MeAm Lo'ez
On Parashat Shemot

(Shemot 1:1 - 6:1)


The Enslavement
Shemot 1:1 And these are the names of the Bnei Yisrael who were coming to Egypt; with Yaakov, each man and his household came. 2 Reuven, Shimon, Levi, and Yehudah; 3 Yissachar, Zevulun, and Binyamin; 4 Dan and Naftali; Gad and Asher. 5 And all the persons who emerged from Yaakov's loins were seventy souls, and Yosef was in Egypt. 6 Yosef died, and all his brothers and that entire generation.

Reuven lived 125 years [and died in 2318 (1443 B.C.E.)].

Shimon lived 120 years [and died in 2314 (1447 B.C.E.)].

Levi lived 137 years [and died in 2331 (1430 B.C.E.)].

Yehudah lived 119 years [and died in 2315 (1446 B.C.E.)].

Dan lived 125 years [and died in 2321 (1440 B.C.E.)].

Naftali lived 133 years [and died in 2323 (1438 B.C.E.)].

Asher lived 123 years [and died in 2322 (1439 B.C.E.)].

Yissachar lived 122 years [and died in 2320 (1447 B.C.E.)].

Zevulun lived 114 years [and died in 2314 (1447 B.C.E.)].

Yosef lived 110 years [and died in 2309 (1452 B.C.E.)].

Binyamin lived 115 years [and died in 2323 (1438 B.C.E.)]. We thus see that Levi lived longer than any of his brothers and that Yosef died the youngest. Yosef died younger than all his brothers because they used the expression, "your servant our father" ten times while he remained silent. Therefore, although Yosef was supposed to have lived 120 years, ten years were taken from his life. The reward for honoring one's parents is long life. (Shemot 20:12) One who is not careful to observe this mitzvah loses years from his lifetime.

Actually, the expression, "your servant our father," or "Your servant my father" [referring to Yaakov] occurs only five times in the Torah (Bereishit 44:24, 44:27, 44:30, 44:31, 43:28). However, since there was an interpreter translating all the brothers' words for Yosef from Hebrew to Egyptian, he actually heard the expression ten times. Each time, a year was taken from his life for taking his father's honor lightly.

There is also another reason. Yosef embalmed his father. (Bereishit 50:2) Elokim complained to him and said, "Are you not aware that I would say to your father, 'Do not fear the worm, Yaakov?' (Yeshayahu 41:14) Yaakov need have no fear of worm or decay. Since he was a perfect tzaddik, you did not have to do anything to prevent his body from deteriorating."

Some say that Yosef was supposed to live 147 years, as his father Yaakov had. (Bereishit 47:28) Thirty seven of these years he gave to King David as a gift.

The year in which each of Yaakov's sons died is not specified in the Torah, nor are the years of their births. The only exceptions are Yosef and Levi. Yosef is known to have been born in 2199 (1562 B.C.E.), when Yaakov was 91 years old. Since the Torah specifies that Yosef lived 110 years (Bereishit 50:22), it is known that he died in 2309 (1452 B.C.E.). It is also known that Levi was born in 2194 (1567 B.C.E.) and lived 137 years (Shemot 6:16), so that he died in 2331 (1430 B.C.E.).

Some say that Yissachar was different from the rest, and was born after an interval of twelve months.

Shemot 1:7 The Bnei Yisrael were fruitful, teemed, increased, and became strong - very, very much so; and the land became filled with them.

In Egypt, the Yisraeli women normally gave birth to sextuplets.

Some say that each pregnancy miraculously resulted in as many as twelve, or according to others, as many as sixty, children.

One should not find this overly surprising since invertebrates such as a scorpion can give birth to seventy young in a single litter. In stating that "their population increased," the Torah uses the word VaYishretzu. This is related to the word sheretz meaning a "crawling animal.'' The term indicates that the Jewish women were like these animals, who give birth to many young in each litter.

In his commentary, Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra writes that he himself witnessed the birth of quadruplets. A prominent physician writes that he witnessed one woman giving birth to twenty children in four pregnancies, all of whom survived. He also writes of a woman who aborted seventy fetuses, each having full human form. Therefore it is not surprising that such multiple births occurred in Egypt.

All the married women in Egypt had children; not a single man or woman was sterile. Babies did not die in infancy, but all grew to maturity. Even though the children were the products of multiple births, they were all strong and healthy. They were also large and powerful; none were puny or weak. The Torah alludes to this, saying, "The land was filled with them." When the Yisraeli children walked along the road, they took up the entire thoroughfare.

The Yisraelim were not like people with large families today, who have difficulty feeding and clothing so many children. They were wealthy enough to support generously the huge families that they had. This is alluded to in the phrase, "They became very, very numerous." The Hebrew word for "very" here is me'od which also indicates wealth. It is thus written, "You shall love Hashem your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your me'od." (Devarim 6:5) Our sages here interpret me'od to mean wealth; the verse indicates that one must love G-d with all one's heart, even, if necessary, at the expense of one's life or all one's wealth.

The verse therefore indicates that the Yisraelim became very great both in numbers and in wealth. It was no trouble for them to support their large families.

In VaYechi we described how Esav and his men had attacked the Yisraelim when they went to bury Yaakov. Many of Esav's men were killed, and Esav's grandson Tzefo was taken prisoner and placed in chains. Yosef had him sent to Egypt, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Now, after Yosef's death, Tzefo and his men managed to escape, and they fled to a city in Africa. The king, whose name was Angius, received them with great honor, soon appointing Tzefo as his prime minister. After Tzefo had established himself in this position, he requested permission from the king to raise an army of seasoned troops to wage a war of revenge against the Yisraelim for killing his grandfather, Esav. Demurring, the king said, "Perhaps you have not heard the reports that we have been receiving about these Yisraelim. I hear that they are powerful warriors, and that no one can beat them in battle."

Tzefo decided to wait awhile before approaching the king again. He planned his strategy well, but each time he asked, the king refused permission. Eventually, Tzefo was so insistent that the king could no longer refuse him. The king gave orders to prepare for war, and an army as numerous as the sands of the sea was assembled.

At the time, King Angius had a fifteen-year-old grandson, by the name of Balaam ben Beor. He was a master occultist, and was able to perform powerful magic. Before going to battle, the king asked him to examine carefully all the omens and portents.

Examining the omens, Balaam reported that he saw that Angius' army would be demolished by the children of Yaakov. Hearing this, the king abandoned all plans of war and sent his troops home. Tzefo had his heart set on fighting the Yisraelim. When Angius dismissed his army, he was furious. He rebelled against the king, and went to the land of the Kittim, where he was received with great acclaim. He was a renowned warrior, and was chosen as general of the Kittim troops. In this position, he fought many wars, always emerging victorious. He became very wealthy, until he was made king of all Italy.

After thirteen years the African army attacked the city of the Kittim and lay siege to it. They often raided the Kittim, taking them captive and selling them for slaves. This time, however, the raid was a disaster. Tzefo led his troops into battle against the Africans, giving them a resounding defeat and killing a large number of their troops.

The African king Angius was very much afraid of Tzefo and decided to attack the Kittim, picking off their cities one by one. Tzefo mounted a counterattack, virtually annihilating the African army. Angius then decided that his only recourse would be an all out war against Tzefo. He sent a message to his brother to come to his aid. The two brothers amassed an enormous army and set out against the Kittim.

When Tzefo heard reports of the huge approaching army, he sent a message to the king of Edom to come to his aid. The attacking army was so great that, without help, the Kittim would certainly be defeated and all killed.

The king of Edom replied, "I cannot come to your aid. When Esav fought against the sons of Yaakov, we signed a peace treaty with the king of Africa."

Besieged in their city, Tzefo only had three thousand able-bodied soldiers. Seeing the overwhelming odds against them, the troops were afraid to make sorties outside the city. They petitioned Tzefo, and said, "Your only recourse is to pray to the G-d of your father to deliver you from the hand of the African king. We have heard that the G-d of your father's ancestors is very powerful and is always ready to protect those who trust in Him." Tzefo replied that he would take their advice and pray to G-d .

Tzefo prayed: "O G-d, Master of my father's grandparents, Avraham and Yitzchak, deliver me. Let the world know that you are the true G-d, G-d of all nations, and that other deities are false. Have mercy on me because of the merit of Avraham and Yitzchak from whom I come. Let their merit stand up for me to be delivered."

G-d heard his prayer in the merit of Avraham and Yitzchak and decreed that Tzefo would be victorious. Taking new heart, Tzefo's men went to battle and defeated the two African kings even though the Kittim were badly outnumbered.

Surveying his losses, Angius found himself in immediate need of replacements. He sent a royal decree back to his kingdom in Africa: "Every man over the age of ten must be conscripted into the army, and immediately join me in battle. If anyone refuses the draft, he and his entire family are to be put to death."

The recruits were rushed to the front and arrived within twelve days of the dispatch. Tzefo immediately mounted an attack, severely defeating Angius' troops. Angius' chief general also fell in battle. The troops scattered in disarray, and Angius and his brother were forced to flee back to Africa in disgrace.

Until this time, Balaam ben Beor was on the side of the African king. However, when he saw his disastrous defeat, he defected to Tzefo, placing himself at his mercy. Recognizing Balaam's talents, Tzefo accepted him with honor.

All this had been directed by Providence because of Tzefo's prayer. But Tzefo did not recognize the good that G-d had done for him. He attributed his victory to his own military prowess, even though the odds against him had been overwhelming. True to form, he began to emulate his grandfather, Esav.

Assembling his generals, he discussed an attack against the Yisraelim. He said, "Let us raise an army and attack the Yisraelim in Egypt. Yosef and all his brothers have died; now we will be able to avenge the blood of Esav."

A message was sent to Hadad ben Badad, king of Edom: "When I was attacked by the king of Africa, I sought your aid and asked you to send me reinforcements. You replied that you could not, since you had signed a peace treaty with the Africans. That is now past history since we defeated the Africans without your help, as you most probably have already heard. However, now we are marching against the children of Yaakov. It is a punitive expedition because of their treachery when the Egyptians came to Chevron to bury Yaakov. If you see fit, now is the time to come to our aid. You also are descendants of Esav, and have an interest in avenging his death."

The king of Edom agreed, and assembled all his troops. He also mustered many troops from the children of Esav, as well as the Yishmaelim and the people of the East. They all joined Tzefo and the Kittim, and assembled in Chevron. From there, they marched against Egypt.

When the Egyptians heard reports of the approach of this huge army, they realized that Pharaoh would also be subject to attack. All able-bodied men in Egypt were mustered into the army, as well as troops from all the Egyptian colonies, some 300,000 men. Yaakov's grandsons, who now were 15O in number, came fully armed to join the Egyptian  force.

When the Yisrael troops arrived, the Egyptians told them, "You remain here in Egypt, and let us fight against these invaders. If we need you, we will send for you." The Egyptian did not trust the Yisraelim since they were blood relatives of the Yishmaelim and Edomim. They were afraid of treachery, that the Yisraelim would undermine their troops from within. It seemed obvious to them that the Yisraelim would favor their blood relatives over the Egyptians.

The battle was joined in a field near Tachpanches. Among his advisors, Tzefo had brought along Balaam ben Beor since he valued his advice highly. Before the battle, Tzefo asked Balaam to make use of his auguries to see if he would be victorious. However, before Balaam could cast a spell, his devices became ruined. Before he could rearrange his materials, the Egyptians had already attacked.

Tzefo's forces proved superior, and the Egyptians suffered extremely heavy losses. When the Egyptian army broke and fled, they were pursued by Tzefo's troops. The Egyptian sent a messenger to the Yisraelim, asking them to come to their aid. Before going out to battle, the Yisraelim prayed to G-d, and their prayer was accepted.

As soon as the Yisraelim joined the battle, the tide turned. Before long, four thousand of Tzefo's best troops were dead on the battlefield, without the Yisraelim suffering a single loss. Seeing this, Tzefo became terrified. He knew Yaakov's sons and what great warriors they were, and now he was seeing that their children were no less great.

The Yisraelim pursued Tzefo 's army as far as Ethiopia. Two thousand of Tzefo's men were killed along the way, and the rest fled for their lives.

Meanwhile, the Egyptians had deserted the Yisraelim in battle and had let them fight alone. When the Yisraelim returned from battle, the Egyptian taunted them as the brothers of Yishmael and Edom, and fights broke out, resulting in the death of several score Egyptians. Whereas the two nations had lived in harmony, a spirit of enmity now arose between them. The Yisraelim resented having been abandoned on the battlefield, and the Egyptians spread the report of the killings.

The Yisraelim, however, were still oblivious to the growing mood of the Egyptians. They returned to Goshen and offered praise and song to G-d for their victory.

A new king, who did not know Yosef, came into power over Egypt. G-d had told Avraham, "Know for sure that your offspring will be foreigners in a land that is not theirs. They will enslave them and oppress them for four hundred years." (Bereishit 15:13) Now the Torah tells the story of this exile in detail. As we have seen earlier, the Egyptians had begun to subjugate the Yisraelim immediately after the death of Yosef.

Rabbi Elazer ben Arach taught: When the exile of the Yisraelim began, the souls of all Yaakov's sons gathered to Machpelah Cave and cried out to the Patriarchs, "Your children are being enslaved by a harsh nation." They had gone there to request the Patriarchs to pray for the benefit of their children. The Torah therefore states, "These are the names of the sons of Yisrael who came with Yaakov." (1:1). After their deaths, they came along with Yaakov to pray for their children.

"Are you mad?" Pharaoh could not believe what they were asking of him. "Don't you realize that we are now eating because of them? If Yosef did not predict the terrible famine that came to our land, and did not advise us what to do, we all would be dead!"

When the members of the Supreme Council saw that they could not convince Pharaoh, they voted to take away some of his power. They repeated this three times, until Pharaoh was virtually impeached. Stripped of his power, he approached the council and said, "I will do whatever you tell me." On this condition, they restored his kingdom to him.

The Torah describes this situation by saying, "A new king arose." Pharaoh took power again after he had been impeached.

The Torah now begins to relate how the Egyptians began to subjugate the Yisraelim little by little. The Egyptians began with false accusations, and enacted laws restricting the rights of the Yisraelim. They then began to treat them as foreigners, stripping them of all the rights of citizenship. Later, when the Egyptians saw that the Yisraelim were rapidly increasing in number, they began to seek methods to control their population.

The Torah begins this account by saying, "A new king, who did not know Yosef, came into power over Egypt." In the Talmud, there is a difference of opinion between Rav and Shmuel regarding the meaning of the expression, "a new king."

One sage taught that there was literally a new king. He came from a city far from the Egyptian capital. Not only had he never seen Yosef, but he was not aware of his great deeds. He was not a hereditary Pharaoh, but had usurped the throne from the previous Pharaoh, and had taken power by force.

Others explain the words of this sage by saying that the "new king" was the Pharaoh who was born when Yosef was in prison. (Bereishit 40:20)

The other Talmudic sages taught that this was not actually a new Pharaoh. He is called a "new king" because he issued harsh decrees regarding the Jews and behaved as if he did not know Yosef. It was as if the fact that Yosef had literally saved Egyptians from starvation had been utterly forgotten. According to some authorities, Pharaoh did not do this voluntarily. The Supreme Council of Egypt approached Pharaoh and said, "We must find a way to exterminate the Yisraelim."

Shemot 1:9 He said to his people, "Behold! the people, the Bnei Yisrael, are more numerous and stronger than we. 10 Come, let us outsmart it lest it become numerous and it may be that if a war will occur, it, too, may join our enemies, and wage war against us and go up from the land."

Pharaoh said to his advisors, "The Yisraelim are becoming stronger than we are. We must make plans to destroy them in such a way that their G-d will not be able to do the same to us. If we have them burned alive or killed by the sword, their G-d will avenge them in a similar manner. We must therefore kill them by drowning. Here we will be safe, since their G-d has sworn that he would never bring another flood on the earth. (Bereishit 9:11) We know that the Yisraeli G-d always makes the punishment fit the crime. We must therefore kill the Yisraelim in such a way that such a fitting punishment will be impossible.

"We must deal wisely with these Yisraelim. Otherwise, in case of war, they may join our enemies, and up from the land! They will chase us out of our own land and take possession of it."

At this time, Pharaoh had three chief advisors, Balaam, Iyov and Yitro.

Balaam was one of the leading figures pressing for the extermination of the Yisraelim. Providence therefore decreed that he would be killed by the sword. (BaMidbar 31:18)

Iyov remained silent, advising neither good nor bad for the Yisraelim. Providence therefore decreed that he would endure horrible suffering.

This is not contradicted by the fact that scripture describes Iyov as being "consistent, honest, G-d-fearing, and avoiding evil." (Iyov 1:1) He did not remain silent because he would gain anything from the evil that would be done. Rather, he assumed that any protest on his part would be useless since Pharaoh and Balaam had apparently already made up their minds.

Still, he was punished and made to endure great suffering. He had no way of being absolutely certain that his arguments would not be accepted. As long as there was any chance at all, he should have protested. If his argument were strong enough, it might have had a salutary effect.

According to another opinion, Pharaoh wanted to kill the Yisraelim immediately. Iyov spoke up and said, "Why kill them? Why not take their wealth and their homes and make them your slaves?"

For this he was punished by G-d, and he lost all his property. He was also made to suffer the worst torment.

The only one to protest strongly against this injustice was Yitro. He kept protesting until he was forced to flee. Seeing Yitro stubbornly opposing his plans, Pharaoh intrigued to kill him. Yitro got wind of Pharaoh's intentions, and fled to Midyan, where he remained many years.

According to the Egyptian constitution, when Pharaoh died all his decrees were automatically annulled. Yitro abandoned his position and fled, hoping that Pharaoh would die before his decree could be fulfilled. G-d rewarded him by making his descendants members of the great Sanhedrin.

Others say that Yitro advised that evil be done to the Yisraelim, just like Balaam. But he later repented, and his sin was completely forgotten.

The Egypt wanted to undermine the Yisraelim in three ways: through occult powers, by physical brutality, and through psychological warfare. Regarding occult methods of harming the Jews, the Egyptians sought advice from Balaam, who was a master in these arts.

Regarding natural methods, they sought advice from Iyov, who was one of the greatest philosophers of his time.

Pharaoh initiated action against the Yisraelim. Even according to the opinion that his Supreme Council forced him, he went far beyond giving his advisors a free hand against the Yisraelim. Rather, he himself began to make plans to exterminate them. Pharaoh was therefore punished, even though he had at first been forced into this position.

Shemot 1:11 So they appointed taskmasters over it in order to afflict it with their burdens; it built storage cities for Pharaoh, Pitom and Raamses.

The Egyptians began by appointing tax collectors to make the Yisraelim pay tribute in order to break their spirits. The first tribute exacted from the Yisraelim was that they should fortify Pitom and Raameses as supply centers for Pharaoh. These cities had already been built as storage depots, but they could not be used since they were not fortified against invaders. Now, the Yisraelim were ordered to build walls around these cities and fortify them.

