By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
As we go through the Parshios of the saga in Mitzrayim and the dramatic Exodus, the splitting of the Red Sea and receiving of the Torah, the hero throughout them all was the great Moshe Rabbeinu. Now, as the famous saying goes, behind every great man many-a-time there is an equally great woman. This was certainly the case regarding the First Lady of the Jewish People, Tziporah.
It is interesting to note that there is an unusual amount of discussion in the Medrashim and the Rishonim for the meaning behind the name ‘Tziporah.’ There is more regarding her name than is found by most other names. Perhaps one reason for this is because the Hebrew letters of her name, tzadik peh vav reish hei, are an anagram for the word prutza, which means brazen or immodest. Since this is certainly the antithesis of who Tziporah was, the commentaries research why such a name was chosen.
The Medrash Lekach Tov explains that Tziporah has at its root the word tzipor, which is a quick bird, and she was called such since she had the trait of alacrity. This would serve her in great stead when she saved her husband’s life by reacting immediately and grabbing the flint stone to circumcise their son, saving Moshe from being swallowed by a snake. In Shmos Rabbah, it explains that the name links her to the tzipor which was used in the purification of the biblical leper. So too, says the Medrash, she purified her father’s home from all of its idolatry. She was therefore of the right makeup to be a leader, together with her husband, for the purification of Klal Yisroel, which sank to the forty-ninth degree of tumah.
We know that the Gemora teaches shma garim, a name generates a person’s destiny. Thus, the Chida points out that the gematria of Tziporah has the same numerical value as the words tzor milah, for she would circumcise her son with the flint stone, a very defining moment in her life. The Rabbeinu Efraim points out that the gematria of Tziporah, 375, is also the exact numerical value of l’Moshe, since she was destined to become his Rebbetzin. The Chizkuni goes in a different direction. He explains that the name Tziporah comes from the word tzafra which means the brightness of the morning. She was so-called because she was beautiful like the morning glow.
One might wonder, since Tziporah circumcised Elazar with a stone, why we don’t do circumcision with a rock. The Rambam says categorically that milah preferably should be done with metal (and not with a rock) and the name of the milah knife is called an izemal, which in Hebrew is spelled alef zayan mem lammed, of which the alef- zayan equals eight, leaving mem-lammed which means circumcision, for this knife is used to circumcise on the eighth day. The reason why we use iron is a fascinating Medrash concerning Dovid and Goliyas (Goliath). Dovid killed Goliyas with a slingshot and five rocks. The Medrash says that Goliyas was wearing a heavy iron helmet that rocks would normally be unable to penetrate. How did the rock pierce the helmet and enter Goliyas’s skull? The Medrash reveals that the Angel of rock struck a deal with the Angel of iron and promised that, if just this one time the iron would allow the rock to penetrate, the rock would hand over the privilege of milah to the iron. And so it happened that Goliyas died and until this day we do circumcision with an iron knife.
May it be the will of Hashem that we all live up to the wonderful destinies hidden in our names and may we be blessed with long life, good health and everything wonderful.
Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’ articles.
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