself for prophecy.

 

However, according to the continuation of the story, it is the circumcision of his son by Tzippora that saves Moshe.  Therefore we may deduce that the defect involved the uncircumcised state of Moshe's son.[22][22]

 

As most of the commentators understand it,[23][23] the baby (Eliezer) was born just before they set off on the journey to Egypt, and it was impossible to circumcise him because of the danger involved.

 

Clearly, there is "halakhic" justification for Moshe's postponement of his son's circumcision in such circumstances.  However, his meeting with God requires a level of perfection that cannot be reconciled with the fact that his son remains uncircumcised.

 

Tzippora sees what is happening, and understands.  She apparently understands the concept and significance of spiritual exaltedness.  She understands that her husband is now engaged in a very special sort of encounter with God, and she knows that he is on the verge of death because there is some defect that cannot be tolerated in such an encounter.  She concludes that the defect is the fact that they have not circumcised their son.  She corrects the defect and saves Moshe, thereby facilitating the continuation of his mission.

 

Apparently, it is no coincidence that it is specifically the act of circumcision that is required at this time, on the way to save Bnei Yisrael in Egypt.  Circumcision is an expression and symbol of the special covenant between God and Israel.  It is this covenant that stands at the foundation of the connection between God and Israel, and it is this that stands in Israel's favor in their distress, promising that their redemption will come.

 

When Moshe sets off on his journey to redeem Israel – the nation that God described in the preceding verses as "Israel, My first-born son" – it is inconceivable that he himself should manifest any defect in the covenant of circumcision, the special covenant between God and His children, Bnei Yisrael.

 

It is specifically Tzippora – the daughter of a different nation – who recognizes the special connection between God and Israel, as expressed in the covenant of circumcision.  She performs the circumcision, thereby proclaiming the special connection between God and Israel (a connection which could not be attained even by her father, the priest of Midyan, a man of spiritual stature) as well as her own connection (and that of her children and descendants) with God, rather than with the nation of Midyan.

 

It is Tzippora who allows Moshe to continue with his mission on the supreme spiritual level that is demanded of him – firstly by removing the defect that obstructs his ability to receive prophecy on the level appropriate to him, and also through her profound understanding of the covenant between God and Israel.

 

The Torah concludes the narrative here, and only in chapter 18 do we discover that Tzippora has not been accompanying Moshe.  What actually happened? We cannot know with any certainty.  Perhaps they continued together on the road to Egypt, and at some stage Tzippora returned to Midyan, for some reason that is unknown to us.[24][24]

 

Or perhaps Moshe left Tzippora and his sons at the place where they had stayed over, in order that the baby could recover, and afterwards they returned to Midyan.[25][25]

 

It is possible that Tzippora realized that Moshe's level of prophecy would not allow them to live any sort of normal family life, and she decided to leave him in order to allow him to fulfill his exalted prophetic mission.[26][26]

 

If we adopt this last possibility, we must conclude that Moshe and Tzippora did indeed separate in the wake of the traumatic "meeting" with God at the place where they stayed over on the way to Egypt.  Moshe and Tzippora separated in order that Moshe could continue to maintain his level of prophecy, by means of which he could fulfill his mission to bring Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt.  Miriam's words, as understood by most of the commentators, suggest the same conclusion.  She was objecting to Moshe's separation from Tzippora, arguing that prophecy need not entail the end of family life.  Miriam failed to recognize Moshe's unique level of prophecy, unlike that of other prophets.  Tzippora, on the other hand – the daughter of the priest of Midyan – did understand, and was prepared to leave him in order to allow him to maintain and develop his prophecy and to "meet God."

 

Summary

Not only does Tzippora not represent a postponement of or obstacle to redemption, but rather allows it to happen.  Her connection with Moshe expresses the special spiritual bond between Moshe and Yitro, a bond that nurtured spiritual growth (for both of them).

 

It is Tzippora who saves Moshe from death, thereby allowing his mission to continue.  It is she who underlines, through her actions, the importance of the covenant between God and Israel, as an essential element in redemption.  It is also she who is prepared to pay a personal price – to separate from her husband – in order that he will be able to "meet God," and to fulfill his mission.

 

 

Translated by Kaeren Fish



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1][1] The focus on Moshe is emphasized through concealment of the names of other characters in the story.  Thus, the names of Moshe's parents and of his sister are omitted, along with the name of the daughter of Pharaoh.

