Prelude to Slavery

1 Even though the Torah enumerated Jacob's sons by name when they came into Egypt,1 it does so again here, when they die, in order to indicate how dear they were to God: These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt; each man and his household came with Jacob:

2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah,

3 Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin,

4 Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher.

5 Similarly, although the Torah has already told us that Jacob's immediate descendants numbered seventy,2 it repeats this fact here in order to contrast their small number at the beginning of their stay in Egypt with their prolific growth while they were there:3 All of Jacob's descendants then numbered seventy, including Joseph, who, although he was living in Egypt, was not corrupted by it and therefore was still a true son of Jacob.

6 Joseph and all his brothers died, and so did all of that generation, the first generation living in Egypt.4 The last son of Jacob to die was Levi, in the year 2332, at the age of 137. Once all of Jacob's sons had died, the Jews (except for the tribe of Levi5) began to neglect their traditions. One of the practices they abandoned at this point was circumcision.6

7 The Israelites were unnaturally fertile and prolific, they increased and became exceedingly strong. The women gave birth regularly to sextuplets. Before long, the land was filled with them.

The First Phase of Enslavement

8 At this time, a new king, who did not know Joseph, arose over Egypt. According to one opinion, this was in fact a new king; others say that this was the same king, but that he acted as if he had never heard of Joseph.

9 He said to his people, "Look: the people, the Israelites, are becoming more numerous and stronger than us.

10 Let us deal cleverly with them and their God—who is clearly involved in their unnatural fertility—lest they increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies, fight us, and go up out of the land, or, even worse, take over the country and force us to go up out of the land." In fact, the Israelites posed no real threat to the Egyptians. The Israelites knew that Pharaoh (or his predecessor) had promoted Joseph from slave to viceroy and graciously settled them in the best part of Egypt, saving them from starvation. They were indebted to Pharaoh and the Egyptians, and therefore entertained no thought of taking over the country.7

Rather, Pharaoh wanted to persecute the Jews for the simple sake of doing so. He hated what the Jews represented, and he was concerned that Jewish monotheism might prevail over Egyptian paganism. So, in addition to plotting how to decrease the Jews' physical numbers and diminish their power, he devised a plan to sink them into Egyptian culture and make them forget their heritage. He consulted with his advisors, the chief three of whom were Balaam, Jether (who would later be known as Jethro8), and Job. Balaam devised a progressive plan of increasing oppression designed to weaken the Jews' birthrate. Jethro advised against this plan; Job was undecided.9 Pharaoh accepted Balaam's strategy. Jethro, seeing that he had fallen from the king's favor, fled to Midian.10 Pharaoh gathered together all the Jews and addressed them: "Please help me today with this work." He picked up a pail and a rake and began to make bricks. Most of those who saw Pharaoh doing this came forward to help him. Moreover, Pharaoh hung a mold for bricks around his neck. If a Jew declined to work, saying that he was too delicate, Pharoah's officers said, "Are you then more delicate than Pharaoh?" In this way they talked everyone into participating.11

Nonetheless, the tribe of Levi refused to work, claiming dispensation due to their elite status as the people's sages. Pharaoh and the Egyptians knew that Jacob had accorded his son Levi special status by exempting him from carrying his coffin,12 so they accepted the Levites' claim. Thus, the tribe of Levi remained exempt from slavery. Nonetheless, just as the Levites devoted their lives to Torah study in order to preserve the traditions for the rest of the people, the rest of the people fulfilled the Levites' obligation to fulfill God's prophecy to Abraham that his descendants would have to be slaves.13 Therefore, the Levites reaped the rewards of Egyptian slavery together with their brethren, even though they did not actively participate in it.14

When night fell, the officers asked the Jews to count how many bricks they had made. After they did so, Pharaoh said, "Good! Make me this many bricks every day!"15

11 They appointed draft officers over them in order to afflict them with the chores they imposed on them, and thus the Jews built up the existing cities of Pitom and Raamses, making them fit to serve as storage cities for Pharaoh (see Figure 1). The capital city of Pitom had been named after a rock formation on the shores of the Sea of Reeds, which the Egyptians had named Pitom and marked the boundary of Egypt.16

12 But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more God blessed the Israelites so they increased and spread, and the Egyptians were frustrated over the increase of the Israelites. This first phase of conscripted labor lasted about thirty years, from some time after the year 2332 until 2362.

The Second Phase of Slavery

13 Seeing that this degree of slavery did not curb the Israelites' proliferation, the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites with backbreaking, i.e., demoralizing and unusual labor.

