1. Moses Was Born in Egypt

Moses was born in Egypt during the enslavement of the Jews. His parents, Amram and Yocheved, were from the illustrious tribe of Levi.1 He had two older siblings, Aaron and Miriam. According to rabbinic tradition, he was immensely handsome2 and powerful,3 and his countenance was like that of an angel.4

Read More: Moses: Man of G‑d Aaron and Miriam

2. His Birth Was Predicted by Egyptian Astrologers

King Pharaoh was the ruler of Egypt at the time. His astrologers told him that they had seen in the stars that the savior of the Jewish people had been born and would ultimately meet his end through water. Pharaoh therefore decreed that all newborn Jewish boys be drowned in the Nile River to ensure that this savior of the Jewish people would be killed.5

Yocheved, Moses’ mother, gave birth to him three months prematurely.6 When he was born, the house was filled with light from his holiness.7 She hid the baby from the Egyptian authorities until what would have been her ninth month of pregnancy. When she could hide him no longer, she put Moses into a basket and floated it along the Nile River, thus saving him from death.8

Read More: The Birth of Moses

3. He Had an Egyptian Name

(Miriam Watches Over Moses in the Basket - by Natalia Kadish)
(Miriam Watches Over Moses in the Basket - by Natalia Kadish)

Moses (or Moshe) was given his name by the daughter of Pharaoh, Batya. While bathing in the Nile River, she noticed a basket floating in the water. The basket contained little Moses. According to rabbinic tradition, she reached out to grab it, and miraculously her arm stretched beyond its natural length9 and she was able to pull the basket towards her. To her surprise, she discovered a baby inside the basket and decided to adopt him as her own. She named the baby Moshe, which is derived from the word mishisihu (“he was drawn”) since she had drawn the baby from the water.

Read More: What Was Moses’ Real Name?

4. Moses Stuttered

The Midrash tells us that when Moses was a small boy in Pharaoh’s palace, he once grabbed the pharaoh’s crown and placed it on his head. Pharaoh feared that the little boy was after the monarchy. To test him, the royal advisors suggested that the pharaoh place glittering gold and an equally shiny hot coal before the boy. If Moses would reach for the coal, it would be clear that he was simply attracted to shiny objects.

Faced with an array of bright things, Moses was about to reach for the gold, but an angel redirected his hand toward the coal. Moses took a piece of coal and put it in his mouth. He burned his mouth, and from then on, he spoke with difficulty.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi explains that Moses’ stutter was reflective of his spiritual state. His soul was from the world of Tohu (“chaos”), which is above and beyond our reality. This resulted in his inability to relate to (or communicate with) those around him.

Read: Why Did Moses Stutter?

5. Moses Was a Fugitive

Moses grew up in the house of Pharaoh. Once, he observed an Egyptian taskmaster violently striking an innocent Jewish slave. After making sure that no one was watching, he killed the taskmaster and buried him in the sand. Despite his precautions, word of this episode reached the ears of Pharaoh, and Moses was sentenced to death. According to tradition, as he was about to be executed by sword, his neck miraculously turned to ivory and he was able to flee.10

6. Moses Was a Shepherd

Moses was married to Tzipporah, the daughter of Jethro, an accomplished priest.11 Together they had two sons, Gershom and Eliezer.12 Jethro hired Moses to be a shepherd for his sheep.

One day, Moses noticed that a sheep had wandered away from the rest of the flock. He ran after the sheep and found it resting in a shady spot and drinking from a water cistern. The rabbis tell us that Moses exclaimed: “I did not realize that you ran away because you were tired,” and gently picked it up and returned it to the flock. When G‑d saw this act of compassion on Moses’ part, He declared: “As you have such mercy on the flock of a human being, I guarantee you that you will become the shepherd of My people.”13

Read: Jethro: Father-in-Law of Moses

7. He Heard G‑d From a Burning Bush

The little lost sheep led Moses to a bush that was burning with fire but was not being consumed. As he approached the bush to discover the reason for this strange occurrence, G‑d appeared to him and told him to remove his shoes out of respect for the holy site. G‑d then went on to instruct Moses to appear before Pharaoh and demand the freedom of the Jewish people. He also told him to remind the Jewish people that G‑d had not forgotten them and that they would soon be free. After some initial reluctance, Moses accepted the position. This was the first time that G‑d revealed himself to Moses.14

Read More: Moses and the Burning Bush

8. Moses Brought Ten Plagues

Moses was commanded by G‑d to negotiate the release of the Jewish people. When Pharaoh refused to let them go, G‑d told Moses to tell Aaron to strike the Nile River, and it miraculously turned into blood, thereby depriving the Egyptians of this vital source of water. The plague not only affected the Nile, it turned all drinkable liquids to blood.15 Still, Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let the Jews go.

G‑d then told Moses to tell Aaron to stretch out his staff, and a plague of frogs spread throughout Egypt, wreaking havoc amongst the Egyptians. In desperation, Pharaoh agreed to free the Jews on condition that the plague be stopped. After Moses acquiesced and prayed to G‑d to remove the frogs, Pharaoh promptly changed his mind and refused to let the people go.16The same scene repeated itself over and over, each time with a new plague. After 10 plagues, Pharaoh finally gave in and begged Moses to take the Jews out of Egypt.