Pharaoh himself took the first mold used for forming bricks, placed it around his neck, and began making bricks for this project. Not only did he want to set an example for the Yisraelim, but he also wanted to make it impossible for them to claim deferment because such work was beneath their dignity. If an Yisraeli complained and said that he was not used to such work, or that he was too weak for it, the Egyptian would reply, "Are you less used to such work than the king himself?" As a result of Pharaoh's action, no one could find a way to be excused.

The Torah speaks of these cities as being Miskenot [The word miskenot is related to the word sakanah meaning danger.] The walls of these cities were so high that building them was dangerous work. One could be killed by falling from the wall, or by having a brick fall on one's head.

[The word miskenot is also related to the word misken meaning a poor man.] Engaging in building such as this can ruin a person. He begins with a small estimate, and in the end he must spend much more than he originally planned.

According to one opinion, Pitom and Raamses were destroyed by the sound of Yehudah's voice. When Yosef attempted to hold Binyamin, Yehudah screamed so loud that he destroyed these cities. As reparation, Pharaoh ordered the Yisraelim to rebuild them.

The Yisraelim suffered very much in building these cities. As soon as they began to build one section, the previous section would collapse. Some say that earthquakes continuously destroyed their work, repeatedly forcing them to begin anew. They could not even gain any satisfaction from their accomplishments.

It is therefore not surprising that so many Yisraelim were engaged in building two fairly small storage cities. As fast as they built, the work was destroyed by earthquakes.

Shemot 1:12 But as much as they would afflict it, so it would increase and so it would spread out; and they became disgusted because of the Bnei Yisrael.

G-d had mercy on Yisrael, and the more the Egyptians tried to break their spirits through harsh labor and to decrease their number, the more they increased. G-d Himself announced, "The more they are oppressed, the more they will increase and spread. Do not think that the Egyptians will be successful in annihilating them. The more plans they make to weaken them, the stronger they will become." Seeing this, the Egyptians began to dread the Yisrael's. [For "dreaded," the Torah uses the expression va-ya-kutzu.] The Egyptians began to despair (kotz) of their very lives because of the manner in which the Yisraelim were increasing. The Yisraelim were like thorns (kotzim) in their eyes.

The Midwives

Shemot 1:17 But the midwives feared G-d and they did not do as the king of Egypt spoke to them, and they caused the boys to live.

The two head midwives were none other than Yocheved and her five-year-old daughter, Miryam. Yocheved's professional name was Shifra because she was expert in beautifying (shafar) newborn infants, cleansing them and straightening their limbs. Miryam's professional name was Puah because even though she was a child, she was expert in cooing (pa'ah) to the newborn infants and calming them down when they cried. Her voice had a soothing effect on newborn infants, like that of many expert nurses.

According to another opinion, the two midwives were Yocheved and her daughter-in-law, Elisheva, daughter of Aminadav, who would marry Aharon. (Shemot 6:23) According to this opinion as well, Puah was very young since Aharon was only three years old at the time.

In the Torah the expression for "Hebrew midwives," meyaldot ha-ivriot, is spelled deficiently. It is spelled with two vavs missing. This indicates that the two were closely related, being mother and daughter, or mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. It also indicates that one of the two was still very young. Therefore, it was as if there were only one midwife, with the other being secondary to her.

Another opinion maintains that Shifra and Puah were Egyptian women, and that they later became proselytes. They were pious women and refused to carry out Pharaoh's orders.

The Talmud quotes the opinion of Rabbi Yosi ben Chanina that Pharaoh desired to sin with the midwives. Although Yocheved had been born when the Yisraelim first came to Egypt and was now 130 years old, her youthful beauty miraculously returned.

Puah spoke harshly to Pharaoh and said, "Woe is to you when Elokim avenges His people!"

Pharaoh was infuriated, and wanted to have her killed. Yocheved calmed him down and said, "Do not pay attention to her. She's still a young child and does not realize to whom she is speaking or what she is saving."

The Talmud also notes that the expression, "They allowed the infant boys to live," is apparently redundant. Since the Torah states that they refused to obey Pharaoh's instructions, it is understood that they did not kill the young boys. The Talmud resolves the difficulty by stating that not only did they not kill the infants, but they did everything in their power to assure them a good life. If the parents were poor, the midwives would collect funds for them to raise the child.

On many occasions women had difficulty in childbirth, and the only way a living child could be delivered was if it were maimed. In such cases the midwives would pray, "Master of the universe. You know that we do not want to follow the instructions of this evil king. We are placing our lives on the line in refusing to obey his command. We therefore pray that You spare this infant so that people not slander us and say that we maimed the infants because we were trying to kill them."

On other occasions, it seemed certain that either the mother or child would die in childbirth. In such cases they also fervently prayed that both survive, and G-d heard their prayers. This is all alluded to in the expression, [which more accurately is translated,] "They made the infant boys live."

(In Hebrew, the expression, "They made the infant boys live" is va-te-chay-ena et ha-yeladim.) As a general rule, the untranslated preposition "et" always adds something to the predicate noun. In this case, it comes to teach that the midwives made the mothers live, as well as their infant sons.

One may question this Talmudic teaching. How can the Talmud say that the expression, "They let the infant boys live," is redundant? According to Rabbi Yosi ben Chanina, Pharaoh wanted to commit immoral acts with the midwives; therefore, when the Torah says that they refused to obey him, it is speaking about their refusal to engage in immorality. This being the case, the fact that they allowed the baby boys to live is not at all redundant.

The Talmud's question, however, can be understood on the basis of the rules of martyrdom, which have been discussed earlier. There are three cardinal sins that a Jew may not commit even if it means giving his life: murder, idolatry and sexual crimes. If a Jew is forced to do any of these sins, he must give his life rather than commit the act. This is called "Sanctification of the Name" (Kiddush HaShem).

These three sins are also forbidden to gentiles by the Seven Universal Commandments. However, a gentile does not have an obligation to suffer martyrdom and therefore, when his life is at stake, he is permitted to commit these acts.

The only exception to this is murder. In the case of murder, there is no difference between a gentile and a Jew. The reason that one must give his life rather than take a life is logical: who says that one person's blood is redder than that of another? Since such logic applies equally to a gentile and a Jew, a gentile must also give his life rather than commit murder.

According to Rabbi Yosi ben Chanina, the Torah is telling us that the midwives refused to allow Pharaoh to take sexual liberties with them even though their lives were at stake, and according to the law, they might have been permitted to submit to him. If they were so scrupulous in keeping the commandments, they certainly would not have committed murder, which was forbidden even when their lives would be endangered. The Talmud then has a logical question: Why does the Torah have to inform us that they let the infant boys live?

[According to the opinion that the midwives were Yisraelim], and Pharaoh wanted them to abort male fetuses there was another reason that they could have obeyed his orders. While abortion is considered murder for a gentile, for a Jew it is not murder. A Jew therefore is not required to suffer martyrdom rather than kill an unborn child. In risking their lives rather than abort the unborn fetuses, the Hebrew midwives went far beyond the requirements of the law, Although they were Yisraelim, they accepted upon themselves the stricter rule applying to Gentiles.

The midwives had learned an important lesson from Avraham. G-d had commanded Avraham to sacrifice his only son Yitzchak: "Take your son, your only one, whom you love, Yitzchak, and ... bring him up as a burnt offering. . ." (Bereishit 22:2) Avraham could easily have argued that G-d was going back on His word since he had earlier promised Avraham, "Through Yitzchak you will be said to have offspring." (Bereishit 21:12) How could G-d now command him to sacrifice Yitzchak?

Still, Avraham did not stop to question G-d's word. He hurried to do his Creator's bidding. Since he went far beyond the requirements of logic, he was said to "fear G-d."

In risking their lives, the midwives, too, went far beyond the requirements of logic and the law. They were also said to "fear G-d."

Furthermore, although the Yisraelim refused to circumcise their sons, the midwives still saw to it that they had sufficient food. This they also learned from Avraham, whose house was open on all four sides, and who would receive guests without inquiring as to their character. Avraham would even feed uncircumcised pagans, hoping that they would change their ways and learn to worship G-d.

The midwives also nourished the infants, even though they were uncircumcised.

Drowning Hebrew Babies

Shemot 1:22 Pharaoh commanded his entire people, saying, "Every son that will be born - into the River shall you throw him! And every daughter shall you keep alive!"

One hundred and thirty years after the Yisraelim came to Egypt [in the year 2367 (1394 B.C.E.)] Pharaoh had a nightmare. He saw himself sitting on his throne. As he lifted his eyes, an old man appeared holding a balance in his hand. The old man placed all the nobles, satraps and governors of Egypt on one side of the balance. On the other side he placed a small lamb. Much to Pharaoh's surprise, the lamb outweighed all the leaders of Egypt.

Greatly agitated, Pharaoh arose before dawn and summoned all his savants. He told them the dream and ordered them to interpret it.

Balaam ben Beor replied, "This dream is an evil omen. Great evil is about to come upon Egypt. The Yisraelim are about to give birth to a child who will destroy the entire land. He will kill your people and free the Yisraelim, allowing them to leave the land. I therefore advise you to make provisions to avert this catastrophe. You must find a way to kill all Israelite children before they grow up."

Pharaoh then summoned Yitro and Yaakov, who were his other chief advisors. Telling them of the dream and its interpretation, he asked their opinion.

Yitro said, "If the king listens to my advice, he will benefit greatly. Do not do evil to the Yisraelim. Long ago their G-d chose them out of all the nations of the world as his own special people. Any king who harms them brings G-d's vengeance upon himself.

"You recall that their ancestor Avraham once came to Egypt. Avraham said that Sarah was his sister, and Pharaoh took her to his palace. Pharaoh was immediately stricken with a serious disease, and all the members of his household were also taken ill. Until he returned Sarah to Avraham, they could not be cured.

"The same happened to King Avimelech because of Sarah. He was stricken by an inflammation sealing shut his eyes and his nostrils until he could hardly breathe. Even his livestock was stricken with this strange disease. That night in a dream he saw an angel, threatening to kill him for taking Sarah. Not only did he return Sarah, but he also gave Avraham many gifts to induce him to forgive him. Avraham finally prayed for him, and he was healed.

"A similar episode occurred with Yitzchak when he was exiled from the land. Because of this sin, all the trees and wells dried up. Finally, Avimelech came with his general Fikol, begging Yitzchak to pray for them. Yaakov was also delivered from Esav and Lavan, both of whom wanted to murder him. A number of kings battled Yaakov, and he vanquished them all.

"No one has ever started up with the Yisraelim and come out ahead. One always regrets having done so."

Yitro then began to speak about an earlier Pharaoh who had befriended Yosef and had placed him in charge of the entire land of Egypt. Through his wisdom, he was able to sustain the entire civilized world through a terrible famine. He then sent for his father, Yaakov, and the rest of his family, and they immigrated to Egypt. As soon as Yaakov arrived, his merit protected Egypt and the famine came to an end.

"Therefore," concluded Yitro, "if you would take my advice, allow the Yisraelim to go to the land of Kenaan, where their ancestors lived. That is their true homeland."

This was not what Pharaoh wanted to hear, and he became very angry at Yitro. Realizing that he was in danger, eventually Yitro was forced to flee to the land of Midyan.

Iyov's advice was then solicited. "You are our master, " he replied, "master of all the land. Who would presume to tell you what to do?"

According to another opinion, Iyov advised Pharaoh not to kill the Hebrews, but to confiscate all their property and to conscript them for hard labor.

The decision finally reached was that the Yisraelim must be killed. "It is not so simple," said Balaam. "These are a very difficult people to wipe out. Many people who have tried to destroy their ancestors have met with failure.

"You might think that if you burn them alive, they will not have a chance to survive. But their ancestor Avraham was thrown into a fiery furnace by Nimrod in Ur Kasdim. After three days in the furnace, he walked out alive.

"It might seem simple to exterminate them by the sword. But their ancestor Yitzchak had a knife at his throat on Mount Moriah, and was saved by Divine intervention. A ram was slaughtered in his place. "Now you are trying to break them with harsh backbreaking labor. You are making them work day and night, moving heavy stones for your building projects. But their ancestor Yaakov worked as a shepherd for a huge flock for twenty years, bearing the heat of day and the cold of night. He slept on the ground with only a stone for a pillow. Still he remained so strong that he was able to vanquish all the kings of Kenaan.

My advice is that you devise a totally new method of extermination. Issue a decree that all their newborn sons be cast into the Nile. In this manner you will be able to annihilate them. There is no other way."

Pharaoh was pleased at this advice, and he gave orders that it be carried out immediately. Amalek was also sitting in at that meeting. He was in total agreement with this plan.

On that day, Moshe was born. The royal astrologers announced to Pharaoh, "On this day the redeemer of Yisrael has been born. But we are not sure if he is a Hebrew or an Egyptian."

They made this error because Moshe would be raised by Pharaoh's daughter and adopted as her only son, as we shall see in the coming chapter. The astrologers therefore could not determine whether he was Hebrew or Egyptian. Astrology is a very precise science, requiring much careful analysis, beyond the power of the Egyptian savants of the time. Therefore, they could not precisely interpret what they saw.

Pharaoh assembled all the Egyptian leaders and announced, "From this day forth, every infant boy is to be cast into the Nile. Daughters can be allowed to live."

Even at this time, the Egyptians allowed their immorality to get the better of them. If the males were killed, they assumed, they would have all the young girls for themselves. Pharaoh gave orders that the daughters should be well taken care of so that they would grow up healthy and beautiful.

The Egyptian also had an even more nefarious motive. Seeing the Yisraelim increase in a miraculous manner, the Egyptian said, "It is obvious that their G-d is helping them. But we know that their G-d detests sexual immorality. We will therefore allow their females to live, so that we will be able to sin with them. This will cause their G-d to abandon them, and their numbers will decrease automatically."

Pharaoh's decree to cast newborn male infants into the Nile extended both to the Yisraelim and to the Egyptians. The Torah therefore states, "Every son that is born, you shall cast into the Nile," without distinguishing between Yisraeli and Egyptian. The law was that even newborn Egyptian males were to be cast into the Nile.

According to another opinion, at first the decree only extended to the Yisraelim. Later, however, it was made to include the Egyptians.

Besides the reason given by Balaam, Pharaoh had another reason to cast the infants into the Nile. The astrologers told Pharaoh that Yisrael's redeemer would die by water. Their prediction was actually true since Moshe died as a result of water after he struck the rock to draw water from it. (BaMidbar 20:12) But they misread the signs and assumed that the power of Yisrael's redeemer would be broken if he were thrown into the water. They therefore advised Pharaoh to cast all newborn boys into the Nile, so Yisrael's redeemer would be killed even before he had a chance to grow up.

One might question this account. If the astrologers saw that the redeemer would die by water in any case, why was it necessary to issue this harsh decree and spill rivers of blood? They realized that some effort is usually needed for someone's destiny to be fulfilled.

For example, there might be a good wind, but a ship will not reach its destination unless its sails are properly set and its course determined. The more expertly the sailors work, the sooner the ship reaches its port.

Here too although the redeemer was destined to die by water effort would be required to make certain that he met his evil destiny.

The Mitzrayim refused to accept Pharaoh's decree. They complained, "Is it not obvious that the redeemer of the Yisraelim will be born among their people? How can you even think that an Egyptian would help them? You are asking us to kill our own children for nothing."

According to another opinion, the Egyptians were so concerned about this predicted redeemer that they voluntarily killed their own children as well.

This decree lasted until Moshe was placed in the Nile, as we shall see in the coming chapter.

One may question Pharaoh's logic here. Now, he was bringing all of his people into the plan to exterminate the Yisraelim. Why did he not do so originally, instead of only involving the Hebrew midwives?

Pharaoh wanted to conceal what he was doing as much as possible. He was ashamed to let the world know that he was spilling innocent blood. Therefore, he initially gave orders only to the midwives. However, when he saw that his goals were not being accomplished, he realized that he had no choice but to have it done by his own men. No one else could be trusted.

At first, Pharaoh did not order his citizens to kill Hebrew infants. He was concerned that nothing would be accomplished, that they would be afraid G-d would avenge the innocent blood that was spilled. Pharaoh's own men, however, had no choice but to obey his orders. They could not demur; if any punishment was meted out, they could argue that they were merely acting under orders.

This was also one of Pharaoh's ulterior motives in giving the initial order to the midwives. When it comes to murder, "acting under orders" is no excuse, and if anyone were to be punished, it would be the Hebrew midwives. Now, however, when he saw that he was accomplishing nothing through them, he made up his mind and said, "I don't care about the consequences." With that, he ordered his men to cast the infants into the Nile. His hatred for the Yisraelim had become so great that it destroyed his common sense; although he knew that Elokim would exact punishment, he went ahead with his plan.

According to one opinion, Pharaoh's decree was not that the children should actually be thrown into the Nile. Even Pharaoh realized that murder is forbidden by the Seven Universal Commandments. Although he was a despot, he still would not openly commit a crime carrying a mandatory death penalty. His decree was merely that the infants be placed at the edge of the water. If the tides covered them, or they were washed into the river by waves, Pharaoh could claim that they had died through "natural circumstances."

Pharaoh's decrees became harsher and harsher. Soon he decided that throwing the infants into the Nile was not sufficient. He then decreed that infants be killed and their bodies placed in the walls of the structures that were being built.

This was meant as an "incentive" for the Yisraelim to complete their daily quotas. If a man did not make his quota of bricks on a given day, he was given a ghastly choice: Either he or his child would have to be placed in the structure to make up for the missing bricks. Such punishment would be exacted even if one missed his quota by a single brick.

Ten thousand infants were drowned as a result of Pharaoh's decree. Some say that as many as 600,000 were killed.

The Midrash relates the opinion of Rabbi Yanai that the decree to kill the Hebrew males was issued three years and four months before Moshe was born. During that entire period, every male child born was cast into the Nile. When Moshe was born the astrologers became aware that it was too late and advised Pharaoh to retract the decree.

Many Yisraelim were mortared into the walls of the structures while still alive. They screamed and begged for mercy, but no one would take pity on them. Many infants were also thrown into fire. Throughout all this, the Yisraelim did not know that this was a plan devised against them by Pharaoh. They were led to believe that such ghastly acts were being done by individual Egyptians on their own initiative. Many Yisraelim even complained to the authorities and were told that if proper witnesses would be brought, the perpetrators would be punished.

Eventually, of course, the Yisraelim discovered the truth. As it became known, the Egyptians began to commit such murders openly.

All along, however, G-d had mercy on His people. The majority of infants thrown into the Nile did not drown but were miraculously carried to the desert by Mediterranean currents. Providence provided each infant with two stones; one would provide milk and honey for nourishment, and the other would provide oil to bathe the child's body. The infants grew up as strong and as healthy as they would have in their parents' homes.

Moshe Grows

Shemot 2:10 The boy grew up and she brought him to the daughter of Pharaoh and he was a son to her. She called his name Moshe, as she said, "For I drew him from the water."

Moshe's mother nursed him for twenty-four months. During this time, he matured much more rapidly than an ordinary child, and by the time he was two he was like a mature young man. Yocheved brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, and the princess hugged the child and kissed him. From that time on, he did not leave the palace, as if he were actually the princess' son.

