“Behind every great man…” So who were the women who gave their support to Moses and Aaron, the leaders of the Jewish people?

Tziporah, Moses’ wife, was one of the seven daughters of Jethro, the Midianite priest who sheltered Moses when he fled Egypt. Tziporah is singled out by Scripture for saving her husband’s life by circumcising their son–a story worthy of its own Treat (Exodus 4:24-27). However, Tziporah also appears to be the topic of discussion in Numbers 12: “Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the “Cushite woman whom he had married…”(Numbers 12:1). Cush, in Hebrew, is Ethiopia, and thus, “a Cushite woman” is a description of Tziporah as a black woman. Since her father was a Midianite, Rashi understands that “this teaches that everyone agreed to her beauty, just as everyone agrees to the blackness of a Cushite.” He further states: “[The word cushit is] numerically equivalent to y’faht mar’eh [beautiful in appearance].”

Elisheva, Aaron’s wife, is noted (Exodus 6:23) as the daughter of Aminadav and the sister of Nachshon, the prince of the tribe of Judah. Aaron and Elisheva had four sons. The sages note that at the inauguration of the Tabernacle, Elisheva had five reasons to rejoice: “her brother-in-law [Moses] was ‘king,’ her husband was high priest, her son [Eleazer] was second [to the High Priest], her grandson [Pinchas] was the priest anointed for war, and her brother [Nachshon] was prince of a tribe [Judah],” (Zevachim 102a). However, instead of rejoicing, she was mourning her two sons, Nadav and Avihu, who, on that very day, died when they brought an unauthorized sacrifice (Leviticus 10). Although Aaron was able to set aside his grieving and continue the joyous celebration of the inauguration of the Tabernacle, Elisheva’s life perspective was forever marred by the tragic loss of her sons. Elisheva is therefore described (rightly or wrongly) as one unable to appreciate all of the gifts in her life.

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