Yitro's Visit – Its Purpose and Significance
A Family Reunion?
What prompted Yitro to visit Moshe, and why does the Torah record this story for posterity? At first glance, Yitro seems to be motivated by a desire to reunite Zipporah and her sons with Moshe. In the first six verses of the chapter there is a heavy emphasis on this family component, with a threefold mention of the wife and sons. However, immediately after their arrival, Zipporah and sons fade from the scene. Beginning in verse 7, it is Yitro and his words and activities that become the exclusive focus of the chapter. It is Yitro whom Moshe greets and kisses, and Yitro with whom Moshe speaks about the events of the Exodus, suggesting that it is not the accompanying wife and children that are the central characters in the story of Yitro's arrival, but rather Yitro himself.
Never Heard From Again
Moreover, had Yitro come purely for personal reasons, it is not clear why the Torah would have deemed it noteworthy enough to share this story. Personal details of character's lives are sparse in Tanakh, and in this particular case, they would not seem to be vital for the reader. In fact, had it not been for 18:2, we would never even have known that Zipporah had ever left Moshe's side.1 Furthermore, neither Zipporah nor her sons ever appear again in the Torah, let alone play any significant role.2 Thus, if this is a story merely about the reunification of Moshe's family, why would the Torah see fit to include it, especially as it breaks up the flow of the nationally focused narrative (see Context)?
These issues prompt exegetes to search for other motivations – both religious and political – for both Yitro's visit itself and for the Torah's preservation of its legacy.