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Parshat Yitro

By: Mrs. Zahava Bitter

In Chapter 18 verse 2 we hear that Yitro arrives in the desert together with his daughter Tzippora, and two grandsons, Gershom and Eliezer. The text states, "And Yitro, the father-in-law of Moshe took Tzipporah, the wife of Moshe, after she was sent away." Last we heard about Tzipporah and Moshe's family was back in Parshat Shemot, chapter 4. There we read the story of Moshe on his way back to Egypt with his wife Tzipporah and new baby son. We read in chapter 4 how G-d desired to kill Moshe, and how Tzipporah saved her husband, Moshe, by circumcising their son. Where has Tzipporah been since this incident? Why have we not heard about her or Moshe's children during the redemption from Egypt and the splitting of the red sea?

The commentators all jump on the language, "אחר שלוחיה" , 'after she was sent away', in order to figure out where Tzipporah has been during this monumental time period of Jewish history. Rashi comments that when Aharon greeted Moshe before returning to Egypt, Aharon says to Moshe,' Why would you bring your family down to Egypt if we are suffering in Egypt, and trying to leave?!' In response to this comment, Moshe sends his family back to the house of Yitro. However, the Abarbanel comments that Tzipporah did in fact return to her father's house, but out of her own desire. After the incident with the brit milah she realizes that she needed to separate from Moshe.

What was it about the brit milah incident that makes Tzipporah realize that she needs to separate from Moshe? When Moshe and Tzipporah stop at the motel on the way from Midian to Egypt, the Torah tells in chapter 4 verse 24, "ויהי בדרך במלון ויפגשהו ה' ויבקש המיתו" , 'G-d met Moshe and desired to kill him.' The language of "ויפגשהו ה" is extremely intimate. It reflects the high level that Moshe was on, and the direct relationship that he had with G-d. The Abarbanel explains that Moshe had to be prepared for prophecy at all times, and his thoughts always had to be Godly. The fact that Moshe did not perform the circumcision on his son immediately reflects that he was preoccupied with worldly matters and not focused on his spiritual mission from G-d. Tzipporah realizes the problem, and so she jumps in to perform the brit milah.

It is this incident that makes Tzipporah realize that upon his return to Egypt Moshe needs to be 100% focused on his mission from G-d to save the Jewish people from the persecution of the Egyptians. He can be preoccupied with marital or familial matters. She demonstrates extreme self sacrifice, and separates from Moshe in recognition that this is what a marriage to the holiest man needs to look like.

The Tzipporah-Moshe relationship was very unique, and does not seem to be one that we are meant to emulate. Marriage should be a meeting of equals, a give and take, but that could not exist in a relationship with a man whose entire focus was meant to be on G-d and leading the nation. We never hear about the descendants of Moshe, because that is not where his focus lay. Moshe was required to sacrifice his family, for the care and survival of the nation.

We walk away from this encounter with Tzipporah with a deep appreciation of the sacrifice she made for the greater good of the nation. In addition, it highlights the paradox of leadership. We look up to our leaders, but often times their lives are not entirely relatable because of the unique lifestyle they are obligated live.