14 They embittered their lives with hard labor, making them work with mortar and bricks, as well as all kinds of work in the field. All the work they subjected them to was imposed with crushing harshness. This work indeed tired out the men, but the women were determined to foil the Egyptians' plans. They brought their husbands food and drink in the fields, and after they had eaten, took out their copper mirrors and had their husbands look at their reflections together with them. The wives thus brought their husbands to admire their beauty and aroused their marital passion. In this way, the people continued to be as prolific as before.17

The Egyptians oppressed the people far beyond what would have been required to fulfill God's decree at the "Covenant between the Parts."18 Thus, even though they were simply fulfilling God's plan, they were still culpable and God was fully justified in punishing them.19 Everyone in Egypt was happy to see the Israelites suffer, down to the maidservants and foreign prisoners.20 The Egyptians appointed taskmasters to wake up the Jews to work before sunrise.21 This second phase of conscripted labor began in 2362. The people's leader at this time was Amram, Levi's grandson. In this year, his first child, a daughter, was born. He named her Miriam after the new "bitterness" (merirut) of the exile. Four years later, in 2365, Amram's eldest son, Aaron, was born.

The Third Phase of Slavery

15 Throughout their bitter exile, the Jews took heart from the fact that Jacob and Joseph had promised them that they would eventually leave Egypt and return to the Land of Israel. They were constantly reminded about this promise by the presence of the grove of acacia trees that Jacob had planted when he first came to Egypt.22 Thus, about five years after the second phase of conscripted labor began, the Egyptians realized that subjecting the Jews to backbreaking labor had also not succeeded in crushing their spirits and curbing their fertility. So the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom, Amram's wife Yocheved, was called Shifrah and the other, their five- or six-year old daughter Miriam, was called Puah. Yocheved and Miriam were known by these names since they "improved" [shapeir] the newborns (cleaning them and straightening their limbs) and "cooed" pa'eh] to them, respectively. In fact, the Israelite women were so skilled in giving birth that they did not use midwives,23 but in order to reassure them, Yocheved and Miriam made it known that they were available in case of any complications. Even though they were only two people, their reputation as wellborn and righteous individuals (who would be granted Divine assistance if necessary) was enough to reassure the entire population of birthing women.24

16 Pharaoh's astrologers told him that the Israelites' redeemer would soon be born. When he heard this, he understood that he was not succeeding in his plan to wipe out the Israelites. He therefore sought to eliminate the would-be redeemer by having all the newborn Israelite boys killed. Furthermore, he realized that it was not enough to enslave the adults while allowing the children to grow up as Jews. He therefore decreed that the girls be raised as Egyptians. Assuming Yocheved and Miriam were practicing midwives, he said to them, "When you deliver Hebrew women, look at the birthstool. If it is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl, let her live." Pharaoh did not disclose his plan for the girls to the midwives, since he hoped in this way to make it easier for them to kill the boys.25 Later, when he expanded the scope of his decree and instructed the Egyptians to drown their baby boys, too, he articulated his plan for the girls explicitly.26

17 But the midwives feared God, and they did not do as the king of Egypt had told them; on the contrary, they provided the newborns with food and water and thus helped the boys live.

Second Reading 18 The king of Egypt summoned the midwives and demanded of them, "Why have you done this, and kept the boys alive?"

19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, "Because the Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women. They are skilled in giving birth. They are like animals, who do not need midwives. Even if we would try to assist them, it wouldn't work: before the midwife would even get to them they would have already given birth."

20 In reward for their acts, God dealt kindly with the midwives, as is stated in the next verse: He made them progenitors of the royal and priestly dynasties. Because the midwives foiled Pharaoh's plan, the people continued to increase and grew very strong.

21 Because the midwives feared God, He granted them dynasties. Miriam became the progenitor of the royal dynasty: King David is described as "the descendant of Efrat,"27 who is identified as Miriam.28 Yocheved became the progenitor of the priestly dynasty (through her son Aaron) and some of the Levitical dynasties (through her son Moses).29 In addition, because the midwives feared God and did not fulfill Pharaoh's charge, Pharaoh had to plant Egyptians amongst the Jews so they could hear when a Jewish woman gave birth and report this to him. He therefore built the Egyptians houses in the Jewish settlement of Goshen.30 Thus the Egyptians were able to discover the newborn boys and kill them. Seeing this, Amram said: "Why should we procreate for nothing?" He therefore divorced his wife, Yocheved, and the rest of the Jews followed their example. But their young, precocious31 daughter Miriam argued that God's commandment to procreate must be followed regardless of what may or may not happen afterwards, and that while Pharaoh's decree affected only the boys, Amram had in effect decreed against girls as well. She also prophesied that her parents would bear a child who would be the Israelites' redeemer. This argument and prophecy convinced Amram, and he remarried Yocheved.32

