TSIPORAH, HIDDEN HEROINE Ex 2:11-4:26; 18:1-12
CONTEXT: Female characters mostly get short shrift in Tanach. Such is the case here. Tsiporah’s plays an obscure but critical part in the story. It is as if only the daughter of a kohen would know what to do in a crisis with Yahh. In the narrative of the plagues, the flight, the Red Sea, etc, Tsiporah is not mentioned at all. She was apparently in Midyan with her father. In an epilogue, she is a walk-on, brought to Mosheh at Mt. Sinai just before the revelation story.
Two ancient (10th century BCE?) and lost documents contribute to the story beginning at Ex 3. J (for Jahvist) refers to deity as Yahh (spoken form of unspoken YHVH), the personal name by which our ancestors thought of their national patron and protector (J, by coincidence, also works for Judah the southern kingdom where the document is thought to have originated.) E (for Elohist), simply refers to god, using the generic noun, which, in some contexts, seems to be used as proper noun, to be capitalized. The word frequently appears as ha’elohim, “the god.” E also corresponds to Ephraim, the northern kingdom, presumed source of the document. E, in the present story, contributes the well-known passage about god being whatever god is, an interpretive riff on YHVH.
Mosheh’s father-in-law is R’u’el in J and Yitro in E. In E narratives, divine communication usually comes in dreams and visions. J presents the burning bush attention-getter, and throws in an angel as well.
In the published form of the story the elements are smoothly edited into a single narrative. The two sources are barely distinguishable and have little effect on reading the story. For the curious, I have inserted / to indicate shift from one source to the other.
Audio format of this story: https://soundcloud.com/davidlkline/tsiporah-hidden-heroine
MAN OF ACTION
2:11It happened, in those days, that Mosheh grew up and went out to his brothers and saw their suffering. He found a Mitsri striking an Ivri, one of his brothers. 12He turned this way and that and saw that no one else was there so he struck the Mitsri and buried him in the sand.
13Next day he went out again and there were two Ivrim fighting. He called out to the evil one: “Why are you striking your fellow?”
14And he said: “Who made you boss and judge over us? Are you saying you’re going to kill me they way you killed that Mitsri?”
Mosheh was afraid, saying: “The thing is known.” 15And when Paroh heard of it he sought to kill Mosheh. Mosheh fled to the land of Midyan, resting there near a well.
16The kohen of Midyan had seven daughters. They had come and were drawing water in buckets to fill the watering troughs for their father’s flock, 17when along came the shepherds and drove them away. Mosheh rose and saved them! and watered their flock.
18The daughters came back to their father, R’u’el, and he said: “Why did you rush home today?”
19They said: “A Mitsri man rescued us from the shepherds. He even filled buckets for us and watered the flock!”
20He said to his daughters: “So where is he? What? You left the man? Call him so that he can eat bread!”
21Mosheh willingly joined the man at sitting, and he ended up giving Mosheh Tsiporah, his daughter. 22She bore a son. He named him Gershom, as to say: “I was a ger, sojourner in a foreign land.”
23It happened, in those many days, that the king of Mitsrayim died. The B’neyYisrael groaned in their labor and cried out, their plaint reaching all the way up to the god. 24God heard their moan and remembered his brit with Avraham, Yitschak, and Ya’akov. 25He saw B’neyYisrael and knew.
THE PLOT THICKENS
3:1Mosheh was shepherding the flock of his father-in-law, Yitro, kohen of Midyan. He led the flock beyond the wilderness, arriving at Chorev, the mountain of god. / 2An angel of Yahh was appearing to him in a fiery flame in the bush. As he watched the bush burning with the fire the bush was not consumed. 3“I’m turning aside to take a look at this great sight,” he said. “Why is the bush not burning up?” 4Yahh saw that he had turned aside for a look./
“Mosheh, Mosheh!” God called out from the bush.
“Hineni, right here,” Mosheh said. /
5“Don’t aproach here. Take your shoes off your feet for you are standing on holy ground. /
6“I am your father’s god, god of Avraham, god of Yitschak, and god of Ya’akov.”
Mosheh hid his face for he was afraid to look at the god. /
7Then Yahh said: “I have fully seen the misery of my people who are in Mitsrayim. I have heard their outcry over taskmasters. I know their pains. 8I have come down to rescue them from the hand of Mitsrayim and bring them up from that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey (the place of the K’na’ani, the Chiti, the Emori, the P’rizi, the Chivi, and the Y’vusi.) /
9“The B’neyYisrael outcry has reached me and I have seen the pressure that Mitsrayim lays on them. 10So now go. I am sending you to Paroh. Take my people out of Mitsrayim.”
11Mosheh replied to the god, “Who am I that I should go to Paroh? That I should take the B’neyYisrael out of Mitsrayim?”
12“Well, I’ll be with you, and that will be the sign that I have sent you. When you get the people out of Mitsrayim you shall serve the god on this very mountain.”
13“Suppose I come to the B’neyYisrael and say to them ‘The god of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What’s his name?’ What shall I say to them?”
14God said to Mosheh: “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh, I am what I am! Just tell them, ‘Ehyeh, sent me to you.
15God continued: “Say to them, Yahh, god of your ancestors god of Avraham, god of Yitschak, and god of Ya’akov, sent me to you. This is my name forever. So shall I be remembered from one generation to the next.