[2][2] The Gemara (Sota 11b) describes the situation as follows: "Rabbi Avira taught: It was by virtue of the righteous women of that generation that Israel were redeemed from Egypt -  When they (the women) would go to draw water, the Holy One, blessed be He, would bring small fish into their pails, and they would draw out (pails that were filled with) half water and half fish.  They would come and cook two pots – one of hot water and one of fish – and they would take them out to their husbands in the field, and would wash them and anoint them and feed them and give them to drink, and have relations with them in between the sheep folds, as it is written (Tehillim 68) "If you lie between the sheep folds…." As a reward for "lying between the sheep folds," Bnei Yisrael merited the spoils of Egypt, as it is written (Tehillim 68) "…You will shine like the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her pinions covered with yellow gold." When they conceived they would remain in their houses, and when it was time for them to give birth, they would go and give birth in the field, under the apple trees, as it is written (Shir Ha-shirim 8), "Under the apple tree I awakened you."

 

[3][3] See Ramban on Shemot 2:23 – "As I see it, the reason for this verse it to hint at the time when Moshe was in flight from Pharaoh, for in his youth he really had run away.  The text states, ‘Moshe grew up and he went out to his brethren' – this was immediately upon growing up and reaching maturity.  They told him that he was a Jew, and he wanted to see the suffering of his brethren and their labor and their affliction.  And on that day when he went out, he struck the Egyptian, and on the next day they told on him, and he ran away.  Thus, he must have been about twelve years old, as our Sages calculate it (Shemot Rabba 1,5), but in any event he was less than twenty, and when he stood before Pharaoh he was eighty years old, such that he must have spent about sixty years in flight from Pharaoh.

[4][4] The question of Moshe's marriage to Tzippora echoes in the words of the Midrash in Sanhedrin 82a, describing the argument between Zimri, son of Salu and Moshe, concerning Kozbi, daughter of Tzur: "(Zimri) said to him: Son of Amram! Is this woman (Kozbi) forbidden or permitted? And if you say she is forbidden – who allowed you to marry the daughter of Yitro?..."

We are also reminded of Bamidbar 12: "Miriam spoke, and Aharon, against Moshe concerning the Kushite woman who he had taken, for he had taken a Kushite woman." This, too, may be interpreted as criticism of Moshe's marriage to Tzippora.  However, most of the commentaries understand Miriam's criticism as arising from Moshe separating from his wife as a result of his level of prophecy.

[5][5] This gives rise to a further comparison with Yaakov: Both Moshe and Yaakov are commanded to return to their native land, and on the way to fulfilling the commandment they are met by an angel of God who engages them in battle and almost wins, but ultimately is unable to stop them.  In both instances, the battle takes place at night: In Yaakov's case – "until daybreak"; concerning Moshe – "at the place where they spent the night."  In Yaakov's case, however, we read "a man ("ish" – a title of importance, here referring to the angel) wrestled with him," and Yaakov manages to prevail over him on his own.  In Moshe's case it is God Himself Whom he encounters: "God met him and sought to kill him," and it is Tzippora who saves him.

[6][6] See Rashbam's commentary.

[7][7] See Ibn Ezra's commentary.  We shall adopt this view and understand Miriam's words as referring to Tzippora.

[8][8] The episode of the Egyptian striking the Jew and Moshe subsequently killing the Egyptian is recounted in the Torah as a one-time event.  We interpret it here as representing and epitomizing Moshe's outlook and conduct in general.

[9][9] This episode, too, is described in the Torah as a one-time event, but I believe that we may regard it as being representative of something that may have happened several times, in different forms.

[10][10]   Moshe argues: "When they say to me – What is His Name?, what shall I say to them?" (3:13); "Behold, they will not obey me, and they will say: The Lord did not appear to you" (4:1).  God's answers to Moshe are very lengthy ones.  They attempt to persuade him that there is hope for redeeming Israel, and that they may be persuaded, by using certain words and through certain signs.

[11][11]   The comparison between the story of Moshe and the story of Yaakov is very interesting.  Both flee from someone who wants to kill them.  Both sit at a well, and meet shepherds there, as well as the women whom they are destined to marry.  Both help these women: Yaakov succeeds in rolling the heavy rock off the mouth of the well, while Moshe helps the women against the shepherds.  Both water the flocks.  Both are invited to dwell in a father's house, and only afterwards is the subject of marriage raised.  Both shepherd the flocks of their respective fathers-in-law.  Each asks permission of his father-in-law to return to his land, and at the same time God is revealed to them and tells them to return to their native land.  However, it is specifically this close similarity that serves to highlight the differences: Yaakov first meets Rachel, who is mentioned by name, and wants to marry her; consequently, he is forced to live with Lavan, even though his relations with Lavan are not good.  The difference between the stories emphasizes the fact that Moshe's marriage to Tzippora expresses the close relations between Moshe and Yitro.

[12][12]   Unlike Yaakov, who shepherds the flocks of Lavan as "payment" for marrying his daughters.

[13][13]   See also the (long) commentary of Ibn Ezra on Shemot 18:7 – "And he went out to meet his father-in-law – out of respect for Yitro and his wisdom, and the text calls him 're'ehu' (his neighbor), in deference to his great stature in wisdom."