22 On Adar 7, 2368, Yocheved gave birth to a son, who would later be named Moses. The Egyptian astrologers saw that the Jews' redeemer had indeed been born, but that he would meet his end through water. (This vision was correct, but referred to Moses' trial with the waters of Merivah.33) They therefore counseled Pharaoh to decree that the newborn boys should be cast into the river to drown. Furthermore, they knew from history that God punishes wrongdoers measure for measure. They therefore felt that the best way to thwart His plans would be through water, since He had promised not to bring another flood upon the world.34 Since the astrologers did not know whether this redeemer was Jewish or Egyptian, they counseled Pharaoh to decree that every boy born that day be cast into the river, even the Egyptian ones.35 Thus, Pharaoh then gave orders to all his people: "You shall cast every boy who is born into the Nile, but you shall make every girl—including the Israelite girls—live as Egyptians."

The Birth of Moses

2:1 The Torah now provides the details of Moses' birth. As stated above, a certain Levite man, i.e., Amram, the grandson of Levi, went and re-married Yocheved, who was Levi's daughter. Even though she was 130 years old at this time, she miraculously regained her youthful beauty when Amram remarried her. The rest of the Jews again followed Amram's example and remarried their wives. Miriam's argument thus led to the birth of the generation of Jews who left Egypt.

2 The woman Yocheved conceived as soon as she and Amram remarried, and on Adar 7, 2368, she gave birth to a son prematurely, in the beginning of her seventh month. The Jews knew that God had promised to redeem them, and it was reasonable to assume that their redeemer would be born into a family of stature such as Amram's. Therefore, seeing that the room miraculously became filled with light when he was born, Yocheved understood how good he was, i.e., she suspected that he was destined for this greatness.36 She therefore made extra efforts to save him from the Egyptians. First, she kept him hidden for three months. She was able to do this because the Egyptians came to inspect her home only when nine months had passed after she remarried.

3 Then, when she could no longer hide him, she got him a wicker basket and caulked it with clay inside and pitch outside. She used clay to caulk the inside since pitch has a foul smell, and she did not want anything to corrupt or damage her child's sensibilities. She placed the child in the basket, and placed it among the rushes near the bank of the Nile. Yocheved wanted to place the basket in the river itself, since the Egyptian astrologers would sense this and think that their prophecy that the Jew's redeemer would be punished through water had been fulfilled, and Pharaoh would then nullify his decree that all the male babies be thrown into the river.37 But she could not place the basket directly in the water, since the Egyptians worshipped the river and the Torah prohibits deriving any benefit from an object of idol worship.38 Yet, she knew prophetically that it would soon be permitted to place it in the river, so she made it waterproof and placed it on the riverbank, trusting that God would see her plan to completion as soon as it would be possible to do so.

4 The baby's sister, Miriam, stationed herself at a distance to see what would become of him.

5 Just then, Pharaoh's daughter Bitya39—who had decided to renounce idolatry—went down to bathe, i.e., ritually immerse herself in (lit., "on" or "concerning") the Nile, in order to spiritually cleanse herself of idolatry (including Nile-worship).40 By using the Nile to renounce idolatry, she abrogated its status as an idol. The basket then slipped into the river and floated into the princess' field of vision.41 As soon as the basket entered the river, the Egyptian astrologers sensed it—as Yocheved had predicted—and Pharaoh, thinking that he had accomplished his purposes, cancelled his decree to throw all baby boys into the river.42 Bitya saw the basket and told her attendant maidens that she was going to see what it was. But her maidens opposed her. They said, "This is probably a Jewish baby, placed here by his mother in order to save him. How can you show any interest in its welfare? Should not at least the princess obey the king's decrees?" God therefore killed them; they walked to their deaths because of their conduct along the Nile's edge.43 God spared only one maidservant, because it is not befitting for a princess to go about unescorted. Bitya saw the basket among the rushes, and sent her one remaining maidservant, and she took it. Alternatively, Bitya stretched out her arm, which then miraculously became long enough to reach the basket, and thus took the baby herself.

