At birth, I was given an English name along with the Hebrew name Tziporah. The English name (ask me sometime) was a name my parents liked. I always hated it. Tziporah was after my paternal great-grandmother, Faigel Weinberg. Faigel and Tziporah both mean bird.
I always felt connected to my Hebrew name. I heard many wonderful stories about Bubbie Weinberg and felt honored to be named after her. In college, I legally changed my name and became Tziporah (Tzipi) full time.
I do not remember when I first realized that in the Torah, Tziporah was married to Moses. I do not think it was as a young child; maybe during college. I was 21 when I met the man who would become my husband. When I found out that his Hebrew name was Moshe (Moses), I knew we were beshert (meant to be)! When I was pregnant, we joked about naming our son Gershon (Tziporah and Moshe’s son) but we did not like the idea of naming a child “stranger.”
Passover has always been my favorite holiday. I love family gatherings and retelling of the Passover story. My husband and I have hosted large annual Sederim for most of the past 20 years. While neither Moshe nor Tziporah are mentioned in the Haggadah, I still feel a special connection to the holiday.
So what do we know about the Biblical Tziporah?
- Her father, Yitro, was a leader who taught Moshe how to delegate
- She was one of seven sisters
- She saved Moshe’s life by circumcising their son
- Through most of their marriage, she lived apart from Moshe so he could concentrate on his role as a prophet
- She basically raised their two sons alone
While there is limited Rabbinic commentary on Tziporah, there is one I particularly relate to:
“[Tziporah] is also described as a practical woman capable of taking action at the right moment. . . As with other major Biblical figures, the venue of the first encounter between Moses and [Tziporah], his future wife, was beside a well. (Ex. 2) In the midrashic expansion, when the daughters of Jethro returned home, they told their father that a stranger had saved them from the shepherds, and he asked them: ‘Why did you leave the man? Ask him in to break bread.’ With the words ‘to break bread’ (implying marriage), Jethro hinted that Moses might marry one of them. Upon hearing her father, Zipporah immediately ran after Moses like a bird (ke-zippor, i.e., with alacrity) (Exodus Rabbah 1:32). According to this midrash, [Tziporah] wanted to marry Moses, acted accordingly, and achieved her goal.” (Source: Jewish Women’s Archive.)
I consider myself a person of action, a “go-getter,” so this midrash speaks to me. The idea of Tziporah / a bird being someone who acts with alacrity makes me smile; those who know me will attest that I like to get things done quickly (and well). As my son Golan says, efficiency is the way to go.
When I meet people, they often ask about my name. This gives me a chance to educate them, which I love. Now I can share with them that I share some character traits with both my great-grandmother and with Tziporah in the Torah.
Chag Sameach / Happy Passover.