[14][14]   Admittedly, there are other commentators and midrashim  that present Yitro in a negative light.  According to these views, it is very difficult to understand why Moshe would have lived with such a person for such a long time, and married his daughter, and then (in Shemot 18) been so happy to see him again, and invite him to stay with Bnei Yisrael.

[15][15]   Concerning Yitro's noble attributes and Moshe's closeness to him, see at length in the book Tzir ve-Tzon, by Rav Moshe Lichtenstein, chapter 1.  There Yitro is depicted as a spiritual figure who seeks metaphysical, philosophical meaning in events taking place in the world, but is cut off from human doings, out of a feeling that there is no possibility of influencing people to change their ways. 

[16][16]   In the first few verses, describing their arrival, Tzippora is mentioned several times: "And Yitro – the father-in-law of Moshe – took Tzippora, Moshe's wife, after he had sent her away; and her two sons, the name of one of whom was Gershom… and the name of the other was Eliezer… and Yitro, the father-in-law of Moshe, came – with (Moshe's) sons and his wife to Moshe in the desert, where he was encamped, at the mountain of God.  And he said to Moshe: I, your father-in-law, Yitro, come to you, with your wife and her two sons with her." (2-6)

[17][17]   The first verse of this narrative, explaining the motive for Yitro's arrival, is not connected to Tzippora: "Yitro – the priest of Midyan, father-in-law of Moshe – heard all that God had done for Moshe and for Israel, His nation, in that God had taken Israel out of Egypt." Similarly, later on, no attention is given (either by Moshe or in the verses) to Tzippora.  There is only a (very hearty) spiritual conversation between Yitro and Moshe.

 

[18][18]   See Rashi ad loc, and see also Rav Elchanan Samet's VBM article on Parashat Beha'alotekha.

[19][19]   The description of Moshe's special level of prophecy, as formulated by the Rambam at the beginning of this halakha, will be cited below.

[20][20]   Rashbag, in Nedarim 32, maintains the God sought to kill the baby, Eliezer.  Another opinion maintains that God wanted to kill Gershom, Moshe's elder son, who was not circumcized ("The Mission of Moshe Rabbeinu and the Greatness of Tzippora," by Reuven Uzziel).

[21][21]   Rambam describes Moshe's unique level of prophecy as follows (Laws of the Foundations of the Torah, chapter 7, law 6): "What is the difference between Moshe's prophecy and that of all the other prophets? All the other prophets (experience prophecy) in a dream, or a vision, while Moshe Rabbeinu prophesied while he was awake and conscious… all the (other) prophets (receive their prophetic message) through an angel, and therefore they see what they see in symbols or riddles, while Moshe Rabbeinu does not (receive his prophecy) through an angel… and there is no symbol, but rather he sees the matter clearly, with no riddle and no symbolism… All of the (other) prophets are fearful and frightened (during the experience of prophecy), while Moshe Rabbeinu is not so… All the (other) prophets cannot experience prophecy at any time that they choose, while in Moshe Rabbeinu's case this is not so: at any time that he chooses, he is imbued with the Divine Spirit, and prophecy rests upon hi, and he has no need to direct his mind and to be ready for it, for he is (constantly) directed and ready and waiting, like the ministering angels; therefore, he can experience prophecy at any time…."

[22][22]   Admittedly, this is not a necessary conclusion; one could argue that the circumcision was offered as a sort of "sacrifice," by virtue of which Moshe might be saved – as in fact proposed by Rashbam and Ribash.

[23][23]   See Rashi and Ibn Ezra.

[24][24]   Rashi, commenting on Shemot 18:2, explains the situation thus: "'After she had been sent away' – When God told Moshe in Midyan (Shemot 4:19), 'Go, return to Egypt,' (ibid. 20) 'And Moshe took his wife and his sons… and Aharon came out to meet him,' (ibid. 27) 'And he met him at the mountain of God' – He (Aharon) said to him (Moshe): Whose are these? He answered him: This is my wife, whom I married in Midyan, and these are my sons.  He said to him: To where are you taking them? He answered him: To Egypt.  He said to him: We are still grieving over the first ones (i.e., the baby boys who have already been killed in Egypt), and now you are coming to add to their number! Thereupon Moshe said to Tzippora: Go to your father's house.  So she took her two sons and she went."

[25][25]   See Ibn Ezra's commentary.

[26][26]   Further on, Abarbanel explains: "Since Tzippora did not know whether the trouble that had come upon Moshe was because his son was not circumcised or because he was taking her to Egypt, she sought to save him on both counts: if it was because of the child – she saved him by cutting the foreskin; if it was because of herself – she saved him by returning to her father's house, in order that Moshe's thoughts could be devoted exclusively to prophetic meditation…"