6 Opening the basket, she saw the baby. She also sensed God's presence surrounding him. Although the baby looked like a baby, he was crying with the voice of a mature boy. Because he was crying, she had pity on him. When she saw that he was circumcised, she said, "This is one of the Hebrew children." Bitya tried to use Egyptian wet-nurses to suckle the baby, but he refused. Because his mouth was destined to converse directly with God, God did not allow him to nurse from a pagan.

7 Seeing that he would not nurse from an Egyptian, Moses' sister, Miriam, who had been following Bitya, came forth and said to her, "Shall I go and call for you a Hebrew wet-nurse to nurse the child for you?" Although Bitya would have eventually discerned why Moses was not suckling, Miriam wanted to minimize his suffering.44

8 Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Go." So Miriam, although she was only seven, miraculously ran as fast as a mature girl—or even a mature boy45and called the child's mother.

9 Pharaoh's daughter said to Yocheved, "take this child and nurse him for me, and I will pay your fee." When she said "take this child," she used a word that can also mean "here is that which is yours," unknowingly acknowledging that the child was Yocheved's. So the woman took the child and nursed him.

10 Yocheved did not return Moses to Bitya when she stopped nursing him, but managed to keep him with her for quite a few years afterwards. She procrastinated by telling her that the child had grown attached to her and would be traumatized by having to leave her while young, and so forth. Thus, Moses grew up aware of his nationality and loyal to the traditions of his people. But when the child grew up to the age of 12 or so,46 and had attained an appreciable height, so that it was impossible to procrastinate anymore,47 Yocheved brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, and he was like a son to her. She was very fond of him. She named him Moses [Moshe— "to draw out"], for, she said, "I drew him out of the water."

Moses Flees Egypt

Third Reading 11 In those days, the precocious Moses was elevated by Pharaoh to be the overseer of his personal household. Bitya was very fond of Moses and influenced her father to appoint him to this position.48 Some years later, when he was 18,49 he went out to his brethren and observed their suffering, for he felt for them. He saw an Egyptian taskmaster striking one of Moses' fellow Hebrews, for this taskmaster used to beat this Jew constantly. When he would awaken the Jew before daylight to go to work, he would slip into his house and consort with his wife, who thought it was her husband. The Jew eventually discovered what was happening; when the taskmaster realized that the Jew knew what he was doing, he began to beat him all day. The Jew's wife's name was Shelomit bat Dibri.50

12 Moses investigated what was happening: he turned this way and discovered that this Egyptian was beating the Jew all day; and he turned that way and discovered that he was consorting with his wife. He perceived prophetically that there was no one from the taskmaster's descendants destined to convert to Judaism, so he decided to kill him. He turned this way and that and saw that there was no one observing him, so he struck down the Egyptian by pronouncing God's Name,51 and hid him in the sand.

13 But two Jews had indeed witnessed how Moses killed the Egyptian. When Moses went out the next day to see his brethren, he saw these very same two Hebrew men, Dathan and Aviram, quarreling. One of them had raised his hand to hit the other. Moses said to this wicked person, "Why are you going to beat your brother, even if he is wicked, just as you are?" Even though he had not yet struck him, he is still considered "wicked," for it is forbidden even to raise one's hand against one's fellow. Similarly, Moses called the victim "wicked," too, for by engaging in a heated quarrel a person inevitably exaggerates—and thus falsifies—his claims, even if they are justified to begin with.52

14 The Hebrew man retorted, "Who appointed you as a leader and judge over us? You are just a boy! Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?!" Frightened, Moses concluded, "So the fact that I killed the Egyptian is known! Pharaoh will hear about it and seek to execute me!" Besides this, however, Moses was also afraid that his brethren would not be found worthy of being redeemed, inasmuch as they were quarrelsome and willing to slander each other.53 He said, "so the reason for what I had wondered—why the Jews, of all people, have been made to suffer such severe bondage—is now known."

15 Pharaoh heard about the incident, for Dathan and Aviram informed on Moses.54 Pharaoh therefore sought to kill Moses. He had him tried, but although Moses had a speech impediment, he miraculously defended himself eloquently. Still, Pharaoh wanted to pronounce him guilty, but God struck him dumb. Pharaoh then tried to mumble his intentions to his ministers, but God made the ministers deaf. Pharaoh motioned to the executioners to kill Moses, but miraculously, the executioner's sword was unable to harm him.55 God made the executioners blind, and thus Moses fled from Pharaoh's presence.56 He fled to Ethiopia, where he joined the army and 9 years later was crowned king. He remained king of Ethiopia for 40 years.

