Where is Tziporah?

How blessed I am to have reached my installation weekend as rabbi of Mosaic Law Congregation. In so doing I want to relate a section of Torah on which we might not agree but which teaches us some valuable lessons.

We spend a lot of time looking at Moses’ greatness. We are amazed by his impeccable work ethic, his humility, his ability to challenge God. Yet there is one area in which Moses was not successful: his family. Moses’ father-in-law, Yitro, tried to convince Moses not to burn himself out through bringing in other judges.[1] Yet there is another, less commented upon verse at the beginning of the portion to which I want to bring your attention. וַיִּקַּ֗ח יִתְרוֹ֙ חֹתֵ֣ן מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֶת־צִפֹּרָ֖ה אֵ֣שֶׁת מֹשֶׁ֑ה אַחַ֖ר שִׁלּוּחֶֽיהָ׃  And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took Tziporah, Moses’ wife, after she had been sent home.[2] Why was Tziporah sent home, and why doesn’t she appear in the story after this point?

          The Midrash quotes the following story: When God said to Moses in Midian, “Go, return to Egypt … and Moses took his wife and his sons…..Aaron went forth towards him and met him at the Mount of God.”[3] Aaron said to Moses, “Who are these people?” Moses answered, “This is my wife whom I married in Midian and these are my children.” Aaron then asked Moses, “Where you taking them?” and Moses replied, “To Egypt.” Aaron then challenged Moses, asserting, “We have cause to grieve over the Israelites already there, and you propose to add to their number?!” Moses therefore said to Tziporah, “Return to your father’s house” — she took her two sons and went away.[4]

          This is certainly not the story of a happy marriage. I agree with the opinion that Moses divorced Tziporah and that is what Miriam and Aaron were gossiping about in the Book of Numbers.[5] Moses sending Tziporah away as mentioned in our portion is the sign that he divorced Tziporah. Sending away ones wife with young children would create permanent scars. As a matter of fact, Moses’ children, Gershom and Eliezer, are not heard from again after this week’s Torah portion, and according to one tradition his grandson Yonatan created an idol![6]

          This has much to do with why we are here this special Shabbat. I am honored to be installed as Rabbi of Mosaic Law Congregation, a position I feel privileged to have and which I hope to keep for decades to come. I am  excited about all the things we can achieve together to strengthen the Jewish community in Sacramento. At the same time, I recognize that in loving this work it can become easy to be swept up into it and not make time for my family. The work-life balance is always challenging: we read about the challenge in Moses’ life. Perhaps with spending more time with his family and by working on his weaknesses, including his anger, Moses’ teachings would have lived on through his children and grandchildren. Instead, not only do we not know where Moses’ is buried,[7] we also don’t know what happened to his grandchildren. Aaron’s grandson is Pinhas, Ruth’s great-grandson is King David, and Moses’ progeny (besides being of the Levitical line) are unknown.

          I choose to share this Torah not to castigate Moses but to remind each and every one of us that no one gets everything in life. Moses received legacy in being known by every Jew for time immemorial. Yet he lost opportunities to parent. He didn’t even fulfill his obligation of brit milah by circumcising his own son![8] At times we can get so busy with work, with hobbies or with what we are passionate about-or unfortunately various addictions we might have-that we neglect our loved ones whom we care most about.

I want to share the story about when I knew I wanted to propose to Karina. After dating for under two months I found out that my position as Rabbi Educator in Tucson was being eliminated. I drove to Karina’s apartment, tears streaming down my eyes. While sobbing, I said to her, “I’m going to have to move. I know you didn’t sign up for this.” I expected our relationship to be over: such had occurred when I met someone near the end of my year in Israel. Karina instead replied to me, “I didn’t sign up for this. I chose this.” In so doing she made me the happiest man in the world. In raising our two daughters, Ariela and Leora, I am grateful to be in a position where I can spend time with them-not every evening but many-as well as Shabbat afternoons and many Sunday afternoons. I am grateful to my parents, Bruce and Laurie Herman, for having given me the strong foundation and instilling in me a love of Judaism that I have taken with me wherever I go. I feel that the rabbinate is a calling-it is more than my job-it is my way of life. At the same time, I have learned that the identity “Rabbi” can too easily take over the identity of “Ben.” Both identities are important together. I hope I not only can successfully model-at times with your help-not only how to be a good rabbi but also how to be a good father, a good husband and a good son. It is a blessing to be able to work on this with you, my dedicated congregants, growing a little more into the person I’m meant to be each and every day.

[1] Exodus 18:17-18

[2] Exodus 18:2

[3] Exodus 4:19-20

[4] Mechilta of Rabbi Ishmael Chapter 18 Mishnah 2

[5] See Rashi on Numbers 12:1

[6] Look at Judges 18:22 and the hanging nun turning the word Moshe into Menashe.

[7] See Deuteronomy 34:6

[8] See Exodus 4:24-26


One thought on “Where is Tziporah?

  1. I loved this post! I learned so much about the Torah portion and also about your exemplary relationship with Karina and your daughters. No one would ever doubt that you’re a loving husband and father. At the same time, your dedication to our congregation is heartwarming and uplifting. We are more than delighted that you have chosen to be our Senior Rabbi and we wish you many fulfilling years in this position!


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