Pharaoh's daughter had contracted a serious skin infection, where she could not bathe in hot water. This was one reason that she would often bathe in the cool, soothing waters of the Nile. But as soon as she touched the box in which Moshe lay, she was immediately healed. She therefore felt especially attached to the child, expressing great affection for him.

All the Egyptians wanted to see the princess' adopted son. Whoever looked at his face could not take his eyes from him. Pharaoh himself would constantly play with the child, cherishing him very much.

This is an indication of the power of Providence. Pharaoh had laid elaborate plans that every Hebrew boy should be drowned in the Nile. Now Providence directed that the very person who would redeem Yisrael would grow up in Pharaoh's palace. Elokim arranged that Pharaoh's nemesis would be raised in his own household without his knowledge. Although Pharaoh knew that the child would not nurse from an Egyptian woman, his eyes were blinded and he did not realize that the child was a Hebrew. Elokim arranged for Moshe to be raised in the royal court in order to learn the qualities of leadership that he would eventually need. As a result of his palace experiences, Moshe would know how to lead a huge nation. He would also have entry into the palace and would know how to deport himself in the royal court. Having been raised in Pharaoh's house, he would not be overawed when speaking to the Egyptian monarch.

When Moshe was three years old, he was first allowed to sit at a royal banquet. Pharaoh sat in his place of honor, with his wife to his right and his daughter to his left. Many vassal kings and chieftains were also at the banquet.

Suddenly the young child reached out, grabbed the crown from Pharaoh's head, and placed it on his own.

The entire assemblage was stunned. Pharaoh's advisors were especially agitated.

"This child must be the one we saw in the stars."

"He must be the one who will free Yisrael and take the kingdom away from Pharaoh's dynasty."

"Imagine! He took Pharaoh's crown and placed it on his own head!"

"We never saw a child like that! So young, and already so bold."

"It's obvious that this child will be a great leader some day."

"Your majesty!'' The great occultist Balaam ben Beor was on his feet. The assemblage hushed to hear what he would have to say.

"Remember the dream you had, and our interpretation. This child sitting here is the redeemer of Yisrael whom we saw, and he is now beginning to demonstrate his power.

"You know the power of these Hebrews. When one of your predecessors took Sarah, the wife of their patriarch, Avraham, he was stricken with a terrible plague. Yosef came here as a slave and was able to attain the highest position in the kingdom. Therefore, do not take these signs lightly. Kill the child now while there is time, before he takes the kingdom away from you."

"Yes!" shouted the advisors. "The child must be killed."

"Call one of the guards, and have him kill the child by sword!"

"Throw him into the fire!"

Before long the advisors were debating the best way for the dangerous child to be killed.

"Wait!" It was Yitro, who had recently been recalled from Midyan at Pharaoh's orders. As before, he was one of the king's most respected advisors.

"All this fuss about a three-year-old child," said Yitro. "I'm surprised at you! What's more normal for a young child than to grab at something shiny. Before everyone gets so excited, let's test the child to see if he even understands what gold is. Here is a brazier of coals and a dish of gold coins. Place them in front of the child and see what he takes. The coals are shinier than the gold.

"If the child takes the gold, it is a sign that he realizes what he is doing. In that case, I agree that it would be the safest course to kill him now. But if he reaches out for the coals, you will see that I was right, and he does not realize what he is doing. Why deprive your daughter of her beloved son for nothing?"

Before the transfixed company the test was made. The child began to reach for the gold, but then, as if some invisible force were pushing his hand, he grasped a coal. Screaming, the child placed his burning hand along with the coal into his mouth.

Providence had an important reason for this. When Pharaoh's daughter first tried to get Moshe to nurse from an Egyptian, one of the wet nurses had forced some of her milk into his mouth. The burning coal now cleansed his mouth of its taint.

Pharaoh's daughter named the child Moshe [Moshe in Hebrew is related to the Hebrew word masha meaning to "draw something from water"].

The name was divinely inspired. If it only indicated that the child had been drawn from water, the name should have been Mashui meaning "drawn" in the passive sense. Moshe, on the other hand, is in the active voice, meaning "drawer." The name indicated that Moshe would be the one who would "draw" the Yisraelim out of Egypt.

Moshe actually had many names.

When he was born, his father Amram named him Chever because he was born after he had once again joined (chavar) his wife after having divorced her. This name also suited the child because he was destined to join (chavar) the Yisraelim to their heavenly Father.

His mother, Yocheved, named him Yekutiel [from the root kava, meaning "hope"]. She said, "I had hope and trust in G-d, and he restored my body allowing me to have children. This child will also be the hope of Yisrael."

Miryam, his sister, named him Yered. Because of him, she went down (yarad) to the Nile to see what would happen to him. He would also be the one to make the Torah come down (yarad) from heaven and be given to the Yisarelim. Furthermore, every day the manna descended (yarad) through his merit.

His brother, Aharon, called him Avi Zanoach, [literally, my father of rejection," from the Hebrew verb zanach, to reject]. He said, "My father rejected my mother, but took her back because of this child. He will also make Yisrael reject idols. Through his prayers, he will bring G-d to reject all the accusers, who condemn Yisrael for their sins."

Moshe nurse called him Avi Socho She said, "He is the father (avi) of the seers (sochim) and prophets. Through his divine inspiration, he will be able to see all hidden things." Although his mother raised him, she had a nurse to help.

His grandfather, Kehat, called him Avigdor [literally my father (avi) of the "fence" (geder).] He said, "Since the birth of this child, G-d has fenced in Pharaoh, not allowing him to continue his decree to drown Yisraelim infants."

The Yisraelim who knew his destiny called him Shemayah ben Natanel. They predicted, "in his days G-d will hear (shama') our voices."

Of all these names, the only one by which he was generally known was Moshe, the name given to him by Pharaoh's daughter. None of the other names is even mentioned in the Torah. G-d Himself addressed him by the name Moshe. (Shemot 3:4) This shows that because of her self-sacrifice in raising the child, Pharaoh's daughter was literally considered like his mother. This teaches that raising an orphan in one's home is like giving birth to him.

G-d said to Pharaoh's daughter, "Although Moshe was not your son, you raised him as your very own. I too will make you My daughter. From now on, your name will be Bityah. Bityah has the connotation of Bat Yah, "Hashem's daughter."

Her reward was that she was allowed to enter Paradise (Gan Eden) while she was still alive. Whoever saves a single Yisraeli life is counted as if he saved the entire world, and G-d gives him good reward.

Moshe was born in the year 2368 (1393 B.C.E.). He was born on a Wednesday at 9 a.m. As we have already seen, his birthday was 7 Adar.

According to another opinion, the one who named him Moshe was none other than his mother Yocheved.

Shemot 2:11 It happened in those days that Moshe grew up and went out to his brethren and observed their burdens; and he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man, of his brethren. 12 He turned this way and that and saw that there was no man, so he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.

As Moshe grew older, he also grew in power. He eventually became one of the palace officers. There is a tradition that Moshe remained in the palace until he was twelve years old.

Moshe was extremely popular in the royal court. Most of all, however, he was loved by his foster mother, Bityah, daughter of Pharaoh. She treated him as her only son, not letting him out of her sight. Because of this, he only had two occasions to travel alone all during his youth.

Moshe knew very well that he was a Hebrew, and he went out to see his fellow Yisraelim. What he saw was a horror of subjugation and slavery. Tears streamed from his eyes when he saw this sight. "Better I should die than witness such a degradation of a people," he said.

Mingling with the people, he did the best he could to help. If he saw a person struggling under his load, he would run to him and ask if he could help.

This is the first sign of saintliness. When a tzaddik sees injustice and wrong, he cannot tolerate it. Moshe soon became aware of all the nefarious schemes that the Egyptians used to break the spirit of the Yisraelim. They would make children carry burdens designed for adults, and force women to carry men's burdens. The elderly would have to carry burdens meant for young men at the peak of their strength. There was no mercy.

Moshe mixed with the workers, helping wherever he could. He was careful not to let the Egyptian know that he was a Hebrew. He acted like an Egyptian volunteer, working for "patriotic" reasons. If the Egyptian had known that he was a Hebrew, the only way he would have been able to help his brethren would have been to become a slave himself.

Upon his return to the palace, Moshe used his influence to help his people. He had noted that they had no time to rest all week, working every day without a break. Discussing the situation with Pharaoh one day, he said, "If a person has a slave, he always gives him some time to rest. If not, the slave dies, and the entire investment is lost. I therefore suggest that you give your slaves at least one day a week as a day of rest. If you do not, they will all die, and you will later have regrets."

"A splendid idea," said Pharaoh. "I give you full authorization to designate a day of rest for the Hebrews."

Moshe then issued an order that the Yisraelim were to work six days and be allowed to rest on the seventh.

In the Shabbat morning Amidah, we thus say, "Let Moshe rejoice in his portion." When G-d first gave Yisrael the commandment to keep the Shabbat (Shemot 16:23), Moshe rejoiced in his portion. He was happy that the seventh day that he had designated as a rest day for the Yisraelim was precisely the day that was now designated by G-d.

The Yisraelim told Moshe about all their troubles. He was also told about the incident when he took the crown from Pharaoh's head, and how Balaam had advised Pharaoh to kill him. When Balaam heard that Bityah's foster son Moshe knew about the advice he had given, he became terrified that Moshe would seek revenge. Together with his two sons Balaam fled to Ethiopia.

One day Moshe saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. This is what had happened:

In order to get the allotted task done, the Egyptians had appointed Hebrew overseers under the orders of Egyptian officers. Each Hebrew overseer was in charge of ten Yisraelim, while each Egyptian officer was in charge of ten overseers. If the Yisraelim did not complete their daily quota, the officers would take it out on the overseers. The task of the overseers was to see that the Yisraelim worked constantly, without stopping for even a moment.

Every morning the officers would go to wake up the overseers, so that the latter would get their crews together to work. One morning an Egyptian officer came to the house of an overseer by the name of Datan and saw his wife. The Egyptian was struck by her perfect beauty, and became infatuated with her. The wife's name was Shelomit, daughter of Divri, of the tribe of Dan.

The next day, the Egyptian came to Datan's house very early in the morning, while it was still dark. He was greeted by Shelomit, who laughed and said, "So early, and you're already on your rounds! The cock has not even crowed yet. It's not time to go into the field yet. You must be terribly anxious."

The Egyptian took this last remark as an intimate invitation and became highly aroused. Not wanting to seem lazy to his Egyptian officer, Datan hurried out to round up his crew, even though it was still dark. The Egyptian was hiding a short distance from the house.

With Datan safely on his way to work, the Egyptian let himself into the dark house. In the shadows, he saw Shelomit in bed, and joined her. Thinking it her husband, she submitted to him. She was to conceive from this episode.

Meanwhile, Datan noticed that he had forgotten something, and rushed home. Just as he approached his house, he saw the Egyptian coming. Finding his wife in bed, he asked, "Did that Egyptian touch you?"

"What Egyptian?" replied the wife. "I was just in bed with you." It did not take Datan long to find out what had happened, and the Egyptian also realized that he knew. Letting out his frustration on Datan, the Egyptian began whipping him and shouting, "Why are you so lax in your work?"

The Torah thus says that Moshe saw the Egyptian "beating a Hebrew." He had been beating him continuously and singling him out for especially difficult tasks. The Egyptian was waiting for Datan to respond, giving him an excuse to kill him. This would prevent his liaison from becoming known.

Pharaoh had given strict orders that Egyptians not fraternize with Hebrew women. This was an act of Providence, preventing the Yisraeli women from becoming defiled by the Egyptians. Shelomit was thus the only Hebrew woman with whom such an episode had occurred.

As soon as he discovered what had happened, Datan wanted to divorce his wife. Now that she had been defiled by the Egyptian, he did not want to live with her. But he could not find her since she had fled to his brother Aviram.

When Moshe saw the Egyptian beating the Hebrew, he was prophetically aware of all that had happened in the house, that the Egyptian had defiled the Hebrew's wife. He was also aware that the Egyptian intended to find an excuse to kill the Hebrew.

Using all his prophetic power, Moshe looked into the future of the Egyptian to see if he would have any descendants who would do good. If he found a single descendant who was destined to do a good thing, he would not kill the Egyptian. Children and grandchildren of wicked people, who do good in their own right, are very precious in G-d's eyes like a rose coming out of the thorns. But as far in the future as Moshe gazed, he did not see a single good person descended from this Egyptian. Obviously, the courts cannot take such things into consideration when they sentence a man to death. An ordinary mortal has no means of determining such things, and if the courts were to refrain from executing anyone who could possibly have good offspring, even the worst criminals would go unpunished. Crime would spread without restraint.

Moshe, however, had the power to see all this man's potential offspring, until the end of all generations, and he knew that the Egyptian would never have good descendants. The Torah therefore says that Moshe "looked back and forth, and saw that there was no one there." He gazed back and forth at all potential descendants of the Egyptian and saw that there was no one who would deserve to be born. Like all the wicked, the potential descendants would be no better than the dead. Although there were many Yisraelim around, Moshe also saw that none of them would report him to Pharaoh's authorities. "There was no one there" who would accuse him of killing the Egyptian without reason.

Moshe killed the Egyptian primarily because he had committed adultery with a Jewish woman. Adultery is forbidden by one of the Seven Universal Commandments, and it carries a mandatory death penalty. A gentile can be sentenced to death with a single witness and judge. Since Moshe had prophetically perceived all that the Egyptian had done, he was able to act as witness, judge and executioner.

According to another opinion, Moshe killed the Egyptian for beating an Yisraeli. According to this opinion, for a gentile to strike an Yisraeli is a crime punishable by death. From the time that Avraham was circumcised, he and his descendants were considered "Yisraelim" in this respect, even before the Torah was given.

This case was all the more severe since the Egyptian was attacking the Yisraeli with deadly intent. In such a case, it is always permitted to kill the assailant in order to rescue his victim.

Moshe had come from the palace totally unarmed. But he was so strong and powerful that he was able to kill the Egyptian with a single blow to the head with his fist.

According to another opinion, Moshe struck the Egyptian with the basin in which mortar was mixed. The Egyptian's head was split open, killing him instantly.

There is still another opinion that Moshe made use of his mystical powers to kill the Egyptian, utilizing one of G-d's secret names.

It is with regard to using such names that Hillel taught, "He who makes use of the crown will pass away." Moshe, however, did so to save a life.

Moshe then buried the Egyptian in the sand with a number of Yisraelim looking on. He said, "I realize that the Yisraelim are likened to sand. I can take sand from one place to another, without anyone realizing it. Let no one be aware of what you are seeing now."

The death of the Egyptian remained a mystery. Although many Yisraelim knew about it, none gave any information. Moshe was able to return to the palace as if nothing had happened.

Shemot 2:13 He went out the next day and behold! two Hebrew men were fighting. He said to the wicked one, "Why would you strike your fellow?"

On a second occasion, Moshe went out to see what was happening in the world. He came across two Hebrew men fighting. The two men were the brothers, Datan and Aviram, who were quarreling. They were constantly involved in conflict, as we shall later see. (BaMidbar 16:1) They were wicked, and are only mentioned in the Torah in the context of wrongdoing. Now they were fighting about the bill of divorce that Datan wanted to give his wife, Shelomit.

One now lifted his hand to strike the other. Moshe saw him and said, "Fiend! Why do you want to strike a fellow human being?"

This teaches that if a person so much as lifts his hand to strike another, he is considered wicked, even if he does not actually hit him. The Torah thus says that Moshe addressed the "wicked man," and that he said, "Why are you about to strike your fellow man."

He did not say, "Why did you strike your fellow man?" This indicates that as soon as one lifts a hand against another he is considered wicked.

There is an ancient ban (cherem) that excommunicates anyone who strikes a fellow Jew. One who does so must have the ban annulled before a pro formal legal tribunal of three men.

It is also forbidden for a man to strike his wife. One who does so is subject to Divine punishment.

Shemot 2:14 He replied, "Who appointed you as a dignitary, a ruler, and a judge over us? Do you propose to murder me, as you murdered the Egyptian?"

"Who do you think you are?" asked the man. "You have no authority over us. We are more important than you. You may claim to be a son of Pharaoh's daughter Bityah, but we know that you are Yocheved's son.

"Would you say to kill me? Would you try to kill me with a word with one of G-d's names just as you killed the Egyptian? It will become well known that not only are you a Hebrew, but you are even involved with the Hebrew mysteries. If this becomes known, things will no longer go well with you."

Moshe became frightened and very worried. He saw that there were Yisraelim who would resort to informing on him. This being the case, they might not be worthy of being freed.

"The matter has truly become known," he said. "Until now, I wondered what sin Yisrael committed to be subjugated so, and made to live such harsh lives, more than any nation in the world. But today the matter has become known. They slander one another, they resort to character assassination and inform on each other; they therefore deserve this subjugation."

Shemot 2:15 Pharaoh heard about this matter and sought to kill Moshe, so Moshe fled from before Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midyan. He sat by a well.

Datan and Aviram sought an audience with Pharaoh and told him that Moshe was giving the court a bad reputation. "Remember the time he took the crown from your head," they said. "Now he is aiding and abetting your enemies."

Pharaoh looked at them unbelievingly. He knew Moshe to be the most loyal of his princes. Datan and Aviram gave their carefully rehearsed speech.

"He's not really your grandson, you know."

"The first time he went out on his own, he killed an Egyptian."

Datan and Aviram mounted a campaign of slander against Moshe until Pharaoh became convinced that he was really a traitor and revolutionary. He sentenced Moshe to death.

Moshe was led to the execution platform and his head placed on the block. The special huge sword used to execute members of the royal family was poised in the executioner's hand. But as soon as the executioner struck the death blow, Moshe's neck miraculously became as hard as stone, and he remained unharmed. The sword bounced back at the executioner, killing him instantly.

Realizing that Moshe was under the protection of his Elokim, the Egyptians placed him in prison and debated how to put him to death.

The Torah thus says that Pharaoh "sought to kill Moshe." It does not say that he "sought Moshe to kill him," but that he "sought to kill" him. Pharaoh had Moshe in his power, but since the sword had not harmed him, the Egyptians had to seek another means to execute him.

Moshe was led into the chamber where Pharaoh's advisors were deliberating his fate. At that moment, an angel appeared, disguising himself as Moshe and taking his place. All the men of the Supreme Council became blind, dumb and paralyzed. During the confusion, Moshe was able to escape, leaving the angel in his place.

The members of the council recovered as fast as they were struck. There was "Moshe" calmly standing in their midst. It was not until he was far enough that his trail could not be followed that the angel vanished.

According to another opinion, an angel brought Moshe out of Egypt, and set him down in a place in the desert that was forty days away from Egypt.

Moshe thus fled from before Pharaoh in such a way that no one was aware of it.

All this was a result of G-d's providence. Normally, Pharaoh would not want to kill Moshe out of hatred. Moshe had grown up in the palace as a member of the royal family. It would not be natural for Pharaoh to become his mortal enemy just because of slander on the part of a pair of Hebrew slaves. But G-d caused this hatred in order to bring Moshe to his destiny. This would be the first intimation of the great miracles that G-d would do with him.