In the year 2418 (while Moses was king of Ethiopia), certain families of the tribe of Ephraim, assuming that the 400 years prophesied in the Covenant between the Parts began as soon as the covenant was made (in the year 2018), concluded that they were over. Mistakenly believing that the time of their redemption had arrived, 30,000 armed men from this tribe left Egypt and set out toward the Land of Israel. They took money with them but no provisions, assuming they would either buy food from the Philistines or conquer their country. But the Philistines defeated them instead, and killed them all except for ten individuals who returned to Egypt to report the events.57

While Moses was in Ethiopia, Miriam married Caleb, son of Yefuneh, of the tribe of Judah, and they had a son whom they named Hur.58

In the year 2434, at the age of 67,59 Moses left Ethiopia and settled in the land of Midian. He thought it was time to get married, so he sat down near a well, following the example of his ancestor Jacob, who found his wife at a well (see Figure 2).

Moses Settles in Midian

16 Now Jether, Pharaoh's former advisor, had become the priest and leader of Midian after he fled from Pharaoh.60 But he later realized the folly of idolatry, so he renounced the idolatrous religion of Midian. Because of this, the Midianites excommunicated him and his family. He had seven daughters and no sons, and since the Midianites had ostracized him, his daughters had to tend his flocks. They came to this well, drew water, and filled the troughs to water their father's flocks,

17 but shepherds came and drove them away because their family had been excommunicated. Moses arose and rescued them, and then watered their flocks. As soon as he started to draw water from the well, the water level miraculously rose on its own.

18 When they came home to their patriarch Reuel, i.e., Jether—who was also known as "Reuel" ("friend of God")61 because he had renounced idolatry62he asked, "How is it that you came home so early today?"

19 They replied, "An Egyptian man rescued us from the hands of the shepherds. He also drew water for us, but only once; after that, the water ascended out of the well by itself until it had watered all the sheep." Jether, having studied the traditions of the Jewish people in his search for religious truth, knew that water had ascended out of the well for Jacob and Rachel. He thus recognized Moses as one of their people, a monotheistic Israelite, who he could take for a son-in-law.

20 He therefore asked his daughters, "So where is he? Why did you leave the man there? Call him, and let him have something to eat," meaning, "perhaps he will marry one of you" (just as Joseph euphemistically referred to Potiphar's wife as "the bread he eats"63).

21 Moses consented to stay with the man, but when Moses told Jether about his adventures in Ethiopia, he suspected him of lying, and imprisoned him. After ten years, when Moses was 77, Jether released him from prison and gave Moses his daughter Zipporah as a wife.64 He made Moses tend his sheep and swear that he would not leave Midian without his permission.

22 When Zipporah gave birth to a son, Moses named him Gershom [ger sham—"a stranger there"], "for," he said, "I have been a stranger in an alien land."

The Fourth Phase of Slavery

23 It was during those many years in which Moses lived in Midian that the king of Egypt contracted leprosy (which is allegorically compared to death). Attempting to alleviate his suffering, he ordered his soldiers to slaughter Israelite children so he could bathe in their blood. Because of this, the Israelites groaned because of the suffering they endured because of this program of treatment65 and cried out. The pleas that sprang from this program rose up before God.

24 God heard their anguished outcry, and God recalled His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.

25 God looked upon the Israelites, and God took note. Having decided that it was time for them to be redeemed, God had to select a redeemer. He appeared to Aaron and told him to prophesy to the Israelites, preparing them for redemption by saying, "Let everyone discard all the idols in his sight, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt, I am God, your God."66 But Aaron was not successful in this mission; he could not convince the people to sever their ties with Egyptian culture.

Moses at the Burning Bush

Fourth Reading 3:1 So God examined the behavior of Moses, who was tending the sheep of his father-in-law Jether, who would later be known as Jethro, priest of Midian, and concluded that he would be suitable. For example, a kid once ran away from the flock and reached a shady place near a pool of water where it stopped to drink. Moses ran after it and, when he caught up with it, said: "I did not know that you ran away because you were thirsty. You must be tired." So he carried the kid back to the flock. God said: "Because you showed such mercy to a mortal man's flock, you will tend My flock, Israel."67 Moses typically guided the flock far into the desert so that they would not graze in other people's property, and, on one occasion, came to Mount Sinai, where God would eventually give the Torah; this mountain was also known as Mount Horeb (see Figure 3).