16“Go gather the elders of Yisrael and tell them: ‘Yahh, god of your ancestors appeared to me: god of Avraham, Yitschak, and Ya’akov. The message: “I have thoroughly taken note of you and what is being done to you in Mitsrayim. 17I shall raise you from Mitsrayim misery to the land of the K’na’ani, Chiti, Emori, P’rizi, Chivi and Y’vusi, to a land flowing with milk and honey.” 18They’ll listen to you. Then you and the elders will come before the king of Mitsrayim and say to him: “Yahh, god of the Hebrews, has encountered us, and now we must go a three days journey into the wilderness so that we can make an offering to Yahh, our God.’
19“I realize that the king of Mitsrayim will not let you go other than by a mighty hand. 20So I shall send my hand and strike Mitsrayim with all the wonders I’ll make among them. After that he will set you free.
21“And I shall give grace for this people in the eyes of Mitsrayim so that when you go, you will not go empty handed. 22Let a woman borrow from her neighbor, and any woman living there, objects of silver and gold and garments. You will put them on your sons and daughters and thus you will despoil Mitsrayim.”
MAN OF RELUCTANCE
4:1Mosheh’s response: “What if they don’t trust me or listen to my voice? What if they say: ‘Yahh did not appear to you’?”
2Yahh: “What’s that in your hand?”
Mosheh: “A rod.”
3“Throw it onto the ground.” He did, and it became a snake and Mosheh jumped back from it.
4“Reach out and grab it by the tail.” He did, and the snake turned back into a rod in his grip.
5“That’s so they’ll trust that Yahh, god of their ancestors appeared to you. 6And here’s more: bring your hand onto your chest” He did so and when he took it out it was leprous, white as snow. 7“Return your hand to your chest.” He did so and when he took it out it had returned as normal flesh.
8“So, if they don’t trust you and don’t listen to the voice of the first sign, they’ll trust the voice of the latter sign. 9And should it be that if they don’t trust even these two signs and don’t listen to your voice, then take water from the Nile, pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the Nile will become blood on the ground.”
10So Mosheh said: “Please, my lord, I am not a man of words: not yesterday or before, and not even after your speaking to your servant. I am heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue.”
11Yahh: “Who put mouth in humanity? And who determines dumb or deaf, sighted or blind? Is it not I, Yahh? 12Now, go! I’ll be with your mouth. I’ll inform you what you’ll speak.”
13“Please, my lord, send whomever you will.”
14Yahh’s nose was hot with anger against Mosheh: “What about Aharon your brother, the Levi? I know he speaks the speech. And, by the way, he’s coming out to meet you and he’ll be happy to see you. 15You’ll speak to him, putting the words in his mouth. I’ll be with your mouth and with his and shall inform you both what you are to do. 16He’ll speak for you to the people. What will happen is that he’ll be your mouthpiece and you’ll be god to him. 17And in your hand take this stick with which you’ll do the signs.”
18So Mosheh left the mountain and returned to Yeter his father-in-law and said: “Please. I must go and return to my brothers in Mitsrayim and see if they are still alive.”
“Go l’shalom,” said Yitro. /
19Yahh, in Midyan, told Mosheh to return to Mitsrayim for those who had been seeking his life were now dead. 20He put his wife and sons on a donkey and returned to Mitsrayim land. /
Moshe took the rod of God in his hand. / 21Yahh said to him: “When you return to Mitsrayim, see all these tricks I have put into your hand? You shall do them in front of Paroh, but I shall harden his heart and he will not free the people. 22You say to Paroh, ‘Thus says Yahh, “Yisrael is my son, my first born son. 23Free my son that he may serve me. If you refuse, I will kill your son, your first born.”’”
TSIPORAH SAVES THE DAY
24And then it happened, on the way, at a night encampment. Yahh confronted him, and sought to kill him. 25Tsiporah took up a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched it to Mosheh’s legs. “You are for me a groom of bloodshed.” 26And Yahh held off from him. Then she said: “A bloodshed groom for circumcisions.”
18:1Yitro, kohen of Midyan heard of all that God had done for Mosheh and Yisrael, that he had brought them out of Mitsrayim. 2So Yitro, Mosheh’s father-in-law, took Tsiporah, Mosheh’s wife, after her having been sent back, 3and her two sons. The name of one was Gershom 4and the name of the other, Eliezer–my father’s god is at my help (and saved me from the sword of Pharoah.)
5Yitro, along with Mosheh’s wife and sons arrived at the wilderness where he was camping, the mountain of the god. 6He said: “I, your father-in-law Yitro, come to you, along with your wife with her two sons.” 7Mosheh came out to meet his father-in-law. He bowed to him and kissed him. Each asked the other about his shalom, and they entered the tent. 8Mosheh told his father-in-law all that God had done to Paroh and to Mitsrayim on behalf of Yisrael, and all the hardship that had met them on the way, and how Yahh had rescued them.
9Yitro was delighted at all the good Yahh had done for Yisrael, rescuing him from the hand of Mitsrayim. 10“Praised be Yahh, who rescued you from the hand of Mitsrayim and from Paroh, who rescued the people from under the hand of Mitsrayim. 11Now I have realized that Yahh is greater than all the gods with all their pride.”
12Yitro, father-in-law of Mosheh, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God. Aharon and all the elders of Yisrael came to eat bread with the father-in-law of Mosheh before God.
To hear the story read:
©Rabbi David L Kline http://good-to-be-a-jew.blogspot.com/