According to one opinion, Moshe fled as soon as he heard that Pharaoh was aware of the incident. He knew better than to try to defend himself before Pharaoh. As he had learned from the Patriarchs, it is sometimes best to flee and avoid trouble. Avraham had thus fled from Nimrod, Yitzchak from Avimelech, and Yaakov from Esav.

Moshe ended up in the land of Midyan and lived near a well. At this time, he composed a song of praise, thanking G-d for saving him from Pharaoh's hand.

Around this time, a great war broke out between Kush (Ethiopia) and Aramia and the lands of the East. These nations were vassal states to Kush, but now they were fighting for independence.

Kinkos, king of Kush, prepared for war, assembling an army as numerous as the sands. Balaam and his two sons were placed in charge of the government while the king was on his campaign. The Kushi king then went out and battled the Syrians and men of the East, handing them a resounding defeat. He reaffirmed their colonial status and exacted from them an even greater tribute.

While Kinkos was away, Balaam was busy making treacherous plans. Gathering the leaders of the city Kush, he addressed them and said, "The city is now in our hands. We can easily rid ourselves of Kinkos as king. Let us all unite, and when he returns, let us not let him back into the city."

The leaders agreed to the plan and swore an oath of loyalty to the cause, appointing Balaam their leader. His two sons were also given key positions in the government.

Balaam carefully planned the defense of the city against the returning king. On two sides of the city they built high, fortified walls. On the third side they dug a broad water-filled moat, while the fourth was bounded by a deep trench crawling with venomous snakes. There was no way for anyone to enter the city.

Returning with his war-weary troops, Kinkos approached his capital city, prepared to celebrate his victory. When his scouts reported that high walls had been erected on two sides of the city, he assumed that it was because of a threatened attack on the part of the Kenaani kings. But when he came to his city, he found that not only would no one open the gates, but all messages directed to the gatekeepers went unanswered. Balaam had given strict orders that there be no communication with the returning king.

Kinkos tried to take the wall, but a deadly rain of arrows killed fifty of his men. The next day, his men tried to make their way across the moat, but many drowned in its dangerous currents.

The king retreated and ordered his men to build rafts to ford the moat. But Balaam had anticipated this possibility, and had constructed huge machines that could quickly fill or empty the moat. When the first group of rafts began to cross, a huge surge of water was let into the moat, overturning the rafts and drowning dozens of troops.

The next day, the king attempted an attack on the fourth side of the city. As the troops began to scale the sides of the trench, they were attacked by the poisonous snakes, and 170 men were killed.

Giving up hope of breaching the city, Kinkos raised a siege against it and built a second wall around it. The siege lasted nine years, but at Balaam's orders, the city was not opened to the king.

During the first year of the siege Moshe fled Egypt. He found his way to Kush and joined the force of King Kinkos, becoming very popular among the troops, who were impressed at his royal bearing. Thoroughly familiar with Egyptian battle tactics, Moshe found himself teaching the troops, further gaining their respect and admiration.

At that time, Moshe was a strong young man, around twenty years old. Seeing his wisdom and popularity, the king took him as his closest advisor.

Nine years passed since the siege began, and one day Kinkos became very sick. He remained ill for seven days and died. He was buried to the north of his capital, and a large monument was erected on his grave, describing his many victories.

Soon after the king was buried, his officers had a meeting. Their frustration was clearly evident.

"How long must we remain outside our dear city?"

"We just sit here and look at the wall each day."

"And what about our wives and children in the city? When will we be able to see them again?"

"Yes, and consider how helpless we are out here in the field. What if the kings of Syria and the East attack again?"

"There's no doubt of the danger. As soon as they hear that our king is dead, they'll mount an attack. They're just waiting for revenge."

"If they find us leaderless, we'll be finished."

"There's only one hope. We must appoint a new king."

"Yes, but who?"

"What about Moshe? He sure looks the part of a king."

"Yes, and everyone likes him."

"Moshe!" "Moshe!" The cry went up from all the assembled officers. The decision was unanimous. A high platform was made, and Moshe was placed upon a royal throne. The men sounded trumpets, and in one voice proclaimed, "Long live the king!" "Long live the king!"

One by one the officers passed in front of Moshe, each swearing an oath of fealty. Each officer also brought gifts of gold and silver. Even the common soldiers presented gifts to their new king. This took place 157 years after the Yisraelim first came to Egypt, [in the year 2395 (1366 B.C.E.). Moshe was then 27 years old.]

On his seventh day as king, the Kushi troops all assembled and bowed down to him to the ground. Their spokesman said, "Your majesty. You must find a way for us. For nine years now we have been kept out of our own city. We have no life out here."

"I have a plan," replied Moshe, "but it requires that you obey my orders without question. If you do, I can assure you that you will vanquish your enemies and return to your homes. I am not advising another attack on the city. Kinkos was an expert strategist, and if he could not breach the city, it is impossible.

"My plan is actually very simple. But before I reveal my plan, you must all promise me that you will follow every step exactly."

"We will do all you say!" The roar went up like a single voice.

"Good," replied Moshe. "These are my instructions: Every man must spread through the forest and look for storks' nests. When such nests are found, the fledgling storks are to be taken and distributed, until each man has his own bird. Anyone refusing to participate in this project will be put to death."

Puzzled, the men went through the forests, bringing back a number of storks. A tremendous flock was assembled.

Moshe assembled the men again. "You have done a good job. The storks are to be divided among the men, and each man is to raise his stork and train him to do his bidding. When the young storks are mature, I will give you further instructions."

Each man began the training process. As soon as the storks learned to fly, the air was abuzz with them. The men trained them to dive and swoop on prey at their command and to rest on their shoulders when they marched to battle.

One day, Moshe assembled the men again. "We are now ready to attack. Prepare your weapons and armor, and get your horses ready for battle. But most important, do not give the storks any food for three days."

On the third day, Moshe led the troops to the side of the city with the trench full of snakes. Each man had his trained stork sitting on his shoulder. At Moshe's order, each one sent his stork aloft, ordering it to attack the snakes. The hungry storks took little time to kill and eat the serpents. With their long beaks, they could attack the snakes with no fear of being bitten. After a short flurry, not a single snake remained.

The trumpet was sounded, and an attack mounted against the now-undefended city. The troops easily crossed the trench, and took the city. Eleven hundred of Balaam's men were captured and summarily executed. Most of the men of Kush, however, remained in their houses and were not harmed.

Seeing the imminent defeat of the city, Balaam, his two sons, and his eight brothers, made their escape. Now that Moshe was in Kush, it was safe for them to return to Egypt. They presented themselves before Pharaoh and eventually became his chief advisors.

Moshe was a most popular king. Having restored the city to his troops, he was acclaimed as a national hero. There was an elaborate coronation ceremony, where the royal crown of Kush was placed on his head. He was also given the young widow of King Kinkos as a wife. However, since she was a descendant of Kenaan, with whom marriage had been proscribed to Avraham's descendants, he was never intimate with her.

Hearing that Kinkos had died, the tribes of Syria and the East rebelled once again. Moshe assembled thirty thousand well-armed troops and marched against the tribes of the East. At the first encounter, the enemy lost three hundred troops and immediately surrendered. They saw that Moshe was the equal of Kinkos in battle and had no stomach for further war. At a formal surrender, they agreed to pay their regular tribute. The same happened to the tribes of Syria.

Moshe was then able to return to Kush and rule in peace. He remained there as king for forty full years. During this period, the nation prospered greatly.

The one person who was unhappy was the queen. She approached the Supreme Council of Kush and said, "What have you done to me? Everyone considers me the royal queen, but the king never even touches me. Besides, it is a known fact that he does not believe in our g-ds. A king should have the same religion as his subjects. Kinkos' son is now mature, and he is experienced in running the government. It is time for him to be appointed king."

The council heard her out and agreed with her argument. The next day they voted to crown Kinkos' son as king. Still, they did not dare to formally impeach Moshe. All the populace feared him and looked upon him as a divine angel.

Swearing that they would do him no harm, the council approached Moshe and explained the situation. They gave him many gifts and sent him off with great honor, befitting a former king. Moshe thus left Kush and settled in Midyan.

Midyan and the Burning Bush

Shemot 2:16 The minister of Midyan had seven daughters; they came and drew water and filled the troughs to water their father's sheep.

The Torah now tells us of Moshe's marriage. When Eliezer went to fetch a wife for Yitzchak, he first met Rivkah at the well. Yaakov similarly first met Rachel at a well. Now, as we shall see, Moshe also met his wife-to-be at the well.

Yitro had been one of Pharaoh's chief advisors and was considered one of the greatest occultists of his time. Coming to Midyan with his knowledge of all the occult practices of Egypt, he had a strong advantage over the local priests. It was not long before he was elected as their high priest. The more he delved into the science of the occult, the more Yitro began to realize that the idolatrous practices that accompanied such rituals were mere superstitions. Soon worship of wood and stone statues became something of a joke to him. An honest person, he was determined to resign his position.

He assembled the other priests and announced his retirement. "All this time I have served you with all my power. Now I am getting old and would like to rest. You must seek a replacement for me."

Although Yitro had given up his belief in idols, he was still afraid to openly denounce or deride such practices. The priests took them seriously and would kill him for blasphemy. He therefore used his retirement as an excuse to relinquish his position.

The priests suspected his true motives, however, and took all the gold and silver dedicated to their temple out of his control. Pressure against Yitro increased, and soon the priests were telling the people not to do any work for him. Before long, he could not even find anyone to clean his house or do chores for him.

Having resigned his priesthood, Yitro was earning a living as a shepherd. Too old to tend the sheep himself, he sought to hire shepherds but in vain; the young men were too afraid of the priests to work for him. Not having any choice, he had to let his daughters tend his sheep.

Yitro had seven daughters. They would take the sheep out early in order to get to the well before the other shepherds. Arriving at the well, they would draw water by themselves, fill the troughs, and water the sheep.

All seven daughters would go together even though one could easily have done the job alone, just as Rachel had. But they wanted to hurry and finish quickly before the other shepherds came. One would draw water while the other filled the troughs, with the others rushing the sheep to drink. They wanted to be sure to be gone before the other shepherds came since they were very much afraid of them.

Shemot 2:17 The shepherds came and drove them away. Moshe got up and saved them and watered their sheep.

One day the girls came to the well later than usual. They had drawn water, but had not yet watered the sheep, when a band of shepherds suddenly arrived at the well. Seeing the girls alone, they attempted to rape them. The girls, however, began to scream, frightening the shepherds away.

This is actually alluded to in the verse. In the expression, "drove them away," the masculine form is used rather than the feminine form. Literally, the verse can be read, "the shepherds came, and [the girls] drove them away."

The screams, however, were not enough to keep the shepherds away for very long. Angry and frustrated, they threw the girls into the well. It would not do for the girls to report the incident to the authorities.

Moshe had just come to Midyan from Kush that day, and he was sitting and resting not far from the well. Hearing the commotion, he looked up and saw what the shepherds were doing. With his prophetic powers, he was, with a single glance, able to know the entire history of the girls' family. He realized that the girls were being attacked primarily because their father had abandoned the local idolatrous practices. He immediately jumped to his feet, and pulled the girls out of the well.

While the girls were drying themselves off, Moshe watered their sheep. Drawing water was man's work, he explained, but since they had already drawn water the least he could do was to finish the job and water the sheep. Moshe had learned this from Yaakov, who had similarly watered Rachel's sheep. (Bereishit 29:10) Whenever possible, Moshe tried to emulate the Patriarchs. Elokim had promised him that he would find his wife-to-be at this well.

The girls told Moshe that they were still afraid of the shepherds. Not every day would they find a stranger to protect them. Moshe called to the shepherds and assured them that there was no enmity between them. As a token of peace, he watered their sheep as well.

This is alluded to in the Torah, which says, "he watered their sheep," using the masculine term for "their" rather than the feminine term.

Shemot 2:18 They came to Reuel their father. He said, "How could you come so quickly today?"

The girls came home to their father, who was then called Reuel. He had adopted that name after abandoning idolatry and beginning to worship G-d. The name Reuel means "friend of G-d" (Rea Kel). Besides Reuel, he also had six other names, the best known being Yitro.

Yitro was very surprised that his daughters had come home so early. Although they watered their sheep early in the morning, they would usually spend the rest of the day grazing the sheep. On this day, however, they were so agitated from their encounter with the shepherds that they returned right home. They were also anxious to tell their father about the mysterious stranger who rescued them.

Shemot 2:19 They replied, "An Egyptian man saved us from the shepherds, and he even drew water for us and watered our sheep."

The girls referred to Moshe as an "Egyptian man" because he still wore Egyptian clothing.

Some sages interpret the expression in a somewhat different manner, using the following parable:

A man is bitten by a wasp and runs to the river to cool off the stinging bite. Arriving at the river, he sees a child drowning and saves him. The child says to the man, "if not for you, I would have drowned." The man replies, "If not for the wasp, I would not have been here to save you."

When Yitro's daughters thanked Moshe for saving them, he told them a similar parable and said, "Don't thank me for saving you. Thank the Egyptian whom I killed. If not for him, I would not be here."

When the girls related the incident to their father, they ended by saying, "So you see, Father, it was an Egyptian man who saved us." They were referring to the Egyptian that Moshe had killed.

Moshe told them this so that they should know that it was not he who saved them, but G-d, who was carefully watching over their father because he had abandoned idolatry. Unless G-d wills it, man can do nothing.

Shemot 2:20 He said to his daughters, "Then where is he? Why did you leave the man? Summon him and let him eat bread!"

"Where is he? Why did you leave him alone out there? Invite him in to eat with us. If he comes here, he might even marry one of you. From your description, he seems like an important personage."

Yitro grew thoughtful. "Not too many men would have done such a thing. I have it! He must be a descendant of Yaakov. You say that he watered the sheep of the other shepherds. But why would he do such a thing if they were so wicked? It's hard work to draw water from that deep well. If the water rose for him as it did for Yaakov long ago, it would be a different story. It was a simple thing for him to provide water for the other sheep. But if that is true, why did you let him leave without inviting him home?"

According to another opinion, Yitro did not yet know that Moshe was an Yisraeli. Although he thought that he was an Egyptian, he still wanted to invite him in to break bread. It is written, "Cast your bread upon the waters; after many days you will find it." (Kohelet 2:21)

Shemot 2:21 Moshe desired to dwell with the man; and he gave his daughter Tzipporah to Moshe.

One of Yitro's daughters ran to Moshe and brought him to her father's mansion. Yitro asked Moshe to spend the night. Moshe was then 67 years old. [This therefore occurred in the year 2435 (1326 B.C.E.)]

Moshe told Yitro the story of his life, how Pharaoh wanted to kill him, how he was king of Kush for forty years, and how he had finally been deposed as king. Not knowing the true identity of the stranger, Yitro assumed that he must have done something terrible to be deposed from the throne of Kush. In the morning, Yitro gave orders that Moshe be thrown into prison and that he not be given any food or water. Forgotten, Moshe was to remain in that prison for ten years.

He would have starved to death rapidly if not for Yitro's daughter Tzipporah. She had pity on Moshe and would secretly bring him food and water every day. Moshe thus survived his ten years in prison.

One day Tzipporah approached her father and said, "Do you remember the stranger you placed in prison ten years ago? Have you ever investigated to see if he was alive or dead?"

"For what reason?" asked Yitro. "He's been in the dungeon now for ten years without food or water. There's no way he could have survived."

"You never know," replied Tzipporah. "I have heard that the Elokim of the Hebrews has great power and always does miracles. We all know how He saved Avraham from the fiery furnace. There are also many stories about a Hebrew who was placed in the river as an infant, and who was saved by this G-d. It is told that Pharaoh tried to decapitate him, and the sword merely bounced off his neck. Perhaps this stranger is that very man; he said that Pharaoh had tried to kill him. Where the Hebrew G-d is involved, nothing is too difficult."

Tzipporah's words made an impression, and Yitro sent men to examine Moshe's cell. When they opened the cell door, they saw Moshe alive and healthy standing in prayer before Elokim. They released him from prison, gave him fresh, new clothes, and brought him to Yitro's mansion. Everyone was astonished to see him.

Moshe's staff was one of the things created on Friday evening, during the twilight of creation. Adam received it while he was in the Gan Eden. When he died, he gave it to Chanoch, who in turn gave it to Noach's son, Shem. Shem gave this staff to Avraham, and from him it went to Yitzchak and then to Yaakov. When he emigrated to Egypt, Yaakov brought along the staff, and willed it to Yosef.

When Yosef died, Pharaoh appropriated the staff along with all the rest of Yosef's belongings. As one of Pharaoh's chief advisors, Yitro was aware of the staff, and he desired it greatly since it was made of sapphire.

When Yitro was forced to flee from Egypt, he took the staff with him, using his great occult powers to get it past the treasury guards. Again using his occult powers, he planted it in the middle of his garden in such a manner that no one would be able to uproot it. A promise was made that any man who could pull the staff out of the ground could have Yitro's most beautiful daughter, Tzipporah, as a wife. Many of the strongest men in Midyan tried to pull up the staff, but in vain.

One day as he was walking through the garden, Moshe saw the staff. He noticed the "strange" writing on it and immediately recognized it to be Hebrew letters. Closer inspection proved that they spelled out one of G-d's mystical names. He took hold of it to get a better look, and the staff immediately came out of the ground.

Moshe brought the staff to Yitro, who immediately recognized that this was no ordinary man. He took the time to get to know Moshe, and the more he spoke to him, the more he liked him. Telling Moshe of the promise that had been made long ago, he gave his daughter Tzipporah to Moshe for a wife.

Moshe's wife's name was Tzipporah which literally means "lady bird." Moshe called her this, because she had run as swiftly as a bird in flight to bring him to her father's house. She had also cleansed the house of all idolatry, just as a bird cleanses a leper from his defilement. (VaYikra 14:4-7) Yitro's daughters all converted to Yisrael's  religion and cleansed the house of all idolatrous fetishes.

Tzipporah was a G-d-fearing woman, following the pious tradition of the Matriarchs, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah. Through his prophetic insight, Moshe knew that she was the one destined to be his wife.

At the wedding, Yitro said to Moshe, "I know the story of your great-grandfather Yaakov. He married two of Lavan's daughters, and then suddenly departed without even taking leave. I am afraid that you will do the same. Therefore, swear to me that you will not go away without my permission."

According to one opinion, Yitro made Moshe take this oath because he was afraid that Moshe would return to Egypt. Yitro knew that Datan and Aviram were still around and would again plot to kill Moshe if he returned.

Shemot 2:22 She gave birth to a son and he named him Gershom, for he said, "I have been a stranger in a foreign land."

Moshe accepted the task of tending Yitro's sheep after he married Tzipporah. Soon a son was born to them, and Moshe named him Gershom, saying, "I was a foreigner (ger) there (sham) in a strange land.

Later, Moshe would have another son, whom he named Eliezer, saying, "My G-d" (Eli) was my help (ezer) and He saved me from Pharaoh's sword." (Shemot 18:4) Moshe did not give this name to his first son, since he did not want to publicize the fact that he was a fugitive from Egypt. He therefore named his first-born Gershom.

