In reading Yitro (Ex 18:1-20:23) this week several things struck me. I did a bit of a double-take with Tzipporah’s reappearance. What happened to here? Where did she go? We last saw her in Ex 4:25, which is the infamous “bridegroom of blood” passage where she circumcises her son. As far as I can tell, she’s not mentioned again until Ex 18:2. There is says, “after she had been sent home.” So the arrival of Yitro also should be a joyful reunion between Moses and his family. Where is that passage? Moses embraces Yitro, but not his family (18:7)? Nice.
In 18:18 Yitro tries to help Moses realize that the people must take up the work with him and thus we get a court, not just a prophet-king. This should free up Moses to spend a little time with the family, but it doesn’t appear that he takes advantage of that.
This whole section of the text seems to tell a sad backstory of a neglected family put last by the husband and father. I think this is a common challenge with all clergy. How do you care for a flock and still put your own family first? I think that is part of the lesson and challenge this section of the text is supposed to teach us. I touch on this a bit in my midrash on Miriam. But reading Yitro this time has made me see another big whole in the text that needs to be filled: Tzipporah’s story. Talmud tells us that Tzipporah was never made it to Egypt. Aaron says to send her back to Midian when he meets Moses in the desert (Sefer Ha-Aggadah 64:40). What happened to her between Ex 4:25 and Ex18:2?
The section around 19:12 regarding the fixing of boundaries around the mountain and the subsequent order by Moses to “not even approach a woman.” Traditional interpretations say that ritual purity had to be enforced so no nookie was permitted. But I was seeing strong parallels between 19:12 and 19:15. The name for G!d(dess) here isn’t Shaddai, but that’s what it made me think of. Shaddai is often translated as “god of the mountains” or something like that, but it is also related to “breasts.” Not a hard leap to make there, I think. There just seems to be a strong parallel between the prohibition to even approach the mountain and Moses translating that into not approaching women.
Exodus 20:22 is about not using iron to cut stone for the altar. A note in the text of the Everett Fox Five Books of Moses says, ” In folklore iron was said to drive out the soul fo the stone – that is rob it of its essence.” Very interesting, you need “living” stone to make the altar. I also checked the Sefer Ha-Aggadah and found this:
“Iron was created to shorten man’s days, while the altar was created to lenghten man’s days. What shortens life should not be listed as a tool to build what lengthens life.” (Sefer Ha-Aggadah 125:112 / Middot 3:4)
One is a fairly rational explanation that iron is used to create weapons and should be used to create the altar. Not mixing life and death (milk/meat) is a common prohibition in Judaism. The other is clearly the product of a magickal world-view. The stone has a Divine spark, like anything else, and iron will remove that essence. Actually the two concepts work together well. Iron’s inherent property, following this logic, is to remove the Divine spark (soul) from something. Maybe this is why so many of our cities seem so spiritless now, too much iron in the buildings?
You aren’t supposed to study Torah alone, so please pipe in with your thoughts!