Scripture tells us that Moses left Egypt a young man, and yet he comes back an octogenarian. Where was he for all those years?


The Midrash fills in the gap with the following fascinating account:

Around the time that Moses left Egypt, a great war broke out between Kush (Ethiopia) and some of its vassal states, who rebelled and were fighting for independence. Kinkos, king of Kush, prepared for war, and left Balaam in charge of the government while he was on his campaign. He successfully defeated the rebellious colonies.

Meanwhile, Balaam, who was enjoying his position as ruler of Kush, gathered the leaders of the city and said, “The city is now in our hands, and 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 Balaam their leader. Balaam then 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 triumphantly from war, Kinkos approached his capital city, prepared to celebrate his victory. But when he came to his city, he found that the gates were closed against him. Kinkos tried to take the wall, but fifty of his men were killed. The next day his men tried to make their way across the moat, but many drowned in its dangerous currents. Then 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 had to retreat. Kinkos, giving up hope of breaching the city, raised a nine-year siege against it.

During the first year of the siege, Moses fled Egypt. A strong young man, around twenty years old, he came to Kush and joined the force of Kinkos, and became very popular among the troops, who were impressed by his royal bearing. Moses found himself teaching the troops Egyptian battle tactics, further gaining their respect and admiration. Seeing his wisdom and popularity, the king took him as his closest advisor.

Nine years after the siege began, Kinkos died. Soon after the king was buried, his officers met to appoint a new king, since Kinkos had left behind a young son who was not old enough to rule. A unanimous decision was made to appoint Moses to the position. The men sounded trumpets, and proclaimed, “Long live the king! Long live the king!” This took place 157 years after the Israelites first came to Egypt [in the year 2395 (1366 BCE). Moses was then 27 years old.]

On his seventh day as king, the troops approached him. “Your majesty, please help 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 Moses, “but it requires that you obey my orders without question. Before I reveal my plan, you must all promise me that you will follow every step exactly.”

“We will do all you say!” they agreed in unison.

“Good,” replied Moses. “These are my instructions: all of you, spread through the forest and look for storks’ nests. Take the fledgling storks and distribute them, until each man has his own bird. Each man is to raise his stork and train him to do his bidding.”

Puzzled but obedient, the men combed through the forests until a tremendous flock of storks was assembled. The troops followed his orders, and trained the fledgling storks to obey their commands.

Then Moses assembled the men again. “Get ready for battle. Prepare to attack. But most important, do not give the storks any food for three days.”

On the third day, Moses 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 Moses’ 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 trumpets were sounded, the troops crossed the trench, and they took the city. Eleven hundred of Balaam’s men were captured and executed. Balaam himself escaped with his family and went to Egypt, where he eventually became one of Pharaoh’s chief advisors. Most of the men of Kush, however, remained in their houses and were not harmed.

Moses was crowned king of Kush, and was also given the young widow of King Kinkos as a wife. However, since she was a descendant of Canaan, with whom marriage was prohibited to Abraham’s descendants, he was never intimate with her.

Moses remained there as king for forty full years, and during this period the nation prospered greatly. But the queen was unhappy. She approached the supreme council of Kush and said, “What have you done to me? I am the royal queen, but the king never even touches me. Moreover, he does not believe in our gods. 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 plea and agreed with her argument. The next day they voted to crown Kinkos’s son as king. Swearing that they would do him no harm, the council approached Moses and explained the situation. They gave him many gifts and sent him off with great honor, befitting a former king. Moses thus left Kush and settled in Midian.

Yalkut Me’am Loez on Shemot 2:15. With more details: Yalkut Shimoni on Shemot, remez 168.