The great tzaddikim of old would always name their children for important events in their lives, making their children living monuments for their gratitude to G-d for the miracles that He does for them. We similarly see that Yosef named his two sons Menashshe and Efrayim for a similar reason. (Bereishit 41:51,52)

Until this time, no male children had been born into Yitro's family. He had only daughters. Moshe son was the first male child born in the family.


Shemot 2:23 During those many days, it happened that the king of Egypt died, and the Bnei Yisrael groaned because of the work and they cried out. Their outcry because of the work went up to G-d. 24 G-d heard their moaning, and G-d remembered His covenant with Avraham, with Yitzchak, and with Yaakov. 25 G-d saw the Bnei Yisrael; and G-d knew.

Three years passed from the time that Moshe married Tzipporah until G-d spoke to him from the Burning Bush. During these three years, the persecution became more severe, and the Yisraelim began to groan under their harsh burdens.

Although this period of the harshest persecution lasted three years, the Torah refers to it as "many days." When a person enjoys life and is engaged in interesting work, days pass very rapidly. But when a person is miserable, every day seems like a year. This was the situation with the Yisraelim. During this period, they suffered more torment than during all the other years. The Torah thus says, "The Yisraelim groaned because of their harsh labor."

According to some authorities, the king did not actually die. If he had, the Yisraelim should have rejoiced. They were now free of a harsh tyrant, and could hope that his successor would be better. These authorities maintain that Pharaoh actually contracted a leprous skin infection. Similarly, when the scripture speaks of "the death of King Uzziyahu" (Yeshayahu 6:1), it also means that he became a leper. In those days, a leper was considered as good as dead.

The physicians told Pharaoh that the only cure for his disease was to bathe in the fresh human blood of young children. The occultists added that the blood of Yisraeli children would be particularly effective. Pharaoh thus issued orders that 150 Yisrael children be slaughtered each morning and 150 each evening so that he could constantly have fresh blood in which to bathe.

When the Yisraelim heard of this decree, they cried out from the depths of their hearts. The Torah thus says, "The Yisraelim groaned because of the labor."

The Torah's expression may seem somewhat puzzling here. Why does the Torah say that they moaned because of the "labor?" It would seem more logical for the Torah to say that they cried out because their children were being slaughtered. This would appear to be a better reason for the Yisraelim to moan and mourn.

A clear explanation for this is provided by Rabbi Avraham Rosanes. G-d had told Avraham, "Know for sure that your offspring will be foreigners in a land that is not theirs. [The others] will enslave them and oppress them for four hundred years." (Bereishit 15:13) Ultimately, however, the Yisraelim did not spend nearly this much time in Egypt, especially under conditions of slavery. There are many ways, however, of resolving this difficulty.

One of the most logical resolutions is that the Yisraelim fulfilled the decree through numbers rather than time. Thus, for example, if 100 people were destined to be in exile for 400 years, then 200 people would only have to be in exile for 200 years.

Another answer is that Pharaoh made the Yisraelim work much harder than the decree had specified. He degraded them, broke their bodies and spirits, and completely exhausted them. Thus, every year was at least equivalent to two.

The initial decree was merely that the Yisraelim become slaves. At first, the Yisraelim felt secure that they would have it easy in their exile and would not have to work very hard. When they saw how rapidly their population was growing, they were even happier. They assumed that with their increased numbers, their servitude for two years would be completed in one. This would make their redemption come sooner.

Even harsh labor did not dishearten them. The harder they worked, they assumed, the sooner their redemption would come.

But now, hundreds of Yisrael children were being killed every day. At this rate, their population would rapidly decline and their redemption would be delayed. If their population were sufficiently decreased, they would have to work two years to complete a single year of the Divine decree. Their labor therefore seemed all the more harsh, and hence they "groaned because of their labor."

When Pharaoh's disease did not heal, his occultists told him that the blood of first-born Yisraeli children would be especially effective. When this new decree was issued, the Yisraelim cried out even more, as the Torah states, "Their moaning from the labor came up before G-d."

At this time, the Yisraelim were beginning to adopt the idolatrous worship of the Egypt, and they did not deserve to be redeemed. But Egypt heard the screams of the infants torn from their mothers' breasts to be slaughtered like animals. He also remembered the covenant that He had made with Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. The merit of the Patriarchs is a very powerful force.

Because of all this, G-d miraculously healed Pharaoh. Hebrew children would no longer have to be killed.

According to another opinion, Pharaoh's disease did not heal at all. The more children he killed, the worse it became. This source, however, maintains that only a total of 375 children were killed. He remained sick for ten years, with his condition constantly deteriorating.

One day, two Egyptian officers came from the Goshen territory and reported that the Yisraelim were not fulfilling their quotas. Furious, Pharaoh said, "The Hebrews know that I am sick. That is why they have become so lazy. They are mocking me! They claim to be working hard, but they are really living an easy life."

His courtiers tried to calm him, but Pharaoh would not be pacified. "I must see for myself," he declared. Thoroughly disregarding his serious skin infection, he gave orders that his horse be prepared, and that plans be made for an immediate royal visit to Goshen. Ten officers would accompany Pharaoh to see to his needs.

With pus running from the open sores in his body, Pharaoh was helped onto his royal chariot. He gave orders that a short cut be taken through the narrow roads in the hill country in order to arrive as soon as possible. The horses were forced to run at full gallop, holding very close together because of the narrowness of the roads. On one turn, the horses' feet became entangled in each other, and the chariot was completely overturned.

Thrown from his chariot, Pharaoh fell under his horses. His cloak became entangled in the traces, and as the horses struggled to disentangle themselves, they trampled him all the more. He suffered many broken bones and severe lacerations. So badly injured was he, that his servants had to carry him back to Egypt on a litter.

This was all an act of Providence. G-d had punished Pharaoh for his desire to visit Goshen in order to persecute the Jews further.

Lying in bed in his palace, Pharaoh knew that his end was near. He summoned his wife and all his advisors in order to appoint a successor. Pharaoh had three sons and two daughters, one of whom was Bityah, mentioned above. The oldest son was immediately ruled out since he did not have the will nor the intelligence to run a kingdom. A younger son, on the other hand, was highly motivated and intelligent.

The younger brother, however, was extremely ugly. He was a short, fat dwarf with a very long face. Despite his looks, he was extremely intelligent. For the benefit of the kingdom, he was chosen to be Pharaoh's heir. He was given a ten-year-old girl as his wife. He then took another three wives, and had eight sons and three daughters.

As days passed, Pharaoh's skin infection became more severe until many areas of his skin became gangrenous. The stench was so bad, like a dead animal rotting in the summer sun, that people could not stand in his presence. He suffered in this manner for three years, and then died.

When Pharaoh died, it was impossible to mummify him as is normally done to Egyptian Pharaohs. His body had such a terrible stench that no one could go near it. It was also not buried in the tomb prepared for it.

With the death of this Pharaoh, an unbroken dynasty of 94 years came to an end.

Because of his cruelty to Yisrael, however, his end was very bitter.

When Pharaoh died, the Yisraelim began to moan and lose hope. They had hoped that when the new Pharaoh took office, he would free all slaves as many of his predecessors had done. But the new monarch had no such plans and kept them as slaves. The Yisraelim began to feel that they would never be freed.

Of course, the Yisraelim suffered even before Pharaoh died. But they could not weep since this was something that their overseers would not permit. Now that Pharaoh had died and the Egyptians were weeping, the Yisraelim could also weep. Their real reason for weeping however, was because of their harsh labor.

With the death of Pharaoh, Egypt's guardian angel was also removed from his position. Until now, he would not let the prayers of the Yisraelim break through to G-d. With him out of the way, their prayers "came up before G-d."

Although G-d knew that the Yisraelim did not deserve to be freed, he had mercy on them for the sake of the Patriarchs. The Patriarchs were also praying for their descendants as we have seen earlier.

This also teaches that the ultimate redemption will only come if we repent and pray. It is like the first redemption from Egypt that only came through repentance and prayer.

One reason for the harsh exile that we are now experiencing was Esav's tears when he lost the birthright. (Bereishit 27:38) We must weep enough to wash away his tears; then we will be redeemed.

One may be very surprised that the Torah states that the Yisraelim groaned and screamed to G-d. We know that when a person worships, he should do so silently so that others do not hear him. Here, however, it appears that the Yisraelim screamed out their prayers.

However, the rule that prayer must be silent only applies to the Amidah, the silent standing prayer. If one prays out loud, he makes it seem as if G-d cannot hear silent prayer. But when a person is in anguish and prays to G-d for help, he must cry out and weep, begging G-d to have mercy on him. Such a person is not screaming because G-d cannot otherwise hear, but because of the tremendous pain in his heart. For example, when a person has a normal audience with a king, he speaks in quiet, respectful tones. If he began to scream, he would be summarily ejected. But if a person who is being dragged to the execution block screams out to the king for mercy, his behavior would not be looked upon as incorrect. The king realizes that the cry is from the depths of the heart.

In general, then, when a person is troubled, he should cry out to G-d. It is thus written, "In their time of trouble, they cried out to G-d , and He delivered them from their distress." (Tehillim 107:6)

Moshe, too, cried out to G-d when he prayed that the plague of frogs be removed. (Shemot 8:8) Pharaoh had told Moshe that if he prayed to remove the frogs, he would set the Yisraelim free. Believing this to be his chance to free his people, Moshe prayed from the depths of his heart. When a person is in pain and anguish, he cannot hold himself back to pray silently. He must cry out to G-d with all his emotions.

Shemot 3:1 Moshe was shepherding the sheep of Yitro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midyan; he guided the sheep far into the wilderness, and he arrived at the Mountain of G-d, toward Chorev.

The Torah informs us that Moshe was a shepherd as an introduction to indicate why he was the one chosen to be the redeemer of Yisrael. One day, when Moshe was tending Yitro's flocks, a young kid ran away. He pursued the kid until he came to a place called Asba, where a cool stream flowed. Running up to the brook, the kid drank his fill.

"I didn't realize that the kid was thirsty," said Moshe to himself. "He ran all this way for a drink of water. Now he is certainly exhausted from running. Furthermore, he also drank before he had a chance to rest. I'm sure that he will not have strength to walk all the way back to the rest of the flock."

With that, Moshe took the kid in his arms and carried it back.

G-d said, "You have such pity on a dumb animal. Now you are ready to be the shepherd of Yisrael."

There had been occasions when Moshe did not show such pity. He had killed an Egyptian for beating an Yisraeli. He had fought the Midyani shepherds to rescue Yitro's daughters. Still, the fact that he could take such pity on a dumb animal where there was no one to see him was a sign that he was a man of great patience. Before a person can lead people, he must have patience to endure their burdens. He must be able to treat each person as an individual and to pray for the people when they do wrong.

It was for this reason that all the Patriarchs were shepherds. They wanted to accustom themselves to have the trait of mercy. They would go out into the open fields where the air is clear and there is nothing to disturb one from spiritual thoughts. They did not like to live in cities, where people would disturb their tranquility of mind.

Moshe brought his sheep to the pastures beyond the desert, where the land had no owners. He did not want to take anything dishonestly, even grass from another man's field. Although it entailed considerable additional effort, he would only pasture the sheep beyond the desert, where the grass was ownerless.

Before raising a person to high position, G-d tests him with regard to his honesty. The temptations to take illegal gain are very strong, and most people cannot resist them. Many people do not even consider it a sin to take something that is not theirs. But if a person pursues unjust gain and is not careful not to cheat others, then he is not fit to be a leader. Given power, he would do whatever he pleased.

Moshe demonstrated his perfection in this test. He would drive his sheep for miles before pasturing them, merely to avoid having them eat a blade of grass that belonged to another. He was therefore seen fit to be the shepherd of Yisrael.

King David was also chosen to be the shepherd of Yisrael for very similar reasons.

Although Yitro had been excommunicated by his townspeople for abandoning their idolatrous rites and people had tried to harm him, Moshe was not afraid to announce that he was tending Yitro's sheep. The Torah therefore states that "Moshe was tending the sheep of Yitro his father-in-law." Wherever he went, he would openly announce that the sheep belonged to Yitro. Trusting in Elokim, he had no fear.

Yitro was quite wealthy and obviously gave Moshe many sheep for himself. Still, Moshe only tended his father-in-law's sheep. He did not want people to think that he was taking good care of the sheep merely because he had an interest in them. He wanted the world to know that he could tend his father-in-law's sheep, and do so with perfect honesty.

This teaches how important even the appearance of honesty is. It is thus written, "You shall be innocent before G-d and before Yisrael." (BaMidbar 32:22)

According to one opinion, Moshe tended Yitro's sheep for forty years. All during this time, no sheep died, none became sick, and none was attacked by wild animals. In the merit of Moshe, the flocks increased very greatly.

Moshe came to Chorev, which the Torah calls "G-d's Mountain." It is called "G-d's Mountain" because G-d would reveal Himself on it when He gave the Torah to Yisrael. Of course, it is best known as Mount Sinai.

Approaching the mountain, Moshe saw many flocks of birds flying around it. The birds were keeping their distance, however, and none of them actually landed or rested on the mountain. When Moshe approached, the birds landed at his feet.

Space was contracted for Moshe. In one instant he was in Midyan, and in the next, he was at the foot of Sinai.

Shemot 3:2 An messenger of HASHEM appeared to him in a blaze of fire from amid the bush. He saw and behold! the bush was burning in the fire but the bush was not consumed.

Suddenly, Moshe saw a wondrous sight. An angel appeared to him in the midst of a fire, in the middle of the branches of a bush. The bush was completely in flames, but it was not being consumed.

The angel that appeared to Moshe was Gavriel, the genius of fire. According to others, it was Michael, the greatest of the archangels, also known as Metatron, Master of the Face (Sar HaPanim). The flame that Moshe saw was the radiance of the Divine. The intention was that Moshe accustom himself to see this radiance and have the courage to face it. Otherwise, when he would be confronted with the powerful revelation of the Divine when receiving the Torah, he would become totally confounded. Therefore, G-d decided to accustom Moshe to the Divine little by little. First he would see an angel; only later on Sinai would he experience the full revelation of the Divine Presence.

At the time, Moshe was also very concerned that the Egypt would utterly exterminate the Yisraelim. G-d therefore used the bush as a symbol. Just as the bush could burn without being consumed, so could the Yisraelim be persecuted without becoming annihilated.

G-d also wanted to teach Moshe a lesson in faith. Even when a person has the sword on his neck, he should trust in G-d and not give up hope. G-d can protect a person no matter what his situation. Here was a thorn bush, which can usually be ignited by the smallest ember, remaining whole while a huge flame burned in its midst, merely because G-d willed it so. Neither the sword, nor fire, nor water can harm a person unless G-d wills it.

Although there were many types of trees around the mountain, G-d revealed Himself to Moshe in a lowly thorn bush. G-d Himself partakes of Yisrael's suffering, as He says, "I am with him (Yisrael) in time of trouble." (Tehillim 91:15) At the time, Yisrael's status in the world was very low like that of a thorn bush among the trees. Therefore, G-d revealed Himself in a thorn bush.

The thorn bush also alluded to Yisrael's exile in Egypt. It is very easy to place one's hand into a thorn bush, but when one tries to remove it, it becomes torn by the thorns. Similarly, the Egyptians found it very easy to accept the Yisraelim and subjugate them. But when the Yisraelim left, the Egyptians were severely wounded.

Of all trees, the thorn bush is the only one that has five leaves around each twig. In this respect, it is very much like the myrtle, which normally has three leaves around the twig. This would allude to the fact that although Yisrael did not have the merit to be redeemed in its own right, the people would be redeemed through the merit of five tzaddikim: Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe and Aharon.

In Hebrew, the word for "the thorn bush" is ha-s'neh having a numerical value (gematria) of 120. This was an allusion that Moshe would be destined to live for 120 years.

Moshe saw this vision in the afternoon, during the time when the Minchah service is usually recited.

Shemot 3:3 Moshe thought, "I will turn aside now and look at this great sight - why will the bush not be burned?"

Since Moshe was being paid by the day, he did not want to take even a moment off from his work. To do so, he felt, would be cheating his employer. This was a trait of tzaddikim, as we have seen elsewhere that Abba Chilkiah would not even respond to his colleague's greetings because he was being paid by the day.

The first thing that Moshe saw was a bush burning in the field. He did not go aside to take a closer look at it because he did not want to take off time from his work. Someone might have set the bush afire, and it would be a waste of time to indulge in idle curiosity.

After a while, however, Moshe realized that it was not a natural phenomenon. He said, "I must turn aside and see this great sight. Why isn't the bush being burned up?"

With three steps, Moshe was by the bush. According to another opinion, he did not have to move, but merely turned around to look at it.

The first thing that Moshe saw was a fire burning in a bush without the bush being consumed. This was a purely physical phenomenon that he was able to see with his eyes. At first he thought that it was a fire that had been ignited by someone in the desert.

However, when he saw that the bush was not being burned up by the fire, he decided to investigate. Moshe had an insatiable curiosity and always wanted to learn new things. Perhaps the bush was a new fireproof species, or perhaps this was a different kind of fire.

Contemplating the flame, Moshe soon realized that it was a supernatural phenomenon. As he meditated on the flame he saw with his mind's eye that there was an angel in the flame. He then meditated even more deeply, gaining even greater insight, and was able to perceive prophetically that the Divine Presence was in the flame.

As mentioned earlier, G-d did not want to reveal Himself to Moshe all at once. The revelation of the Divine Presence had to come little by little. If a person has spent an entire day in a completely dark room and then goes out into the bright sunlight, it pains his eyes and can even injure them. He must accustom his eyes to the light little by little before he can tolerate the light of the sun.

The same is true of the mind's eye. The higher spiritual levels cannot be tolerated all at once. One must ascend from one level to another, little by little.

Moshe saw two things that were strange about the fire. First of all, it was not burning the bush. Second, the fire was divided into two tongues on both sides of the bush, and the space in the middle, where the bush was, was devoid of flame.

There are six types of fire:

1. Normal physical fire. This is fire that "eats but does not drink." It can burn dry things, but is extinguished by water.

2. Biological "fire." This is the fire responsible for body heat, as well as fever.

3. Heavenly fire. Such fire can consume even water. This was the fire that descended for Eliyahu, as it is written, "G-d's fire descended, and it consumed the burnt offering and the wood as well as the stones and the soil. It also evaporated the water in the trenches." (1Melachim 18:38)

4. Divine fire. This was the fire that descended from heaven to ignite the Great Altar. (VaYikra 9:24)

5. Spiritual fire. This is "fire that dispels fire," and it is the power of Gavriel, the genius of fire. Since all fire is under his power, he can make fire or extinguish it.

6. Fire that consumes all fire. This is the power of the Divine Presence. It can even consume fiery angels.

The fire that Moshe saw in the burning bush, however, was different from all these six types of fire. It was a unique seventh type.

Normally, when a fire burns, it is united with its source of fuel. When Moshe looked closely, however, he saw that it was not the bush that was burning; the fire was off to itself. Moshe wondered, "Why is the bush not burning? How come there is fire on both sides of the bush, but the bush itself is not burning?"

Moshe contemplated the three basic colors of the fire: white, black and blue. If one gazes at a flame, one can also see these colors.

