While watching The Ten Commandments in the week following Passover (my fiancé Mike’s tradition), we discovered something of biblical proportion—we share the same Hebrew names as Moses and his wife! Mike’s Hebrew name, not surprisingly, is Moshe and mine, Tzipora. Aside from joking that we were a “match made in Exodus,” I didn’t really think much more about it until now, as we reach the year countdown to our July wedding.
I recently started thinking about whether sharing our names with biblical heroes meant something—is it just mere coincidence or is it beshert?
A lot of things about my relationship with Mike do seem beshert. After college, we both had to struggle through some relationships that didn’t work out and make some difficult choices before we found each other. Mike, who seemed to know we were destined to be together from the moment we met at an employee health fair at the Jewish United Fund, patiently waited several months until I was no longer “in a relationship,” before picking me up with a nerdy work-related comment on my Facebook wall. From our first lunch date, when we “happened to run into each other” on our way to Potbelly, it seemed that all the pieces fit together perfectly. On the evening of our first real date, I remember totally surprising myself by thinking “this is it.”
Keeping this in mind, I decided I should look into this Tzipora thing—she was married to Moses for God’s sake, so she must have some advice for me in the marriage department.
Truthfully, at first I knew very little about Tzipora, aside from that fact that she was Jethro’s daughter, and therefore a pagan, not technically a Jew (at least not at first), and that she married the guy who receives the Torah from God. I know from The Ten Commandments that while Moses is a fugitive from Egypt, he comes upon Tzipora and her sisters near a well, fights off some shepherds who are giving the girls a hard time, and helps them with their work. When they return to their father, he is so grateful he promises Moses Tzipora’s hand in marriage.
I decided to consult with Rabbi Taron Tachman, who pointed out there are many parallels between our two stories. Mike, like Moses, is very patient. He waited until I was single just like Moses had to be patient while waiting for God to deliver the Ten Commandments. Just like Mike and I “happened to run into each other” at Potbelly that day, Moses and Tzipora “happened” to meet near the well. And speaking of wells, Moses picked Tzipora up at a well—and Mike picked me up at a (Facebook) wall. Okay, maybe that one’s a bit of a stretch.
While doing some more research on my own, I discovered there really isn’t much out there about Tzipora, except for this one curious incident at an inn in Exodus 4:24–26. As Moses and his family head back to Egypt to free the Hebrews and warn Pharaoh of the plagues, they stop somewhere to spend the night. This story is open to interpretation, but the common translation is this: God comes to try to supposedly kill Moses, possibly for not having circumcised his son. Tzipora, who gets this intuitively, because she’s cool like that, cuts off her son’s foreskin with a flint and God lets everyone be.
To be honest, I’m not quite sure what to make of this story or how this can apply to my future marriage. But it seems to me, that were it not for Tzipora, Moses may never have been able to “let my people go.”
In my googling, I also found an article in US News and World Report about how Tzipora is totally underrated, calling her “the woman who stood up to God.” In the article, they also talk about the origin of the name Tzipora, which comes from the Hebrew word “Tzipor” meaning bird. One interpretation, the article says, is that she is given this name because she “would take flight with this strange man, Moses.”
The article quotes Jonathan Kirsch, author of The Harlot by the Side of the Road, about Tzipora’s role in Jewish history:
“In addition, Zipporah plays more than a supporting role in the future of the Israelites. ‘Moses is God's chosen messenger, the most important biblical figure after Abraham,’ says Kirsch. Yet, Moses is at risk of losing his life, except for the intervention of Zipporah. The entire fate of Israel rests with her. ‘She, the pagan daughter of a priest, stood up to God,’ he adds…Zipporah is heroic, "decisive, fearless, strong, the competent person in an emergency."
The Midrash praises Tzipora for her “piety, virtue and beauty,” which isn’t too shabby, and it seems to me that "decisive, fearless, strong and competent" are qualities I should strive for in my adult life. Maybe I’ll start by being decisive about our wedding colors, fearless enough to go up in the chair for the Horah and competent enough to finally call the photographer and set up an appointment already (sorry Mom). From there, on to bigger and better things like saving the Jewish people.
And as for Moses, well he’s no slacker himself. An Egyptian prince turned shepherd turned leader of the Jewish people leaves some pretty big shoes to fill, but Mike is as handsome as a prince and we are thinking about getting a puppy—does that count? Prince and all, Moses was definitely not perfect. As Rabbi Tachman pointed out, Moses was at times a real workaholic—I mean who was there to take care of the children while he disappeared on mountaintops for 40 days at a time? Tzipora! And while I do plan to support Mike in his career as an incredibly successful lawyer, I certainly won’t stand for him running off on business for 40 days at a time.
So what did I learn from the original Moshe and Tzipora? 1) Behind every great man, is a strong and competent woman. And 2) If I’m a bird about to take flight with my Moshe, even if we have to wander for 40 years, I think I’m ready for takeoff.