It wasn't very romantic, but the Israelite nation and God got married during Yitro, at Sinai, around the base of a mountain. It was noisy, complete with thunder and lightning (odd, though, no rain) and about 600,000 people around. Moses "officiated" at the ceremony between God and those 600,000 by delivering the marriage contract, the ketubah (Jewish marriage contract), a.k.a. the Torah. These were the rules by which Israel and God would forever be bound. Moses relayed the announcements of commitment and devotion from God to the people, and the people responded with their own form of "I do"- na'aseh v'nishma.
The whole idea of God and Israel being in a love relationship starts early in Torah and carries through the Bible. From the Ten Commandments, we know that God is a jealous God, and really doesn't want us chasing after other gods, in effect, cheating on God. In our liturgy, we read in Ahavat Olam, "Blessed are You, God….who loves God's people Israel." In the parasha (section of the Bible) Ki Tavo, in Deuteronomy (Deut 7:7-9) we read that "God loved you and would keep the oath sworn to your fathers….God is a faithful God." And throughout the prophetic writings, we read of the metaphor of God and Israel as husband and wife, though it was a pretty troubled love affair between the two. The wife (Israel) keeps cheating on her husband (God), "Israel plays the harlot" (Hos 4:15). But God always takes Israel back, and Israel always returns.
It's interesting that Moses can be seen as the one matchmaker who brokered the marriage between God and Israel, since Moses' own marriage and family life were anything but ideal. What do we know of his marriage and family life with Zipporah? It's pretty rocky. Sure, the beginning is romantic-she and her sisters are being harassed at the well, Moses comes in to rescue them, and she marries the brave defender of her sisters' virtue. But, in Exodus 18, out in the wilderness after leaving Egypt, but before Sinai, Moses' father in law, Yitro brings Zipporah and her sons back to Moses, who apparently had been "sent away" for all that time, back to her father's house. Moses rushes out to his family, and warmly welcomes Yitro with bowing and kissing; he completely ignores his wife and sons.
In the Talmud (Yevamot 62a), it is said that Moses divorced Zipporah when he sent her back to her father's house. Others say they were only separated, not divorced. There is commentary that later, when Eldad and Meidad begin prophesying in the camp, with Moses' approval, Zipporah is said to have offered sympathy to their wives, because they would "lose" their husbands to prophecy as she lost hers. There is also a midrash (Torah text) that says Zipporah complained to Miriam that since Sinai, Moses has ceased his marital intimacy with her.
The picture is not one of a healthy, loving relationship. But that doesn't matter. Frankly, we don't look to any of our patriarchs for examples of happy home and family. Jealousy, sibling rivalry, favorite wives, and more. Moses' family life shouldn't be an issue when we look at his role in the "marriage" of God and Israel. After all, we see today that certain jobs like clergy, politician, doctor, litigator all take their tolls on marriage and family life, given the time requirements of the job. And Moses certainly epitomized being married to one's work. But we don't hold the official person standing under the chuppah responsible for the success of the couple's marriage. Rather than seeing Moses as a questionable symbol of true love and solid marriage, perhaps we can look at Moses as the ever-present marriage counselor, always trying to get the couple back together.
When God gets fed up with the people, Moses convinces God to stick with it. Moses never gives up. He believes wholeheartedly in the future that the two have together, and that their bond is unbreakable, no matter how many times they disappoint each other. In that role, he succeeded indeed.
Anita Silvert is a freelance teacher and writer, living in Northbrook. You can read more of her weekly Torah musings on her blog, Jewish Gems, www.anitasilvert.wordpress.com.