The account here may seem somewhat confusing. At first, the Torah says that "the bush was burning in fire." Moshe, however, exclaimed, "Why doesn't the bush burn?" Instead, we would expect him to ask, "Why isn't the bush consumed?"

However, even when a person sees something with his own eyes, if he cannot grasp it with his mind, the mind does not record what he actually sees. To a large degree, what one sees is governed by what one thinks he is seeing.

Seeing the bush surrounded by fire, the mind demanded that one also see the bush being consumed by the flame. Seeing that the bush was not being burned up, the mind assumed that the flame was not in the bush itself, but separate from it. Moshe therefore asked, "Why doesn't the bush burn? How can there be a flame in the midst of the bush without actually burning it? If the flame were actually in the bush, it would certainly consume it. If the bush is not being burned, it is a sign that this is merely an optical illusion or a mirage."

For example, when a person is traveling in a ship, it seems to him that the ship is standing still, while the water and the shore line are moving. Logically, however, he knows that this is an illusion, and that he is actually moving.

Shemot 3:4 HASHEM saw that he turned aside to see; and G-d called out to him from amid the bush and said, "Moshe, Moshe." And he replied, "Here I am!"

When G-d saw that Moshe was coming closer to the bush, He called to him from the middle of the bush and said, "Moshe Moshe!" Moshe replied, "I am here, ready to do Your bidding."

Moshe had other shepherds with him, but they did not see anything nor even sense that Moshe was looking at anything special. Seeing that Moshe was willing to put aside his work out of concern for the troubles of his people, G-d granted him special status. The Word would come to Moshe alone, and many miracles would be done through him. Moshe would rise to heights that no other prophet would ever reach.

There is a major difference between the manner in which G-d called to Moshe and how He called the Patriarchs. When G-d called, "Avraham! Avraham!" (Bereishit 22:11), the repeated names are separated by punctuation. In the original Hebrew, there is a line [known as a Pesik] separating the two words: The same is true when G-d called, "Yaakov! Yaakov!" (Bereishit 46:2), and "Shmuel! Shmuel!" (1Shmuel 3:10).

Here, however, G-d calls "Moshe Moshe!" without any punctuation between the repeated names. This indicates that from this time on, there would never be an interruption in Moshe's prophecy. He would constantly be in a state of prophecy and would be able to speak to Elokim, just as a man speaks to a mortal king. In the case of the Patriarchs and Shmuel, however, prophecy would be only temporary.

Moshe was thus on an exceptionally high spiritual level from the day he was born. Until he died, the Divine Presence was always with him.

Aside from these mystical reasons, there was a more mundane reason for G-d calling twice to a prophet. The first time a prophet hears G-d's voice, he is so confused that he cannot understand what he has heard. G-d therefore calls a second time so that the prophet should grasp what has been said.

Shemot 3:5 He said, "Do not come closer to here, remove your shoes from your feet, for the place upon which you stand is holy ground."

[According to some authorities, the Burning Bush was on the summit of Mount Sinai.] G-d revealed to Moshe that this would be the place that the Torah would be given to Yisrael.

The "shoes" that G-d told Moshe to remove allude to the physical body. Since Moshe's body had been touched by the Egyptians, it was not worthy to reach the high spiritual levels ordained for it. G-d therefore told him to remove his present body and invest himself in a new body, upon which the Divine Presence would rest.

Moshe's revelation took place on 15 Nissan [2447 (April 5, 1314 B.C.E.)]

[The expression "G-d said" is repeated here seven times.] G-d spoke to Moshe for seven consecutive days out of the Burning Bush. Each time before He spoke to Moshe, He called "Moshe! Moshe!" and each time Moshe answered, "Here I am."

Shemot 3:6 And He said, "I am the G-d of your father, the G-d of Avraham, the G-d of Yitzchak, and the G-d of Yaakov." Moshe hid his face, for he was afraid to gaze toward G-d .

At this time, Moshe's father Amram was already dead. Hearing a prophetic voice is normally a highly traumatic experience. G-d said, "If I speak to Moshe with My great voice, he will be terrified and turn away. If I speak to him in a soft voice, he will think that a human being is speaking and will not know that it is a prophetic voice." G-d therefore spoke to Moshe in Amram's voice.

Hearing his father's voice, Moshe became elated. "My father is still alive!" he said. "The reports that he has died are not true." Turning to the voice, he exclaimed, "Here I am. What do you want, dear father?"

"I am not your father," answered G-d. "I am the G-d of your father. I spoke to you using your father's voice so as not to frighten you. I am the G-d of Avraham, who rescued him from Nimrod's fiery furnace. When I will it, the greatest fire is powerless. Do not wonder that the bush is not burning. Fire itself only burns because I will it so."

According to one opinion, Moshe did not know that his father, Amram, had died. G-d therefore said, "I am the G-d of your father." This would tell Moshe that his father had passed away since Elokim never associates His name with a tzaddik while he is still alive.

Elokim informed him that his father was dead. If Moshe thought that his father was alive, he would have argued that he was not fit to undertake the mission as long as his father lived.

Normally, such information should have immediately made Moshe unfit for prophecy. Hearing of his father's death would have plunged him into mourning, and one cannot experience prophecy except when he is happy. But Moshe was actually happy that his father had been spared the worst of the Egyptian decrees. Besides, G-d had indicated that Amram was greater even than the Patriarchs. Had He not first mentioned "your father," and only then "Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov"? Amram was mentioned first to show that he was the greatest of them all.

There is thus a tradition that Amram was among the four tzaddikim who never experienced sin. The only reason they died was because G-d had decreed death on the world because of the serpent's advice. With his experience at the Burning Bush, Moshe rose through three levels of prophecy. First he saw an angel within the flame. Then, he had heard G-d's voice calling to him from the bush. Finally, he saw a vision of the Divine. This is known as a "clear lens" (Ispaklaria Hameyra). This was a level never before reached by any prophet and never again reached by any other than Moshe.

At this great sight, Moshe hid his face. He was terrified of the sight that he beheld. Merely to close his eyes would not be enough. He hid his face, as if to say, "I dare not show my face in the presence of the Divine."

Elokim was pleased at Moshe's humility. He said, "When I spoke to you, you hid your face. I promise that you will stand before Me for forty days and forty nights. During this time, you will neither eat nor drink, but will be nourished by the radiance of the Divine."

Because of his humility in hiding his face, Moshe would also be worthy of actually having his face radiate energy. (Shemot 34:29)

Shemot 3:7 HASHEM said, "I have indeed seen the affliction of My people that is in Egypt and I have heard its outcry because of its taskmasters, for I have known of its sufferings. 8 I shall descend to rescue it from the hand of Egypt and to bring it up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Kenaani, the Chitti, the 'Emori, the Perizi, the Chivvi, and the Yevusi. 9 And now, behold! the outcry of the Bnei Yisrael has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 And now, go and I shall dispatch you to Pharaoh and you shall take My people the Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt."

"Right now," G-d said, "the cry of the Yisraelim is coming up to Me. I am judging them as they are now crying out to Me with all their heart and not according to what they will be in the future. I know that they will abandon Me and worship a golden calf. I know that they will do much evil in the future. But I only judge a person as he is right now.

"I made a promise to Yaakov and said, 'I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also be sure to bring you up again.' (Bereishit 46:4) Now I have come down here to the desert, as it were, to rescue My people from Egypt, as I promised Yaakov.

"Not only will I bring them out of that unclean land, but I will also bring them to a good land. It will be a land with a good, healthy climate. It will be a rich, bountiful land, a spacious land that will easily be able to hold a great nation. Its water and grasses are good for cattle, allowing them to produce abundant milk. The produce and fruit of the land will be rich and plentiful. Truly, it is a land flowing with milk and honey.

"Now this land belongs to the Kenaani, the Chitti, the 'Emori, the Perizzi, the Chivvi and the Yevusi. It is this land that I will give to My people.

In telling Moshe to go, G-d uses the more intensive word lecha rather than the normal lech. G-d was saying to Moshe, "You must go. It all depends on you. If you do not free them, no one else will be able to."

In the Pesach Haggadah, we thus say, "If G-d had not taken our fathers out of Egypt, then even we, our children, and our children's children would still be slaves in Egypt."

Then, it was the right time for redemption, and Moshe was the right individual. He had the merit to overcome all the spiritual forces defending Egypt and was thus able to bring us out of Egypt. But if G-d had not taken us out of Egypt at that time through Moshe, we would have remained there forever. No one else would have had the great merit and inborn talents to do so; Moshe was the only one perfect in every respect.

Shemot 3:11 Moshe replied to G-d, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should take the Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt?"

"Who am I that I should have the merit to speak before kings? How will I ever be able to obtain an audience with Pharaoh? I am only a shepherd. If Pharaoh even discovers that I am back in Egypt, he may kill me.

"Even assuming that I do have some importance and am fitting to be the agent to bring Yisrael out of Egypt, You promised Avraham, 'Also I will bring judgment against the nation that they serve.' (Bereishit 15:14) You also promised Yaakov, 'I will also be sure to bring you up again.' (Bereishit 46:4) You indicated that You Yourself would be the one to set them free. If so, who am I that I should bring the Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt? This is something that must be accomplished through G-d, and not through man.

"How can one person like me bring an entire nation out of Egypt? Where would I put them? Where would I even find a place for them to camp? Even if they are ready to endure a bit, it is a twenty-day journey from Egypt to Kenaan. They might be ready to suffer for that period, merely to get out of Egypt. But where will I get enough food for all of them?

"There will be many women who will give birth along the way. There will be many newborn babies. Each one will have to have the right food for his health. I am just one person. How will it be possible for me to prepare all this food?

"Who am I to bring the people out of Egypt? The time is not even right. You told Avraham that his offspring would be slaves for four hundred years. It is merely 210 years since Yaakov came to Egypt. "The Yisraelim will obviously not believe that I will be able to bring them out of Egypt. They feel that their only hope is Pharaoh, that he will somehow lighten their load. But they know that he will never consent to let them leave his land. Who am I that they should believe that I can do the impossible?

"My father-in-law, Yitro, made me feel at home even though he knew that I was a fugitive from Pharaoh. Although he could have suffered great losses for harboring me, he treated me as if I were his only son. How can I abandon him now? I must show him even greater respect than a father."

Shemot 3:12 And He said, "For I shall be with you - and this is your sign that I have sent you: When you take the people out of Egypt, you will serve G-d on this mountain."

"I will be with you. You say that you are not worthy to stand before kings. You will be, because I will be with you.

"The wonder that you saw in the Burning Bush will be the sign that I have sent you and that your mission will be successful. The bush was surrounded by fire, but still it was not harmed. You too will be surrounded by danger, but you will not be harmed.

"Whatever you desire shall happen. The entire world will thus know that you are My agent.

"You wonder what merit Yisrael has that they should be freed? Three months after you bring the Yisraelim out of Egypt, you will bring them to this mountain, and you will all become My servants by accepting the Torah. They will be totally ready and prepared to accept My Torah. Through this merit alone, they deserve to be freed.

"This is also a guarantee that your mission will be successful. You also have the promise that you will lead the people to accept the Torah after they leave Egypt. This is an indication that you will be successful. Not only will you not come to any harm, but you will also greatly benefit.

"I Myself will be the One who will bring them out of their subjugation. When Pharaoh took Sarah from Avraham, I Myself came and struck him with terrible diseases. (See Bereishit 12:17) Now I have an entire nation to save. You have nothing to do but announce the good news that I am about to free them. Then, as I promised Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, I Myself will bring them out of Egypt. The redemption will be through Me alone, and not through flesh and blood.

"You are concerned about food for all these people. I will make a single piece of dough nourish them for thirty days. It will remain fresh and it will have a heavenly taste, just like honey. Then I will provide them with Manna from heaven every day.

"From the day that they accept the Torah they will be considered a special people. They will believe your words and will follow wherever you lead. No man will go against your orders.

"You are somewhat confused because only 210 years have elapsed since Yaakov and his family came to Egypt, and I told Avraham that his descendants would be foreigners for four hundred years. The four hundred years have been counted since the birth of Yitzchak. A simple calculation will show you that the four hundred years are now up."

One might be surprised that Moshe asked through what merit the Yisraelim deserved to be redeemed. G-d Himself had told Moshe to go as His agent to bring them out of their slavery. Why did Moshe care whether or not they had merit?

Some explain that G-d had told Moshe that Yisrael would be redeemed through his merit. Moshe, however, was very humble (BaMidbar 12:3), and therefore asked, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?" He did not consider himself even as worthy as a grain of dust. He therefore felt it necessary to ask what merit Yisrael had that they should be redeemed.

He did not want to say bad things about Yisrael. Rather, his intent was to say, "If they are to be redeemed in my merit, I do not deserve it."

"Their merit shall be the Torah," replied G-d. "They will be redeemed through the merit of the Torah that they are destined to receive on Mount Sinai. Still, you will be the focus since it will be through your hand that they will receive the Torah."

Still, Moshe's question is somewhat difficult to understand. Why did he ask what merit the Yisraelim had to be redeemed? Once the time had come, they should have been able to leave Egypt without any special merit. Elokim had promised Avraham that after a set time they would be freed. They were not destined to remain slaves forever.

Moshe's concern stemmed from his encounter with Datan and Aviram. When they fought, he had declared, "You wicked man, why are you about to strike your fellow man?" (Shemot 2:13) To this, Datan had replied, "Who made you lord and master over us? Would you kill me just as you killed the Egyptian?" (Shemot 2:14) Moses was then afraid, saying, "This matter is already known." (Shemot 2:14)

Since there were slanderers and people willing to destroy others' reputations among the Yisraelim, they no longer deserved to be freed.

This is a general rule. Where people speak against others with malice, the Divine Presence departs, resulting in many woes.

In the time of King Shaul, the people were so immersed in the Torah that even young children knew how to explain its concepts in. many ways. Still, whenever the Yisraelim went out to war, they would fall before their enemies. This was a result of the sin of malicious speech (lashon ha-ra).

In the time of Ahav, on the other hand, idolatry was rampant. Still, the Yisraelim were consistently victorious in their battles, and their casualties were virtually nonexistent. This was because the people never spoke badly about each other.

It is taught that one of the four groups that will not greet the Divine Presence is the one that consists of people who destroy reputations.

Knowing of the slander that existed among the Yisraelim, Moshe was very concerned. He said, "This is a very bad sign, and it will cause the Divine Presence to leave Yisrael. When the time for redemption comes, it will not be through G-d, but through a messenger."

Now, however, when G-d told Moshe that He Himself would redeem them, Moshe was astounded. He therefore asked, "What merit does Yisrael have to deserve that G-d Himself should redeem them?" Moshe actually wanted to know the answer to this question, so that if any heavenly Accuser were to denounce Yisrael, he would know how to defend them.

G-d replied that because Yisrael would gladly accept the Torah, they were worthy of being redeemed by G-d Himself.

According to another interpretation, Moshe weighed his words extremely carefully when he replied to G-d; he essentially had three arguments why he should not be the one to go.

First, he asked, "Who am I?" Moshe did not consider himself to be worthy of anything.

Second, he said, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh? Even if I am worthy, how can I go to Pharaoh, the greatest king in the world? How could I possibly speak to him? For this You need an important personality."

Third, he said, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should bring the Yisraelim out of Egypt? If I were instructed merely to bear a message to Pharaoh, I might be able to be a messenger. But You are asking me to bring the Yisraelim out of Egypt. This is a very great matter, and I am obviously not worthy."

"I will be with you," replied G-d. With this, He answered all three of Moshe's objections. With G-d on his side, Moshe could do anything.

G-d's Plan

Shemot 3:21 I shall grant this people favor in the eyes of Egypt, so that it will happen that when you go, you will not go empty-handed. 22 Each woman shall request from her neighbor and from the one who lives in her house silver vessels, golden vessels, and garments; and you shall put them on your sons and daughters, and you shall empty out Egypt.

G-d told Moshe that the Yisraelim would be able to place the Egyptian's jewelry and clothing on their children. Although the Exodus would take place during a terrible plague, the killing of the firstborn, it would be perfectly safe for the Yisraelim. They would not have to be afraid lest the clothing of the Egyptians carry infection. The things that they were to take from the Egyptians would in no way harm them.

In saying "You will [thus] exhaust Egypt," G-d used the Hebrew expression ve-nitzal-tem. [This is from the root natzal, meaning to "exhaust" or "despoil." This root, in turn, is related to the Root tzalal meaning to "sink," and hence to metzulah, the "depths of the sea."] Egypt became as empty as the depths of the sea, where there are no fish. As is well known, most fish live near the surface.

Through this, G-d would keep His promise to Avraham that after being enslaved, "After that they will leave with great wealth." (Bereishit 15:14)

Obviously, G-d did not tell the Yisraelim to swindle the Egyptians, borrowing things from them with no intent of returning them. What G-d was saying was that the Egyptians would have such great respect for the Yisraelim after all the plagues that they would press these things upon them as gifts. When the Yisraelim would be embarrassed to take them, the Egyptians would placate them by saying that they are merely "lending" these things to them.

The process would begin with the Egyptian women pressing gifts on their Yisraeli neighbors. Before long, however, the Egyptian men would press even more valuable gifts upon the men.

Although the Egyptians said that they were "lending" these articles to the Yisraelim, the Yisraelim were permitted to keep them. Everything ultimately belongs to G-d, and He can give and take as He desires. Theft is only forbidden because of G-d's command. Since G-d ordered that such "loans" be made and that the objects be kept, it was in no way immoral to do so.

G-d's statement here may appear to be self-contradictory. At first He says that the Yisraelim "will not go empty-handed." This would appear to indicate that they would take something, but not very much. Immediately after that He says that they will "exhaust Egypt," taking all the wealth of a mighty world empire.

This is what G-d actually said: "The truth is that you should take hardly anything. Although I promised Avraham, 'after that they would leave with great wealth,' this would only be binding if you had served the Egyptians for the full four hundred years. This was the covenant that I made with Avraham.

"The Yisraelim, however, have only been under true subjugation for 86 years (from birth of Miryam). All you deserve is to take a small amount so that you do not leave empty-handed. Still I will display My love and count the four hundred years from the birth of Yitzchak. Therefore, I will give the people status in the eyes of the Egyptians, and they will give you so many valuable gifts that you will empty out Egypt."

The code word that G-d had told Moshe to tell the Yisraeli elders was pakod pakad-ti, "I have definitely kept you in mind." (Shemot 3:16) This was to be a sure sign that Moshe was the true redeemer.

This might seem very strange. Anyone could say these words. How would they know that Moshe was not doing so on his own, without a command from G-d?

The elders had a tradition from Yosef, who received it from Yaakov, that the first person who would come and say in G-d's name, "pakod pakad-ti," would be the true redeemer who would set the people free. The tradition also contained a guarantee that no one would use this sign falsely. Yosef passed this secret on to his brothers. One of his brothers, Asher, told this secret to his daughter Serach. [According to one opinion, she was the only one who knew the secret code word, and G-d had promised that she would live to see the redemption. If anyone claimed to be the redeemer, the elders would present him before Serach bat Asher, and she would test him to determine if he knew the correct phrase.]

