The name of Moshe figures prominently this week both in this week’s Torah portion of Shemot which depicts the Torah’s introduction to the birth of Moshe Rabeinu and today’s (20th of Tevet) Yarzheit commemoration of Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, known by the acronym “Rambam” or “Maimonides”. The contributions of each of these famous personages reverberate and in many ways define our destiny and our nationhood.
The Real Heroine Zipporah
However, what intrigues me the most is the unsung heroine who also is mentioned in this week’s Torah portion – Moshe Rabeinu’s wife Zipporah. In perhaps the least known section of the Torah reading, an incident occurs which actually showed how Zipporah saved the life of Moshe Rabeinu as cited in Shemot chapter IV verses 24 – 26.
In the article The Untold Story of Zipporah, Wife of Moses, author Levi Avtzon describes the episode in detail.
“After Moses was informed by G‑d that he would be the redeemer of the Jewish people, Moses, together with his wife and children, left the comfort of Midian to travel down to Egypt where the Jews were enslaved. This was a risky journey, which Zipporah courageously joined.
One night, while they were staying in an inn, an angel of G‑d came to kill Moses. Zipporah realized that he was being punished for not circumcising their newborn son. (Moses had delayed the brit milah due to the rigors of travel.) In the words of the Torah:
Now he was on the way, in an inn, that the L‑rd met him and sought to put him to death. So, Zipporah took a sharp stone and severed her son’s foreskin and cast it to his feet…
Thus, with quick thinking, Zipporah saved her husband’s life by giving their son a brit milah. The leader and redeemer of the Jewish people was twice saved by this holy woman!”
Rambam’s Contribution to the Topic of Marriage
Among the many legacies that are identified with Rambam is his Sefer Ha-Mitzvoth which details his description of the 613 Positive and Negative Commandments.
Among the commandments listed are two related to marriage and particularly noteworthy for Newlyweds and concentrated in Positive Commandment 214 and Negative Commandment 215.
In my blog The Rambam’s Best Newlywed Advice, I mention these two respective commandments as follows:
Positive Commandment 214 (Digest)
A Newly Married Groom’s Obligations
“He shall be free to his home for one year, and he shall cheer his wife whom he has taken”—Deuteronomy 24:5.
A newly-married groom, for the first year following his marriage, is commanded to remain together with his wife, and should not embark upon journeys, join the army in battle, or anything of the like. Rather he should rejoice with his wife for a full year.
Negative Commandment 311 (Digest)
Causing a Newly Married Groom to be Absent from his Home
“Neither shall he be charged with any business”—Deuteronomy 24:5.
It is forbidden to conscript a newly-married groom, for the first year following his marriage, for military or civic duties. Rather, he must be absolved from all duties that would cause him to be absent from his home.
This prohibition is directed to those responsible for conscription as well as the groom himself—he may not journey away from his home for an entire year.
Lessons from the Rambam
What the Rambam is pointing out is the extreme lengths that we are obligated to free up a newly married couple to focus on one thing – their relationship first and foremost. Nothing – not a war, not a civic responsibility, nor “the deal of the century” is permitted to take a groom and his bride from their rejoicing in each other’s company.
The Home is the Hearth
What the Rambam is stating is the best pre-marriage education advice that could be provided – a new couple needs to focus their energies on building the sense of the couple and establishing the home as the environment for such a relationship to thrive. Being divested of any outside obligations is making the statement that each Jewish home matters and is essential for our society.
And by taking the time to invest in the relationship – the message for society is that the Jewish Home is of paramount significance in establishing our identity as a people and that the value of peace in the home is our hallmark and prescription for a healthy and happy Jewish nation.
First Year of Marriage and its Messages
In a fascinating article entitled First Year of Marriage in Jewish Tradition, the author Yehuda Shurpin addresses the commandments and the seriousness in which the first year should be taken especially as the obligation appears to be placed on the husband to make his wife happy:
“A successful marriage rests on prioritizing one’s spouse, and this is especially true of the first year of marriage. At the beginning of the marriage, the bond between husband and wife is still being formed, setting the tone and foundation for the rest of their lives together. The stronger the foundation, the stronger the building, and the easier it is to weather any storms ahead.
So, if you are a newlywed groom, you should make a serious attempt to limit the amount of time you must be away, and curtail business travel that takes you away from home overnight as much as possible.
Additionally, especially if there are no children involved, it may be possible to arrange to have your wife come along with you if you need to stay away for an extended period of time. I know of instances when, knowing that it was the first year of marriage, the company was more than happy to arrange for the wife to come along, thus turning a “business trip” into a semi-vacation or tour that both could enjoy.”
Thank you Tzipporah and Rambam
The intertwining of the section of this week’s Torah detailing the little known role of Tzipporah saving the life of Moshe Rabeinu and the Yarzheit of Rambam which recall his writings including those mentioning marriage obligations are lessons which are timeless.
We owe a debt of gratitude to both Tzipporah and the Rambam. Each of these individuals demonstrated what sacrifices are needed for perpetuating marriages and the extent to which investments can actually save a life in the case of Moshe Rabeinu and set a foundation for couples to establish future families with confidence and stability in an atmosphere infused with love and most of all peace.