2 An angel of God appeared to him in the heart of a blazing fire from the midst of a thorn bush. By revealing Himself in a lowly thorn bush, God intimated to Moses that He empathized with the Israelites' humiliation and suffering. As Moses gazed, he saw that the bush was on fire, but the bush was not being consumed.

3 Moses said, "Let me turn away from what I am doing here and go over there to behold this remarkable sight. Why doesn't the bush burn?"

4 When God saw that he had turned aside to look, He called to him from the midst of the bush, saying, "Moses, Moses!" He replied, "Here I am."

5 God said, "Come no nearer. Remove your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground."

6 After Moses did this, God said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." Moses hid his face, since he was afraid to look at God.

7 God said, "I have indeed seen the plight of My people in Egypt. I have heard their outcry caused by their taskmasters, for I am aware of their pains.

8 I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians, and to take them up from that land to a good and ample land, to a land flowing with goats' milk and date- and fig-honey,68 the region of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Even though I also promised the territory of the Amonites, Moabites, and Edomites to Abraham,69 you will not inherit these at this time."70 God did not mention the Girgashites71 in this context because their territory was not distinguished as "flowing with milk and honey."72

9 "And now, the outcry of the Israelites has indeed reached Me, and I have also seen the oppression to which the Egyptians are subjecting them.

10 Therefore, now go. I shall send you to Pharaoh to convince him to release the people, and your words will be effective. You shall take My people, the Israelites, out of Egypt."

11 Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh? I am just a shepherd now, and I do not possess the social status to address a king. And moreover, by what merit of theirs can I take the Israelites out of Egypt? This would require a miracle, and in my perception they are not worthy of such a miracle. I have seen that they are quarrelsome and willing to slander each other."73

12 God replied, "Do not worry about your status, for I will be with you, and you will be speaking on My authority, not your own. You have seen here that the bush performs My mission and is not consumed; this is your sign that you, too, will not be harmed in the mission that I have sent you. As for your second question, the people are indeed worthy of a miracle, for when you take the people out of Egypt, you will be doing so in order that they all serve God by receiving My Torah on this mountain. It is therefore worth it for Me to perform miracles on their behalf, even if they do not deserve it themselves."

13 Moses said to God, "I am going to come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your forefathers has sent me to you.' When they hear this, they will ask me, 'What is His Name?' meaning, 'What kind of God is it that allows the children of these forefathers—whom He loved so dearly—to suffer in such a terrible exile for so long? Why does He remember us only now that we have suffered so much and thousands upon thousands of our children have been slaughtered?!' When they ask me this, what shall I tell them?"

14 God said to Moses, "Tell them that I was and shall continue to be with them in this exile, just as I shall be with them in their later exiles. I do not ignore them during their exiles, but in fact, I feel their suffering and suffer with them." Moses said, "It is enough that they have to suffer their present exile; why should I mention their future exiles?" God then said, "This is exactly what I meant.74 Although I am telling you that I will suffer with them in their future exiles, you shall say to the Israelites only that 'The God who says "I shall be with them in this exile" sent me to you.' "75

15 God further said to Moses, "And if they ask, 'If God feels our suffering, why did He allow it to continue?' So shall you say to the Israelites: 'God, the God of mercy, the God of your forefathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you. The exile and all its suffering was in fact an act of My mercy. The fact that this was not apparent was simply because My attribute of mercy, although operative, is hidden in exile, and indeed, in this world in general. Therefore, although "God"—indicating My attribute of mercy—is My proper Name at all times, its pronunciation is to be concealed76 from the general populace until the final Redemption. Nonetheless, even now, it is possible to call forth My mercy from its concealment, but not directly (by pronouncing the mercy-Name as it is written). Instead, this is how I am to be recalled for all generations until the final Redemption: they should substitute77 the Name A-d-n-y

["my Lord"78] for My proper Name. They can elicit My mercy by pronouncing the mercy-Name as if it were the Name of lordship, acknowledging that I run the world and have My own, sometimes inscrutable reasons for running the world the way I choose.'79

Fifth Reading 16 "Go and assemble the elders, i.e., the leaders, of Israel and say to them, 'God, the God of your forefathers—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—appeared to me and said, "I have indeed remembered you and what is being done to you in Egypt.

17 I have declared that I will bring you up from the affliction of Egypt, to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizites, the Hivites, and Jebusites, to a land flowing with goats' milk and date- and fig-honey." As above,80 God did not mention the Girgashites here because their territory was not distinguished as "flowing with milk and honey."

