sA°4/4 From Devouring Tree To Moses' Sapphire Staff
After killing the Egyptian
overseer whom he found beating
two Hebrews, Moses had to flee
Egypt. Little of his 10-year absence
is recounted in the Torah, and thus
it became a fertile subject for the
legends of the rabbis.
Between the time that he had
to flee and the period in which he
encountered the Burning Bush, the
primary event recorded in the life of
Moses was his marriage to
Zipporah. From the midrashic
perspective, an equally important
event was Moses' discovery of his
rod (or staff), to which the rabbis
attributed a glorious history. In the
Midrash these two events are woven
Moses, on his way home to
Egypt from Ethiopia, reached the
city of Midian. It was early in the
morning, and as he came to the
well he noticed a great commotion.
A mob of people milled around the
well. They were shepherds who had
come to draw water for their flocks.
As Moses came close, a man
on the edge of the group saw him.
"Halt, stranger," he said angrily.
"What are you doing here?"
Moses answered quietly, "I
come from Ethiopia and on my way
back to Egypt my journeys brought
me here to Midian. But tell me,
what is the excitement at the well?"
"Oh, that?" The man laughed
loudly. "Just a little fun we're
having. You see, stranger, here in
Midian lives a man whose name is
Jethro. He has seven daughters.
They must do the work of the
shepherds because we will not work
for their father."
"Why not?" Moses asked.
"Because," one man said
angrily, "he's gotten some peculiar
notions into his silly head. He says
he believes in only one God!"
"Imagine," sneered the first
FRIDAY, APRIL 14, 1989
man, "he worships a God you
cannot even see!"
"And today, stranger," another
man said, "today we threw all
seven girls into the well!" The man
broke into a fit of laughter.
"Thrown into the well!" Moses
began to push through the crowd.
"They will drown! Make way, make
way, before they drown."
"Let them!" cried one man
roughly. "They worship an unseen
"I too worship the unseen
God!" Moses said sternly. "Throw
me into the well if you dare!"
The men began to mutter
angrily, then, looking at Moses
standing proudly, his tall strong
body straight, they were afraid.
Moses forgot them because he
was busy pulling the girls out of the
well, all seven of them. It took quite
a time because it is no easy matter
to pull up seven girls.
Moses reached the seventh girl.
This one did not weep. Her eyes
blazed with anger. she looked as
mussed up as her sisters, her wet
dress clinging to her body, her long
hair, dripping water, plastered to her
head. But that head she held high.
She gazed directly at Moses and
said, "My father is Jethro. My name
is Zipporah. I thank you, sir, for
rescuing my sisters and me."
She turned to the girls and told
them to fill their buckets and get
along home. Then she invited
Moses to come to their home to
have breakfast and to meet their
father who would want to thank him,
The other sisters, chattering
excitedly, hurried on ahead. Moses
and Zipporah walked more slowly
and talked. He told her who he was
and where he was going, and she
told him how she and her sisters
had to tend their father's sheep. As
they walked and talked, Moses liked
her more and more. And finally, just
before they reached her home, he
said, "Zipporah, I have searched
everywhere for a girl like you, all
over the East, in Egypt, in Ethiopia,
and nowhere did I find her till I
came to Midian. Now I have found
you, I want to marry you."
"That you can never do,"
Zipporah answered sadly. "The tree
will not let you marry me."
"The tree?" Moses exclaimed.
"You mean a tree growing in a
garden? How can a tree stop me
from marrying you?"
"The tree will devour you."
Moses laughed. "I have never
heard of a tree that eats people.
You are joking."
Oh, no," she answered. "In my
father's garden there grows a magic
tree. If you tell my father you wish
to marry me, he will ask you first to
pull that tree out of the ground. You
will try. But the moment you touch
that tree, it will devour you. I have
seen it happen. Every young man
who has tried to marry me or my
six sisters has been devoured by
"Where did your father get this
magic tree?" Moses asked.
"It's a long story," Zipporah
said. "But I will tell you. When God
first created the world, at twilight of
the first Sabbath eve, God created a
rod. It was the Sapphire Rod. God
gave this rod to Adam. Adam gave
it to Enoch, Enoch to Noah; then it
descended from Noah to Shem, to
Abraham to Isaac, and then to
Jacob. When Jacob went to Egypt