According to another opinion, Moshe was only twelve years old when he left Egypt. Obviously, G-d could have kept him safe in his father's house and not had him suffer a long exile from his people. After all, he had killed the Egyptian for the benefit of his people. But if Moshe had grown up in his father's house, the people would never have believed him when he came with the code word, pakod pakad-ti. They would have said that he learned the words from his father.

Yosef became very close to Levi, and it was to him, according to this opinion, that he gave the secret. Yosef told Levi not to reveal the secret code word to any of the other brothers. Levi then gave the secret to his son Kehat, and Kehat to Amram. Secrets such as these, however, could not be given to minors (under 13), and since Moshe was twelve when he left Egypt, there would have been no way for him to have learned the secret.

Furthermore, it was well known among the Yisraelim that Moshe was "heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue." (Shemot 4:10) "Heavy of mouth" means that he could not pronounce the labial consonants, b v m p, and "heavy of tongue" indicates that he could not pronounce the lingual, d t I n t. Thus, a phrase like pakod pakad-ti would have been virtually impossible for him to pronounce clearly. When Moshe said the words with perfect clarity, the people knew that he was G-d's emissary.


Shemot 4:13 He replied, "Please, my Master, send through whomever You will send!"

"Master of the universe. I know that You want to use me as Your instrument to free the descendants of Avraham. But is this not his reward for publicizing Your greatness in the world? Shouldn't You Yourself be the one to redeem them?

"If not, at least send the ones You usually send to do Your bidding, the angels. When You rescued Avraham's nephew, Lot, from the destruction of Sedom, did You not send angels to do so? (Bereishit 19) When Avraham's slave, Hagar, was in distress, did You not send five angels to help her? (Bereishit 16:7-9) Hundreds of thousands of Avraham's descendants are in distress. Should they not receive equal treatment?

"If You must send a human emissary, You should at least send one who can speak clearly, and lucidly express Your message to Pharaoh. It is not fitting that I speak to the king. It is not proper that Your ambassador should be a person who cannot speak well. Even if you place words in my mouth, anyone whom You would send would be more suitable than I."

Moshe's behavior here may seem very surprising. Why did he plead so strongly that Elokim not send him? If G-d wanted him to go, he should have obeyed immediately.

Moshe was actually concerned about his older brother, Aharon. Not only was Aharon older than he, but for the past eighty years Aharon had immersed himself in the study of G-d's teachings and ethics. True, Aharon would have no cause for complaint, especially since G-d was sending Moshe. But still, there would be no question that he would feel slighted. How can I cause my dear brother such anguish, thought Moshe. After so many years, suddenly the younger brother appears and usurps his position.

This was the essence of Moshe's argument, "They will not believe me. They will say, 'G-d did not appear to you.'" (Shemot 4:1) Moshe argued that if he came to the Yisraelim they would say to him, "You claim that G-d appeared to you and spoke to you. It is a bare-faced lie! Aharon has been a prophet for many years now, and G-d did not appear to him. You have never been recognized as a prophet. How can you claim to have a special message from G-d?"

Such thinking was typical of Moshe. He was more humble than any man in the world (BaMidbar 12:3), and he considered himself totally unworthy. In his own eyes, he was totally unsuited to present himself before Pharaoh. The prospect of freeing the Yisraelim and becoming their leader made him extremely uncomfortable.


Shemot 4:14 The wrath of HASHEM burned against Moshe and He said, "Is there not Aharon your brother, the Levi? I Know that he will surely speak; moreover, behold, he is going out to meet you and when he sees you he will rejoice in his heart. 15 You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I shall be with your mouth and with his mouth, and teach you both what you are to do. 16 He shall speak for you to the people; and it will be that he will be your mouth and you will be his leader. 17 And this staff you shall take in your hand, with which you shall perform the signs."

G-d was angered at Moshe's reply. "Do you want to be High Priest (Kohen Gadol)," He asked, "and allow Aharon your brother to remain a mere Levi? This seems to be your wish. Because you have spoken in this manner, the opposite will be true. Aharon will be the High Priest, and you will remain a mere Levi. This will be your recompense for refusing to accept the mission so many times."

It is true that Moshe had good intentions and that he actually was doing everything in his power to avoid usurping Aharon's position. Still, this was considered a misdeed. A High Priest must be totally dedicated to G-d's glory, with no outside thoughts. We thus find that Shem lost the High Priesthood merely because he blessed Avraham first, and then blessed G-d. Here too, Moshe appeared to be more concerned about the honor of a human being than about G-d's honor. He therefore lost the High Priesthood, just as Shem had.

"I know that Aharon can speak well," said G-d. "In fact, he is now coming to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. You do not know Aharon as well as I do. You think that he will be distressed when he learns that you have been chosen for leadership. Quite to the contrary, he will be extremely glad to hear the news.

"You can speak to Aharon and tell him what to say. I will help you both speak, and I will instruct you both what to do. Aharon will not speak by himself. The two of you will speak to the Yisraelim. You will begin, telling Aharon what to say. He will announce your message to the Yisraelim in a loud voice.

"Aharon will be your spokesman, telling the people what you say. But to him you will be like G-d. I am not making him your spokesman because you are a poor speaker, but in order to enhance your reputation. You will see how much he will respect you. Although he is your older brother, he will subjugate himself to you completely. He will respect you, just as you respect Me."

This is actually the law. Since Moshe was Aharon's Torah teacher, Aharon had the obligation to show him the same respect as G-d. The Mishnah thus teaches, "Have the same awe for your master as you have for Heaven." (Avot 4:12) G-d thus told Moshe, "You will be to him as G-d." This means that Aharon will respect you just as he does G-d.

G-d told Moshe to take with him the miraculous staff that he had taken from Yitro's garden. This staff was made of pure sapphire, and it weighed 40 sa'ah, that is, 240 okkas (672 lb). "You realize how heavy this staff is," said G-d. "Still you can easily carry it in your hand. This should be clear evidence that you will be able to perform miracles with it."

The staff was one of the ten things made just before the first Shabbat in the twilight of creation. 0n the staff was engraved one of G-d mystical names. Also engraved on it was an abbreviation of the Ten Plagues that G-d was to bring upon Egypt:




These three acrostics are abbreviations of the plagues:

blood, frogs, lice (Dam, Tzfar-dea, Chinim)

beasts, plague, boils (Arov, De-ver, Sh'chin)

hail, locusts, darkness, first-born (Barad, Arbeh, Cho-shech, B'chorot)

This shall be discussed at length in the proper place.

Also engraved on the staff were the names of the Patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, as well as the names of the six Matriarchs, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah. Also included were the names of Yaakov's twelve sons, Reuben, Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, Yissachar, Zevulun, Dan, Naftali, Gad, Asher, Yosef and Binyamin.

Because G-d was angry with Moshe, Moshe was not cured of his stuttering. Although Moshe prayed for a cure, his prayer was not accepted since he had been reluctant to accept G-d's mission. He therefore remained as he had been.

G-d also wanted Moshe to speak poorly to publicize the miracle that had happened to him as a young child, when he was given the choice between a gold coin and a fiery coal. Moshe was miraculously induced to grasp the coal and place it in his mouth, and from the time his mouth was burned, he found it difficult to speak. This was a well-known story, and whenever Moshe stuttered, people would recall it. They would then speak of the many miracles that befell Moshe, how he had survived in all the palace intrigues, and how he had been miraculously rescued when Pharaoh had wanted to kill him.

Providence also had another reason for wanting Moshe to be a very poor speaker. Otherwise, people might say that he had been able to convince the Yisraelim of the truth of his mission through the power of his oratory. There are many people who have no quality other than the ability to speak well. Many common swindlers are able to convince people of almost anything through their powers of persuasion. Such good speakers can often convince others that obviously false things are true.

Some people, on the other hand, are very unconvincing as speakers. Coming from their mouths, even the greatest truths appear trivial and false. No matter how important their words, they are totally ignored. Moshe was such a person. People would later realize that he had been successful merely because he was G-d's emissary and not because he was a persuasive orator.

According to one opinion, Moshe was cured of his speech defect when the Torah was given. At that time G-d promised him that he would make him literally a new man. Until then, Elokim wanted Moshe to have this speech defect so that he would not be the one to speak to Pharaoh. Since Moshe had spoken to Elokim Himself, it would not be proper for him to speak to a wicked person such as Pharaoh. Our sages teach that in the ultimate Future, everyone who is dumb or who has a speech defect will be cured by reading the sacred Torah. It is thus written, "Healing of the tongue is the Tree of Life." (Mishlei 15:4) The healing of the tongue is the Torah, which is called the "Tree of Life" (Mishlei 3:18) since man lives through its merit.

Agreeing to go, Moshe said to G-d, "Master of the universe, I want You to swear to me that You will do anything I request. I fear that when I go to speak to Pharaoh, he will become angry and want to kill me. I therefore need a guarantee that you will give me full power over Pharaoh."

"I guarantee you that I will grant all that you request," replied G-d, "with only two exceptions. I do not guarantee that I will allow you to enter the Holy Land, and I do not promise that I will tell you exactly when you will die. Other than these two things, I will do anything you ask."

Shemot 4:18 So Moshe went and returned to Yeter, his father-in-law, and said to him, "Let me now go back to my brethren who are in Egypt, and see if they are still alive." And Yeter said to Moshe, "Go in peace."

As we saw earlier, when Moshe married Tzipporah he swore to Yitro that he would not leave Midyan without permission. Now, preparing to go on the mission that G-d had given him, he first had to return to Yitro to seek permission. He said to his father-in-law, "I would like to go back to my relatives in Egypt, to see if they are still alive."

Regarding Moshe, the Psalmist thus said, "[Who shall ascend to G-d's Mountain? Who shall stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not taken My name in vain] and has not sworn deceitfully." (Tehillim 24:3,4) Once Moshe made an oath, he did not seek deceitful excuses to free himself of it without fulfilling it completely.

Although taking a false oath is a very serious sin, this praise is still appropriate for Moshe. Since G-d Himself was sending him on a mission, he did not have to seek permission from a mortal, oath or not. Still, he would not leave without permission. Let it not even appear that he had failed to fulfill his oath to his father-in-law.

Furthermore, Yitro had taken Moshe into his house even though he was a foreigner and a complete stranger. He deserved at least that much respect, that Moshe would not leave for another land without informing him.

According to another opinion, Moshe went on G-d's mission to Egypt before returning to Yitro. G-d had told him, "If Yitro says anything to you about the oath, tell him that the Master of the oath allowed you to go." This opinion is supported by the exact wording of the Scripture, which states, "Moshe went and he returned to his father-in-law Yitro," in order to apologize for leaving without permission and to explain why he had not fulfilled his oath.

Others say that Moshe explained that his original oath had been erroneous. Yitro had exacted this oath from Moshe only because he was concerned that Moshe's enemies, Datan and Aviram, would slander him to Pharaoh. At the time that Moshe made the oath, however, his two enemies had already lost all their property and no longer had Pharaoh's ear. Since there was no reason for the oath it was never valid, and Moshe did not have to be released from it. Still, Moshe went to Yitro, so that he would not even be suspected of violating an oath. It is thus written, "You shall be guiltless before G-d and Yisrael." (BaMidbar 32:22)

There is another reason why the verse, "[He] has not sworn deceitfully" (Tehillim 24:4), applies to Moshe. [The verse literally states, "He has not sworn for mirmah meaning "deceit," or "the deceitful one."] When tzaddikim are tempted by the Evil Urge, they foil him by making an oath not to listen to him. They are thus delivered from his wiles. We find that when Boaz did not want to be tempted by Rut, he made an oath, "As G-d lives, lie still until morning." (Rut 3:13)

Moshe, however, did not have to make any oaths for the Evil Urge, who is called the "deceitful one." Even without any oath he was able to overcome him.

Shemot 4:19 HASHEM said to Moshe in Midyan, "Go, return to Egypt, for all the people who seek your life have died."

The Torah now tells us why Moshe went to his father-in-law. G-d had told him to return to Egypt since the people who wanted to kill him no longer had any influence.

G-d was speaking about Datan and Aviram, who were Moshe's enemies, and who had reported him to Pharaoh. Now they had lost all their property and were so poor that they were considered like the dead. "You no longer have any reason to fear them," said G-d. "Since they are impoverished, their words will no longer be accepted in the palace."

Actually, G-d spoke these words to Moshe from the Burning Bush, near Mount Sinai.

The verse can be read, "G-d said to Moshe in Midyan, 'Go return to Egypt.' This interpretation, however, is incorrect since the Divine Presence would not reveal itself in Midyan, which was an unclean place. Rather the verse should be read, "G-d said to Moshe, 'In Midyan go, return to Egypt.'

"First you must return to Midyan," said G-d, since you have made an oath to your father-in-law that you would not leave without his permission. Therefore, the first thing you must do is go to him and ask him to release you from your oath."

Moshe Returns to Egypt

Shemot 4:21 HASHEM said to Moshe, "When you go to return to Egypt, see all the wonders that I have put in your hand and perform them before Pharaoh; but I shall strengthen his heart and he will not send out the people. 22 You shall say to Pharaoh, 'So said HASHEM, My firstborn son is Yisrael. 23 So I say to you, Send out My son that he may serve Me - but you have refused to send him out; behold, I shall kill your firstborn son.'"

G-d told Moshe that while he was traveling to Egypt, he should meditate on the Ten Plagues engraved on his staff. These would be the signs that he would perform before Pharaoh.

I will harden Pharaoh's heart and make him stubborn," said G-d. "He will refuse to let the people go. I want to pay him for his sins. When a person does so much wrong, even the gates of repentance are closed before him.

"When you appear before Pharaoh, you must be strong and firm, and not fear him. I am therefore warning you in advance that I will harden his heart.

"When you go to Egypt, keep an eye on all the signs that I have placed in your hands. I am not speaking of the three signs that I showed you at the Burning Bush since these were meant for the Yisraelim, and not for Pharaoh. The signs of which I am speaking are the plagues that I will bring upon the Egypt. I am instructing you to be ready to bring them about without fear.

"I want you literally to keep an eye on these signs. This is the significance of the three mystical words, DeTzaCh ADaSh BeAChaV engraved on your staff. The plagues will come in the order of these ten letters.

"When you see that Pharaoh's heart is hard and stubborn, when he absolutely refuses to free the people, you shall finally tell him in My name, Yisrael is my son, My first-born. I love Yisrael very much, just as a father loves his oldest son. Yisrael (Yaakov) purchased the right of the first-born (the birthright) from Esav (Bereishit 25:33), and I fully recognize the validity of the transaction.

"I have placed Yisrael under your power, but that does not mean that they do not mean anything to Me, or that I am not concerned with their suffering. I have done it because I wish to strengthen their character, just as a father strengthens his beloved son's character by subjecting him to harsh experiences. This makes the son a better person, and the father then rejoices. I am therefore warning you, do not make the yoke too hard to bear, and do not make their lives miserable.

"I have told you to let My son go and serve Me, but you have refused to do so. Now I am about to kill your first-born. Normally, when a person wants to take revenge upon another, he hides the fact from him so that the other cannot escape. But I am giving you advance warning, since no man can escape from Me."

Shemot 4:24 It was on the way, in the lodging, that HASHEM encountered him and sought to kill him.

[Moshe had a son soon after he married Tzipporah (Shemot 2:22)]. Now he had a second son, whom he would name Eliezer. (Shemot 18:4) Before he had a chance to circumcise his second son, he left Midyan and set off to Egypt.

At a camping sight along the way, an angel of G-d confronted Moshe and wanted to kill him even though it was an angel of mercy.

In the Zohar, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught that this was the archangel, Gavriel, who descended from heaven to burn Moshe. At first he appeared as a huge flame, but the flame then transformed itself into a huge serpent, threatening to swallow Moshe. G-d said to Moshe, "You are on a mission to defeat the mighty uncircumcised serpent who is Pharaoh. You are about to lead My children out of Egypt. How could you have forgotten your own child and allowed him to remain uncircumcised?"

According to another opinion, two angels of destruction, Af and Chemah [literally, "Rage" and "Anger"], attacked Moshe.

One swallowed him head first while the other swallowed him feet first, leaving only his mark of circumcision unswallowed. This was a sign that he was being punished for not circumcising his son. Our sages teach that Moshe killed Chemah, but spared Af.

This teaches an important lesson about the importance of the rite of circumcision. Although Moshe possessed tremendous merit, it did not protect him when he neglected to circumcise his son.

As we have seen many times, G-d is exacting to the hairsbreadth with His tzaddikim. G-d wishes to punish them for their minor misdeeds in this world so that they will enter the next world perfectly free of all taint. Still, they are not punished immediately since their good deeds protect them from harm. In the case of Moshe, however, an angel appeared to kill him immediately because he had neglected to circumcise his son. This shows how important the covenant of circumcision is.

Obviously, Moshe did not wantonly neglect this important ritual. This would be unthinkable. But the child was eight days old on the day that Moshe was supposed to leave for Egypt. Moshe figured that if he circumcised the child and then left, the child's life would be in danger. During the first three days after circumcision, the child is particularly susceptible to trauma and infection. If the child were circumcised, moreover, Moshe would not be able to wait for the wound to heal since Elokim had told him to go to Egypt immediately. He therefore decided to delay the circumcision until he reached Egypt.

According to another opinion, the child in question here was Moshe's first son, Gershom, not Eliezer. In this opinion, when Moshe married Tzipporah, Yitro made him promise that if the first child were a boy, it would not be circumcised. As long as Moshe remained in Midyan, he had been bound to keep his promise. Now, however, that he was in an encampment along the way he was no longer bound by his promise and could have circumcised the boy. Moshe, however, assumed that since the child's circumcision had already been delayed, there would be no harm in waiting until they all came to Egypt.

According to either opinion, Moshe was punished for not circumcising his son in the encampment. The encampment was close enough to Egypt that the child would no longer be in danger if circumcised. Moshe should have circumcised the child immediately and not waited until he came to Egypt.

In general, one should never put off doing a good deed or observing a commandment. Even if a person is young, he has no guarantee that he will be alive to do it later. One should therefore do every virtuous act as soon as possible and not delay. If one puts off an observance and is later prevented from doing it, he is considered at fault.

Shemot 4:25 So Tzipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son and touched it to his feet; and she said, "You caused my bridegroom's bloodshed!" 26 So he released him; then she said, "A bridegroom's bloodshed was because of circumcision."

Circumcising her son, Tzipporah said, "This blood will preserve my husband. Through the small amount of blood spilled in the circumcision, I trust that my husband will remain alive." Turning to Moshe, she then said, "You are my blood husband!"

At that instant, the angel released Moshe. Tzipporah was then certain that Moshe had deserved to die for neglecting to circumcise their son. "A blood husband because of circumcision!" she exclaimed. "My husband deserved to die for neglecting the rite of circumcision. As a result, he had to be my blood husband, spared only because of the blood of circumcision."

According to another opinion, it was not Moshe that the angel attacked, but the uncircumcised child. First the angel swallowed the child feet first, stopping only at the child's genital organ. The angel then swallowed the child head first, again stopping at the same place. It was obvious that this was meant to emphasize the child's uncircumcised organ.