Read: The Ten Plagues

9. He Remembered Joseph

Our sages tell us that while all the Jewish people were busy packing their belongings to leave Egypt, Moses went to collect the coffin of the great Jewish leader Joseph, who had been the viceroy of Egypt before the slavery had begun. Joseph’s dying wish had been that his bones be brought out of Egypt and be buried in the Land of Israel. Now, as the redemption was taking place, Moses wanted to fulfill Joseph’s request. He called on Serach, the daughter of Asher, who had been present when Joseph had passed away, to point out where Joseph was buried. She told him that the Egyptians had buried Joseph in a metal casket at the bottom of the Nile River so that it would be blessed in his merit. Moses stood on the banks of the river and called out: “Joseph, Joseph, the time of the redemption has come, and therefore it is time for us to fulfill the promise we made you.” Immediately, the coffin rose to the surface, and the Jews took it up with them to the Land of Israel.17

Read: The Story of Joseph

10. G‑d Split the Sea Through Moses

Art by Ahuva Klein
Art by Ahuva Klein

Once Pharaoh released the Jewish people, he regretted his decision. He summoned his army, determined to return the Jews to servitude in Egypt. The Jews were now in a perilous situation, with the Red Sea in front of them and the Egyptian army fast approaching from behind. G‑d commanded Moses to stretch his hand over the sea, and a strong easterly wind began to blow. Miraculously, the sea split and the Jews crossed on a dry seabed to safety. The Egyptian army tried to pursue them and was entirely destroyed when the waters came crashing down on them as they entered the sea.18

Read: The Parting of the Red Sea

11. He Followed Jethro’s Advice

Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, joined the Jewish people in the desert for a period of time. During his time there, he noticed that Moses himself was adjudicating all cases for the Jewish nation. He suggested that Moses create an official court system of lower and higher courts to share this enormous responsibility. Moses followed the advice of his father-in-law and appointed judges over the people.19

Read: Jethro’s Plan

12. Moses the Lawgiver

Art by Raizel Shurpin
Art by Raizel Shurpin

G‑d had made it clear that He had freed the Jewish people from Egypt in order for them to receive the Torah. Indeed, for the next seven weeks, the Jews prepared for this historic event. After they committed to observe the laws of the Torah, G‑d appeared on Mount Sinai to give them the Ten Commandments. Moses then ascended the mountain to Heaven for 40 days to receive the Tablets on which G‑d had carved the Ten Commandments.

Read: What Happened at Sinai

The Jews miscalculated the exact time that Moses was due to return. When he did not return at that time, a large portion of Jews decided to make an idol in the shape of a golden calf that would lead them in the absence of Moses. When Moses descended from the mountain and saw what they had done, he threw the Tablets to the ground, smashing them. After strongly rebuking the people and destroying the idol, he once again ascended to Heaven, this time to achieve forgiveness for his nation. G‑d forgave the people, and Moses descended the mountain and carved out the second pair of Tablets.20

Read: What was the Golden Calf

13. Moses Loved His People

After the sin of the Golden Calf, G‑d told Moses that He intended to wipe out the Jewish people and rebuild His nation from him. In response, Moses asked G‑d to remove his name from the Torah. How could Moses give up his portion in the Torah, which he was so deeply connected to, for the sake of a people who had just performed idolatry, the most serious of sins? Because Moses’ connection to his people—including the greatest sinners—ran even deeper than his connection to Torah.21

Read: The Benefits of Anonymity

14. He Survived the Korach Rebellion

Moses led the Jewish people in their journey through the desert to the Land of Israel. On a number of occasions, his leadership was challenged. One rebellion that is particularly noteworthy is that of Korach, a cousin of Moses, who was unhappy with what he saw to be an unfair division of power in the leadership of the Jewish people. He rallied a large number of Jews, particularly from the tribe of Reuven, against Moses and Aaron. Moses responded by challenging Korach and his cohorts to a test: Aaron and Korach’s clan would both offer incense, and they would see whose would be accepted by G‑d. When Korach and his men showed up the next day with their firepans, a heavenly fire descended and consumed Korach’s 250 supporters. Korach’s family, along with the families of Datan and Aviram, who had conspired with Korach, were swallowed up by the earth.22

Read More: Korah: Rebel of the Bible

15. He Was the Greatest Prophet

The Torah professes that “no prophet ever arose like Moses.”23 Indeed, Moses was unique in his level of prophecy. Whereas other prophets only prophesied in a dream or a vision and even then through the medium of an angel, Moses experienced prophecy during the daytime without any medium. Whereas other prophets would be overawed when they received their prophecy, Moses experienced it “as if speaking to a friend.”24 Moses perceived G‑dliness in a very direct manner and would appreciate his prophecies in their fullness. Other prophets were not privy to such revelations and were only able to appreciate G‑dliness in a more general manner without that level of clarity.25

Read: Who Was the Greatest Prophet?

16. Moses Struck the Rock

In the merit of Miriam, Moses’ sister, G‑d provided the Jewish people with a miraculous rock that functioned as a well, which sustained them with water throughout their travels. After Miriam passed away in the desert, the well stopped giving water. The Jews turned to Moses for a solution. G‑d told Moses and Aaron to speak to the rock, and it would give water. When Moses tried speaking to the rock and it did not give forth water, he thought to hit the rock as he had done on a similar occasion. He struck it once and only a trickle of water came forth. Only after he struck it a second time did water pour from it. (In reality, G‑d had concealed the well of Miriam, and therefore the rock that Moses had addressed did not give forth any water. The rock that he hit, however, was the well of Miriam and therefore it produced the right results.26)

G‑d was very displeased and decreed that Moses and Aaron would not merit to enter the Land of Israel with the rest of the Jews.27

Read More: Moses Strikes the Rock

17. He Lived 120 Years

Although Moses pleaded with G‑d to allow him to enter the Land of Israel, G‑d did not relent. On the 7th of Adar, the same day he was born,28 Moses passed away at the age of 120. The Torah testifies that “no person has known the place of his burial to this very day.”29 His faithful student, Joshua, succeeded him and ultimately led the Jews into the Land of Israel.

Read: Joshua of the Bible