By Debbi K. Levy
Here I go again. At the time of writing, I was supposed to be reading and making notes on the week’s Torah portion, Yitro, but I have drifted into Jewish fantasyland once again. In Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, advises Moses about the process of delegating tasks so that his energy, to be used for the sacred, will not be diminished and his efficiency may be increased. But I keep moving away from reading and contemplating, and imagining myself in the role of Moses’ wife, Zipporah, instead.
The Torah contains black ink from the quill of the scribe, but I like to learn and play in all the unwritten-upon parchment spaces that invite narratives like mine.
Zipporah came to Moses as he camped with the Israelites following their great Exodus from the land of Egypt. The recently freed slaves were taking their first baby steps to becoming the Jewish people, and Moses was doing his best to put God’s laws into practice by acting as a magistrate day and night. He sat and listened to the disputes large and small. He was exhausted. Don’t you know the line for having Moses decide your case took a whole day of waiting? If I am Zipporah, I am going to witness this thing, and chat his ear off from the moment he comes to our tent until he exits in the break of dawn.
We learn that Zipporah’s father, Jethro, who is the priest of Midian, also witnesses the process inspired by The Divine that Moses has put in place. Jethro has journeyed and brought Zipporah and her two sons to Moses. Because Zipporah’s name and presence are mentioned in the Torah here, you can be sure that her presence was emphasized and meaningful as Moses leads the former slaves while they find a moral compass of their own. We learn shortly that Jethro advises and even says to Moses in Exodus 18:19, “Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You represent the people before God: you bring the disputes before God and enjoin upon them the laws and the teachings and make known to them the way they are to go and the practices they are to follow.”
Don’t think for a minute that Zipporah was not, in those moments, standing next to her father, with hands on her hips, because you can be certain that she was. Also probably tapping her foot with the vibrations of her ankle bracelets making a nice sound.
Now, I don’t mean to brag, but we feminine ones, we can organize anything from a Passover Seder with all its moving parts to a break-the-fast with 60 guests to the animal kingdom boarding an ark two by two. I hate to mention this, too, but I must. As Jethro was giving Moses this counsel with exclamation points, Zipporah was not only tapping her foot, but rolling her eyes at Moses to say, “Of course you must heed my father’s counsel! That is why we have journeyed to you here, in this place, to assist you so that the people can flourish in The Creator’s laws!”
That night, when Moses came back home to their tent with a plan in place that was the first process of a free people delegating authority with judges appointed, Zipporah surely said, “Aren’t you glad my father Jethro, and I, came with our sons to support you here?”
She feels feisty to me, the wife of the greatest prophet our people have ever known, and I think after Moses affirmed the value of having his family and his wife close to him, Zipporah said, “You’re welcome,” and they watched the 10:00 news and went to sleep.
All I’m really saying is that these unwritten-upon spaces on the parchment are where you can listen in. And in Parashat Yitro, as our people learn how to organize our moral courts and processes, the feminine voices are easily within reach of our imaginations and hearts. In the Torah’s mention of Zipporah’s name, and the emphasis of her coming to Moses with her father, for whom this portion is named, we understand her influence was sacredly profound. And what did Moses say to his wife when they were finally alone in their tent, for her efforts, companionship and words of advice? “Yes, Dear.”
Debbi K. Levy is an adviser to her husband, Barry Rothschild, who sometimes says, “Yes, Dear,” as he heads out to the golf course.