According to this opinion, it may seem surprising that Moshe himself did not circumcise his son. If he were present, he should not have allowed Tzipporah to do it, since his obligation was greater than hers.

Moshe was not present at the time. Moshe had placed his wife and sons on the donkey and had sent them ahead. Moshe had a few further preparations to make in Midyan, and then he, too, left for Egypt. The angel attacked the child while Tzipporah and her sons were waiting for Moshe in an encampment. Since Moshe was not present, Tzipporah rushed to circumcise the child.

According to this opinion, Tzipporah's two statements, which obviously relate to the child, are somewhat difficult to understand. First she said, "You are a blood husband to me," and after the angel left, she said, "A blood husband for circumcision."

[There are two parts to circumcision. The first is the cutting away of the foreskin, while the second is the uncovering, periah, of the corona, splitting the membrane and pulling it down.]

At first, Tzipporah merely severed the foreskin, without performing periah. She therefore said to the child, "You are a blood husband to me. Because of the lack of circumcision, you were almost killed. You were only saved by the blood of circumcision."

This was enough to get the angel to release the child. Still, however, the child was gasping for breath, unable to recover from the ordeal. Realizing that she had not completed the rite by performing the periah, Tzipporah did so immediately, and the child recovered completely. She therefore said, "A blood husband for circumcision. Your life was in danger until both parts of the circumcision rite were completed."

According to the opinion that it was Moshe who was attacked, when Tzipporah saw him swallowed by the angel leaving his genital organ exposed, she understood that it was because of this organ, but she was not sure why. It could have been because Moshe had married her, and it was not proper for him to be intimate with the daughter of a man who had been an idolater. On the other hand, it could have been because he had neglected to circumcise his son.

Not taking any chances, she immediately circumcised the child. When the angel did not release Moshe immediately, she cried out. "You are a husband of blood because of me! It is because you married me that your blood is now being shed! I have circumcised the boy, but you are still being killed."

The angel then released Moshe. Relieved, Tzipporah said, "A husband of blood because of circumcision! My husband was not in blood danger because of me, but because of circumcision.

According to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, however, Tzipporah had prophetic inspiration and knew exactly why Moshe was being attacked. She also knew that he would be spared as soon as the child was circumcised.

Shemot 4:27 HASHEM said to Aharon, "Go to meet Moshe, to the Wilderness." So he went and encountered him at the mountain of G-d, and he kissed him.

G-d voice is very wondrous, as it is written, "G-d has spoken once; I have heard two things." (Tehillim 62:12) A single word issued from G-d, but it was divided into two. Moshe heard it as an order, "Go and return to Egypt." (Shemot 4:19) Aharon heard the same word, but to him it was saying, "Head toward the desert to meet Moshe."

For people who have only experienced physical speech, such a phenomenon is utterly impossible to understand. With spiritual speech, however, a single word can be heard in two different ways. Even if other people had been standing next to Moshe or Aharon, they would have heard nothing. The word was purely prophetic.

Earlier, G-d had told Moshe, "[Aharon] is coming out to meet you. He will see you and his heart will rejoice." (Shemot 4:14) Although Aharon had free will, G-d knew for certain that if He instructed Aharon to go meet Moshe, he would obey immediately. Just as Moshe and Aharon would hear the same word, they would be equally ready to obey it.

When the Torah quotes G-d's  word, [Aharon] is coming out (yotzei) to meet you," the word yotzei is spelled without a vav. [The word can therefore also be read as yatza meaning "he has left," in the past tense. This device is used to indicate something that has taken place during the precise instant of speech; it is happening in the present, but it is already in the past.] It was as if Elokim were saying, "In this very instant while I am speaking, Aharon is setting out to meet you."

Aharon set out and met Moshe near "G-d's Mountain." This is Mount Sinai, which is along the route from Midyan to Egypt. Aharon kissed Moshe for showing him the respect due an older brother.


Shemot 4:28 Moshe related to Aharon all the words of HASHEM, that He had dispatched him, and all the signs that He had commanded him.

Moshe told Aharon everything G-d had told him when He sent him on his mission. He also told him about the miracles that G-d had ordered him to perform. Moshe was not boastful that G-d had spoken to him and not to Aharon. In a most humble manner, he transmitted to Aharon exactly what he would have to say when they arrived in Egypt.

Moshe also taught Aharon the mysteries of the Explicit Name (Shem HaMeforash) that G-d had taught him. He also explained how he had tried again and again to get out of this mission without success.

Each brother rejoiced in the position the other had attained. Although Moshe was to be the leader, and Aharon was to be the High Priest, there was no jealousy between the two.

Shemot 4:29 Moshe and Aharon went and gathered all the elders of the Bnei Yisrael. 30 Aharon spoke all the words that HASHEM had spoken to Moshe; and he performed the signs in the sight of the people. 31 And the people believed, and they heard that HASHEM had remembered the Bnei Yisrael and that He saw their affliction, and they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves.

Until then, the Yisraelim assumed that it was very unlikely that they would be freed during their lifetime. G-d had told Avraham that his offspring would be subjugated for four hundred years, and they had only been in Egypt 210 years. Moshe now explained to them that the time had already come for them to be freed.

Moshe's words are alluded to in the verse, [which can be translated,] "They heard that G-d had counted (pakad) the Bnei Yisrael, and that He had seen their misery."

G-d had counted the Yisraelim and had seen that they had increased in a totally abnormal manner. Because of their great number, it could be counted as if their period of exile had come to an end. For if one thousand people were destined to be subjugated for 400 years, then two thousand people should only be subjugated for 200 years.

Second, G-d had seen their misery. G-d had only promised Avraham that the Egyptians would "enslave and oppress them." (Bereishit 15:13) The Egyptians, however, went far beyond this in making the Yisraelim suffer. Therefore, the few years that they had been enslaved would be counted as many.

Hearing Moshe's argument, the people believed in his mission. They bowed their heads to show respect for Moshe and prostrated themselves on the ground, thanking G-d for remembering them. The people also prostrated themselves because they had heard the Explicit Name (Shem HaMeforash) from Aharon's lips. This alone would be enough to convince them, even without any other signs. Still, the two brothers performed the three prescribed signs: the staff being transformed into a serpent, Moshe's hand becoming leprous, and the water transmuted into blood.

When G-d had told Moshe to bring along Aharon as a spokesman, He instructed that Aharon should perform all three wonders, whether the people believed at first or not. G-d wanted to accustom Aharon to performing miracles in public so that when he had to do so before Pharaoh, he would be able to do so effectively. The performance of a miracle involved extremely deep meditation, and if Aharon had to do so for the first time in Pharaoh's presence, he might not be able to concentrate out of fear of the king.

[The Torah states that "the people heard that Elokim had kept in mind (pakad) the Bnei Yisrael." The word pakad alludes to the] key phrase, pakod pakad-ti, that the Yisraelim knew by tradition would be uttered by their true redeemer. G-d had made Moshe leave Egypt while still a minor, so that people would not be able to say that he learned this key phrase from his father, Amram.

Since Aharon was one of the main leaders of Yisrael, it was obvious that he would know this phrase. One may wonder why the people did not suspect that he taught Moshe the secret phrase.

But Aharon was well known to the people, and they had no reason to suspect him. They clearly saw that Aharon was not saying anything on his own, but merely transmitting the words that Moshe said to him. Moshe would say each thing quietly to Aharon, and he would relate it to the people. If Aharon wanted to use the key phrase falsely, he would have no reason to let himself be secondary to his brother, Moshe. If he wanted to resort to falsehood, he could have maintained the primary position for himself.

Furthermore, the people knew that Aharon was a true prophet and that he had been their teacher for many decades now. This was enough to let them trust him. Since Aharon was Moshe's spokesman, they believed that Moshe was G-d's emissary without any question.

According to another opinion, Moshe's staff itself miraculously spoke to the people and said, "When I was in Midyan, I was transformed and became a serpent." Moshe's arm also miraculously spoke up and said, "I suddenly became covered with leprosy and then just as quickly I returned to normal." G-d did this to avoid embarrassing Moshe. As mentioned earlier, these two signs, the staff turning into a snake and Moshe's arm becoming leprous, were signs that Moshe had slandered the Yisraelim. When this happened, however, Moshe was alone. Now, G-d did not want Moshe's hand to become leprous before all the people. He therefore made both the staff and Moshe's arm speak up and tell about the miracles.

G-d therefore literally told Moshe, "if they do not believe you and do not listen to the voice (le-kol) of the first sign, they will believe the voice of the latter sign." (Shemot 4:8) G-d spoke of the "voices" of the two signs to indicate that both the staff and Moshe's arm would speak.

The Torah therefore states here, "He performed the signs before the people." The signs were that both the staff and Moshe's arm miraculously spoke.

After this, Yisrael's elders went to Asher's daughter, Serach, and told her, "A man came claiming to be G-d's emissary. He performed miracles before our very eyes."

"It means nothing," replied the ancient woman.

"But he recited the key words, pakod pakad-ti." "In that case, he is the true redeemer. I have received such tradition from my father."

In this manner, the people knew that Moshe was G-d's true emissary. Although anyone could have said the words pakod pakad-ti, Yosef had told his brothers that there was a Divine promise that no one would ever dare to use those words falsely.

One may question the reason for this phrase in particular to be used. Any sign would be sufficient. The two words, pakod pakad-ti, indicated that there were two reasons that the Yisraelim would be redeemed before four hundred years of subjugation: first because they were many, and second, because they were treated so harshly. Moshe explained to the people that this was the meaning of the phrase, pakod pakad-ti, and the people believed him.

Shemot 5:1 Afterwards Moshe and Aharon came and said to Pharaoh, "So said HASHEM, the G-d of Yisrael, 'Send out My people that they may celebrate for Me in the Wilderness.'"

Once the elders believed that Moshe was a true emissary of G-d, he announced to them, "Let us all go to Pharaoh together and tell him what G-d has instructed." They all set out together, but along the way the elders changed their mind out of fear of Pharaoh. One by one they left the group, until Moshe and Aharon were alone by the time they arrived at the palace.

The royal palace was huge and very heavily guarded. It soon became very obvious that there was no way in which the two brothers could get into the palace to speak to Pharaoh. They were completely discouraged, when suddenly, the archangel Gavriel appeared and carried them into the palace.

Hearing a disturbance, Pharaoh investigated and learned that two unauthorized strangers had suddenly appeared in the palace. He summoned the palace guards and raged at them for allowing strangers to "sneak" into the palace. A number of unfortunate guards were summarily executed, while others were dismissed from their posts.

The next day, Moshe and Aharon appeared in the palace again. Pharaoh summoned the officers of the guard and screamed at them, "Are you blind? If people find it so easy to get into the palace, of what use are you?"

"Your majesty," replied the officers. "The guard around the palace was especially tight today. There was no way a person could have gotten into the palace without our knowing it. If people entered the palace without our knowledge, they must have done so through sorcery."

Once in the palace Moshe and Aharon had to gain access to the throne room. This inner chamber, however, was guarded by two huge lions. Any unauthorized person approaching the throne room would be torn to pieces by these fierce beasts.

Throughout the royal palace, the key entrances were guarded by lions, wolves and other fierce beasts. Before anyone could pass through these passageways, the animals' keepers would have to give them fresh meat to distract them.

Walking through the palace, Moshe knew what to do when he encountered these beasts. He merely touched them with his staff, and they became as meek as lambs. As Moshe proceeded through the palace, the wild beasts began to follow him, like trained dogs. Thus, when Moshe finally came into the throne room, he was accompanied by a huge "honor guard" of regal wild beasts.

Pharaoh was astounded by this strange sight. Although Moshe and Aharon were dressed in simple peasant clothes, they had the bearing of royalty.

"What do you want here?" demanded Pharaoh.

"Know," replied Moshe, "that Hashem, G-d of the Hebrews, has sent me to you. He has instructed me to say in His name: 'Let My people go. Allow them to offer sacrifice to Me in the desert.'

Pharaoh had no idea what to make of this strange message. He needed time to think, to consult his experts. "Return tomorrow," he said. "I'll speak to you then."

Shemot 5:2 Pharaoh replied, "Who is HASHEM that I should heed His voice to send out Yisrael? I do not know HASHEM, nor will I send out Yisrael!"

After Moshe and Aharon had left his presence, Pharaoh summoned Balaam and his sons, together with all the other key occultists in Egypt. He related to them how two old men had entered his throne room, flanked by two huge lions, and followed by a retinue of wild beasts. "I want to know," demanded Pharaoh, "what kind of sorcery did these two old men use?"

"With the occult arts," replied Balaam, "many things can be done. These two men are obviously expert occultists. They must have made use of their powers to get inside the palace and tame the animals that you have guarding your gates. Summon them here and we will be able to test their abilities."

The next day was an important Egyptian holiday. On that day emissaries from all over the civilized world would come to Pharaoh bearing gifts and royal crowns. Each one would also bring "religious" symbols pertaining to the gods of his land. All the nations of the Middle East would thus demonstrate their fealty to Pharaoh.

On this day, Moshe and Aharon dressed themselves as nobles and entered the palace with all the other ambassadors. When they refused to answer the questions of the chief of protocol, he sent to Pharaoh for instructions what to do. Pharaoh said that they should be given an audience.

Pharaoh did not recognize Moshe and Aharon in their finery. Assuming they were ambassadors from some exotic distant land, he looked to see if they were carrying any gifts or messages. It was quite obvious that they were empty-handed, and they did not even greet Pharaoh in the normal manner.

Angry and disturbed, Pharaoh asked them, "Whose ambassadors are you?"

"We are the ambassadors of Hashem," they replied.

"Why are you here? Who do you want?"

"This is G-d's message: Let My people go!"

The throne room was filled with visiting kings and nobles. Looking at the face of Moshe and Aharon, they trembled. They saw two old men with long, stately beards, standing erect like cedars, with eyes flashing like sunbeams. The staff that Moshe held in his hand, with the Explicit Name engraved on its perimeter, was fearsome to behold. When Aharon spoke, it was with such majesty and authority that all who heard trembled.

Awed by Moshe and Aharon, all the kings took off their crowns as a sign of obeisance, and prostrated themselves on the floor. Pharaoh became so upset that he had to rush out to the lavatory. While he was sitting there attending the call of nature, rats began to attack him, biting him and nibbling at his toes. His screams could be heard through the palace.

It did not take long, however, for him to pull himself together. After all, he was Pharaoh, the greatest ruler in the civilized world. Returning to his throne, he looked Moshe straight in the eye and asked, "Who is this Hashem of which you speak? Has he sent me any tribute? Could He not have sent a crown or other suitable gift? Are words all that He will send me? And who is He? I have never heard of Hashem."

Moshe and Aharon stood there, transfixing Pharaoh with their eyes, without replying.

"You claim to be ambassadors of Hashem," continued Pharaoh. "You say that He is a G-d. I will look through our registry of gods to see if I can find His name."

With that, Pharaoh sent to the royal library for the registry of all national deities. Besides all the many regional deities of Egypt, the registry listed all the gods of Ammon, Moav, Sidon and everywhere else in the civilized as well as not-so-civilized world. Leaving his throne room for his private study, Pharaoh carefully went through the huge tome. If he could find out about their G-d, he would know how to deal with these strangers.

Returning to the throne room, Pharaoh said, "I do not know who this Hashem is. I have searched all the lists and have not found His name. What kind of game are you playing?"

"Your attitude reminds me of a story," replied Moshe. Before the fascinated audience in the throne room Moshe began to weave a tale.

A Hebrew Kohen-priest once had a lazy slave. One day the priest left the house without leaving word where he was going. Searching for his master, the slave ended up in a cemetery, where he loudly asked passers by, "Has anyone seen my master? Can anyone tell me where he is?"

One of the people visiting the cemetery knew the master, and asked the slave, "Isn't your master a Kohen-priest?"

"Of course he is," replied the slave.

"Then don't you realize that it is forbidden for a Kohen-priest to enter a cemetery?" said the other. "This is the last place that you can expect to find him."

Concluding the story, Moshe said, "The same is true here. Our G-d lives and endures. How can you expect to find Him in a list of dead, inert idols?"

"What kind of G-d do you have?" asked Pharaoh. "Is He old or young? How old is He? Tell me, please, how many lands has He conquered? How many years has He ruled?"

"Our G-d," said Moshe and Aharon, "existed long before the universe was created. He will continue to exist for all eternity. He is the One who created you and gave you a soul."

A sneer curled Pharaoh's lips. "And what can He do?"

"Do! He is the One who spread out the heaven and made the earth firm. His very voice is like fire. He can uproot mountains and split the earth's crust. His bow is the clouds and His arrows lightning bolts. He created the mountains and the hills and covered the plains with grass. He makes the wind blow and the rain fall. He forms the child in the womb and brings it out into the light of the world. He is the One who crowns kings and deposes them at His will."

"Fools!" Pharaoh's face was livid. "Don't you know that I am Pharaoh? I created myself! The Nile is the work of my hands!"

Deep inside, however, Pharaoh was still disturbed at the words of the two strangers. He called his religious experts and theologians and asked them if they had ever heard of a G-d called Hashem.

"Yes, we have heard of him," replied the savants. "We have heard that he is the son of the ancient wizards. It is said that he was spawned by the kings of yore."

Aha! thought Pharaoh. There is such a g-d, but he's not nearly what these strangers claim him to be. I have no reason to fear him. Aloud, he said, "Who is Hashem that I should listen to His voice? What makes you think that I have any obligation to obey the whims of your G-d?

Pharaoh was to have ample reason to regret these words.


Shemot 5:3 So they said, "The G-d of the Hebrews happened upon us. Let us now go for a three-day journey in the Wilderness and we shall bring offerings to HASHEM, our G-d, lest He strike us dead with the plague or the sword."

Of course, what Moshe and Aharon meant was, "Otherwise He may strike you down with the plague or the sword." From their tone of voice, Pharaoh also understood their meaning. However, out of their respect for government in general, the two brothers did not make the threat openly.

Although an open threat may be more effective, it should be avoided. One must show respect to a duly-constituted government even if it is corrupt since such power is granted only by G-d.

Obviously, Moshe and Aharon did not veil their threat because they were afraid of Pharaoh. Since G-d had promised that He would be with them, they knew that they had no cause for fear. Respect, however, was still indicated.

Rather than mention G-d's Name, YKVK, in their answer, Moshe and Aharon merely said, "The G-d of the Hebrews has revealed Himself to us." G-d, on the other hand, had instructed them to say, "YKVK, G-d of the Hebrews, has revealed Himself to us." (Shemot 3:18)

Normally, an emissary may not even change a single word of the message with which he has been entrusted. Even if the altered version has precisely the same meaning, the exact wording must be maintained, but Moshe had been given extraordinary latitude by G-d to use his own judgment. Realizing that Pharaoh was put off by the name YKVK, Moshe saw fit to play it down. He therefore merely said, "The G-d (Elokei) of the Hebrews has revealed Himself to us." The Egyptians knew about the G-d of the Hebrews and had once respected Him. We thus see that Pharaoh had said to Yosef, "Since G-d informed you about all this, there is no one with as much insight and wisdom as you." (Bereishit 41:39)

Return to Parsha Index