A traumatic episode between the members of the royal family of Amram transpires this week. 

Miriam, the heroic and devoted sister of Moshe, gets wind of Moshe separating from family life with Tzipporah, his loyal wife. Suspecting that Tzipporah has been left isolated and abandoned, she counsels with her holy brother Aharon sharing her dissatisfaction with the leader of the Jewish nation, their youngest brother, and his behavior. 

Speculating that perhaps his physically distancing from Tzipporah is due to his spiritual stance as a prophet that justifies his always maintaining a level of purity which will be compromised by intimate contact with his wife, she questions why then she and Aharon is, who are also prophets, not similarly prohibited. 

G-d angered, responds by distinguishing between Moshe’s heightened state of prophecy, and their lesser degree of connectivity. Miriam is punished with leprosy for her slander against Moshe, enduring a seven-day isolation, with the entire camp ceasing their journey, waiting for her to be cured and return, before traveling again. 

In this entire episode there is a glaring omission of one character, Tzipporah. 

Did anyone inquire about her feelings? Was she upset with her fate as a lonely spouse, lacking a bond with her esteemed and no doubt loving husband? Are we to sympathize with Tzipporah and her plight? 

The Midrash describes the sequence of the unfurling emotions. 

In an earlier episode Moshe is frustrated with the gripes of the people. They are constantly dissatisfied and pining for pleasures they miss. Moshe appeals to G-d for assistance in managing this restless folk. G-d concedes asking Moshe to gather seventy elders who will be conferred of the spirit of Moshe, becoming prophets, fortifying them in their ability to effectively communicate the message of G-d to the nation. 

The Midrash reports how the people celebrated this event by lighting candles. Miriam observing this inquires of Tzipporah as to the nature of these candles. Tzipporah reveals to her that the people are celebrating the newly appointed elders. Upon hearing this great news Miriam expresses ‘how fortunate are the wives of these elders that have merited to see their husbands attain שררה, leadership roles.’ 

Tzipporah reacts to Miriam’s joy by bemoaning these women’s fate, saying “Woe to them who will no longer be with their husbands.” 

Miriam baffled by her response inquires how she knew that to be true, to which Tzipporah goes on to reveal to her, how since the day Moshe ‘was sanctified through his communication with G-d’ they have been separated from family life. As soon as Miriam hears this, she goes off to Aharon to take matters into her own hands. It would now seem that Tzipporah was actually the initiator of the resulting discontent that led to the sad conclusion. 

Not quite the silent player. 

If indeed Tzipporah was unhappy with her lot, then how come there was no evidence of it prior. The simple understanding according to the Talmud was that this parting of ways between Moshe and Tzipporah was already implemented after the giving of the Torah. Nearly a year has gone by before the catalyst for this discussion, the appointing of the elders, develops. Could the sensitive Miriam not have picked up on Tzipporah’s unhappiness until first now?  

There is another nuance in the dialogue between Miriam and Tzipporah that needs to be addressed. 

When Miriam relates to Tzipporah the significance of the candles lit in honor of the women’s husbands’ selection, it emphasizes their glee in seeing their men rise to שררה, positions of ‘authority’. Wouldn’t ‘greatness’ be more of an appropriate achievement, or perhaps ‘holiness’ having now been elevated to the exalted status of prophet? 

I would like to boldly suggest that Tzipporah, who certainly sacrificed much in her role of the greatest prophet who ever lived, never batted an eyelash when that opportunity came here way. She was devoted to the will of G-d unfailingly and happily, even if it meant forfeiting a more material aspect of her life with Moshe. Just as the pain of childbirth will always be there, the dividend makes it all worth it. So too, Tzipporah would remain the loyal wife of Moshe who as a couple no doubt epitomized the ideal of שכינה שרויה ביניהם, The Divine Presence dwells between a man and his wife, even lacking a component that might be a necessity for others. 

But she knew that not everyone can achieve that; she understood the sacrifice as none other did. When hearing from Miriam that they were rejoicing over their ‘men’s prominence’ as leaders, perhaps she sensed that it would take a much more heightened appreciation for the role they obtained in order to be satisfied and happy even if they would lose the intimacy of their husbands. 

It was truly Tzipporah’s great character that felt deeply for these noble women, sympathizing with the challenge they would face, that is being portrayed here. She clearly was totally at peace and happy with her lot, never betraying that sense of privilege in the manner she continued to act with others. 

It was Miriam’s misreading of Tzipporah’s comment, blinded by her misunderstanding of Moshe’s truly elevated status, that devolved into slander. 

There is an ancient kabbalistic tradition that there are ‘three revealed couples’ who are buried in the Me’aras HaMachpelah, and ‘two hidden’ ones. (ספר התמונה) 

The three are Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchok and Rivkah, Yaakov and Leah, and the two not as evident, Adam and Chavah, Moshe and Tzipporah. 

Although we are told Moshe was physically buried elsewhere in Mount Nevo, there are mystical attempts to explain this assertion according to kabbalah. 

Perhaps the message within this notion is that one should never make assumptions. Miriam did and ended up being taken to task for it. 

You never know. 

What might have appeared to be an imperfect marriage, turned out to be eternalized, together with the world’s first couple, as the paradigm of a perfect union as outlined in G-d’s original plan, despite apparent deficiencies. 

You never know! 


צבי יהודה טייכמאן