18 "They will heed your voice, because it has been passed down to them from their forebearers that their redemption will be announced to them with the words 'I have indeed remembered you.' Jacob said, 'God will indeed remember you,'81 and Joseph said, 'God will indeed remember you.'82 You and the elders of Israel shall then go to the king of Egypt and say to him, 'God, the God of the Hebrews, appeared to us. So allow us now to make a three-day journey into the wilderness so that we may sacrifice to God, our God.'

19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not allow you to go until I exercise My strong hand and perform miracles.

20 So I will stretch forth My hand and strike Egypt with all My wondrous deeds that I will perform in its midst, and then he will send you out. It is not because of his own might that he will refuse to let you go, because as soon as I perform the miracles I intend to, he will perforce let you go.

[21] I will make this people favorable in the eyes of the Egyptians, so that when you leave, you will not go empty-handed.

22 Every woman shall request objects of silver and gold, as well as clothing, from her neighbor and from the woman in whose house she lodges. You shall place these on your sons and on your daughters, and you will thus empty out Egypt. In this way, I will fulfill My promise to Abraham: 'and afterwards they will go out with great wealth.'83"

4:1 Moses replied, saying, "But they will not believe me nor listen to my voice, for they will say, 'God did not appear to you.' "

2 Moses had a staff made out of sapphire84 in his hand. God said to him, "What is that in your hand? You deserve to be hit with that which is in your hand85 because you spoke disparagingly against the people." Moses answered, "A staff."

3 God said, "Throw it on the ground." Moses threw it on the ground and it turned into a snake, and Moses fled from it. God turned it into a snake in order to show Moses that he had slandered the Jewish people, just as the primordial snake had spoken ill of God, calling Him jealous.86

4 God said to Moses, "Reach out and grasp its tail." When he reached out and took hold of the snake, it turned into a staff in his hand.

5 God said: "This is so that they will believe that God—the God of their forefathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—appeared to you."

6 God gave Moses a further sign, and said to him, "Put your hand in your bosom," so he put his hand in his bosom. When he withdrew it, his hand became afflicted with tzara'at, a disease that affects people guilty of slander,87 white as snow.

7 God said, "Put your hand back in your bosom," so he put his hand back in his bosom. When he withdrew it from his bosom, it had already resumed the appearance of his skin—unlike the first time, when it became diseased only after he withdrew it from his bosom. God here showed Moses that His goodness is swifter than His punishment, and that the redemption from Egypt would proceed more quickly than the enslavement had.

8 God said: "If they do not believe you, and will not heed the first miraculous sign—i.e., how your staff became a snake—then they will believe the second sign—i.e., how you were punished for slandering them, for they have seen (in incidences involving Pharaoh88 and Avimelech89) how those who seek to harm them are punished with diseases.

9 And if they do not believe even these two signs, and still do not heed your voice, then you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water that you take from the Nile will turn into blood when it is poured on the dry ground."

10 God tried to convince Moses for a full week to agree to take the people out of Egypt, but Moses was reluctant to assume any position greater than his elder brother Aaron. Moses said to God: "I beg You, O God, I am not a man of words—not from yesterday, nor from the day before, nor from the first time You spoke to Your servant a week ago, for I stammer and am not swift of tongue."

11 God said to him, "Who gives a man a mouth, as I gave you when I enabled you to defend yourself when you were being tried for killing the Egyptian? Who makes him dumb, as I made Pharaoh so he could not sentence you? or deaf, as I made his ministers so they could not hear his orders against you? or sighted, or blind, as I made the executioners when you fled? Is it not I, God?

12 Now go, and I will be with you as you speak and instruct you what to say."

13 Hearing this, Moses had to articulate his hesitation explicitly. He said, "I beg you, O God! Please send Aaron, whom You usually send! He is older than I and is already a prophet. Besides, since I am not destined to bring them into the land of Israel, and I will therefore not be their ultimate redeemer, what is the purpose in sending me?"

14 God became angry with Moses, and said: "Is not Aaron, your brother, the one whom I had intended to make the Levite, making you the priest? Because of your obstinacy in assuming leadership, I will eventually make him the priest and you the Levite.90 In any case, I know that he can certainly speak! He prophesied to the people when you were in Midian.91 As for your concern about assuming a position making you greater than him, indeed, he will be setting out to meet you when you set out on your journey to Egypt, and when he sees you, he will not be upset that I chose you to be the redeemer and not him; on the contrary, his heart will be glad.

15 You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth. I will then be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will instruct you what to do.

16 He will speak to the people for you. He will thus serve as your mouth, which you insist is not capable of speaking clearly, and you will be his mentor. You will not have to speak directly to the people at all.

17 And in your hand you shall take this staff, with which you will perform the miraculous signs."

Moses Sets Out for Egypt

Sixth Reading 18 Having accepted God's mission, Moses left and returned to Midian, to his father-in-law Jether—i.e., Jethro.92 Moses was proud of his father-in-law and assumed God chose him for his mission in his father-in-law's merit.93 He respectfully asked Jethro's permission to go,94 and said to him, "I would like to leave and return to my brethren in Egypt, to see if they are still alive." Jethro said to Moses, "Go in peace."

19 Moses was still afraid that Dathan and Aviram would try to thwart his mission, so God said to Moses in Midian, "You can go back to Egypt without worry, for all the men who seek your life, i.e., Dathan and Aviram, have lost their fortunes and therefore all their social status and clout, so it is as if they have died."

20 Moses took his wife and sons and mounted them on the same donkey95 that Abraham saddled when he took Isaac to be bound96 and on whom the Messiah will ride when he is revealed.97 And he prepared to go back to the land of Egypt; and Moses took the staff of God in his hand. Having been used for God's miracles, Moses' staff now became "the staff of God."

21 God said to Moses, "When you go back to Egypt, be aware of all the wondrous powers that I will have placed in your hand when you stand before Pharaoh, and do not hesitate to use them before Pharaoh. However, I know that because he will refuse to listen to Me, I shall harden his heart98 and he will not allow the people to leave.

22 You shall then say to Pharaoh, 'Thus has God said: "Of all My children, the nations of the earth, Israel is My preeminent son, whom I have chosen to fulfill My mission. Furthermore, in the lineage of the patriarchs of My chosen nation, their progenitor Israel, although born after Esau, purchased the birthright from him and is therefore the firstborn son in this respect, as well."

23 I am therefore telling you in God's Name: "Send forth My son so that he may serve Me. Yet I know that you will refuse to let him leave, so know now that in order to secure Israel's release from your country, I will kill your firstborn son, and you have no defense against My threat." ' "

24 So Moses prepared to go. But Zipporah had just given birth to their second son, Eliezer. Moses knew that if he circumcised his son before they left, they would have to wait to set out until the baby healed. However, since God had not waited for this but had told him to go, he understood that he should not delay following God's command, and postponed the circumcision so he could set out immediately. When they were at their lodgings on the way, closer to their destination and the danger to the infant was not so great, Moses could have safely circumcised him. But instead of circumcising him immediately, he arranged their lodgings first. Although this was a slight oversight, it indicated that Moses had not absorbed the full gravity of obeying God's will and was therefore unfit to serve as the people's leader and example. God therefore confronted Moses and sought to put him to death, because he had abrogated his mission in life and thus forfeited his right to live.

25 He sent an angel in the form of a snake, and this angel swallowed him from his head to his thigh, spit him out, and then swallowed him again from his feet to his thigh. Witnessing this, Zipporah understood why God's angel was about to kill her husband. So Zipporah quickly took a sharp stone and cut off her son's foreskin herself and threw it down at Moses' feet. She said to the baby: "You almost caused my bridegroom's bloodshed!"

26 Seeing Zipporah's alacrity, God was assured that her positive influence would correct Moses' negligent attitude. The angel then released Moses, and Zipporah said, "My bridegroom's bloodshed was almost occasioned by circumcision."

27 God said to Aaron in Egypt, "Go into the desert to meet Moses." He went and met him at the Mountain of God, i.e., Mount Sinai, where God had revealed Himself to Moses, and kissed him.

28 Moses related to Aaron all the words of God, who had dispatched him, as well as all the miraculous signs about which He had instructed him. When Aaron saw Moses' wife and children, he said, "We are troubled that our people are in Egypt, and you want to add to their ranks?" Moses concurred, and sent his wife and children back to Midian.99

29 So Moses and Aaron went together to Egypt, and they assembled all the elders of the Israelites. Inasmuch as the tribe of Levi was not enslaved, Moses and Aaron could come and go as they pleased.100

30 Aaron related all the words that God had told Moses, and performed the miraculous signs before the people.

31 Throughout the long years of exile, the people had held fast to their belief that God would one day redeem them. But as the slavery had worsened and time wore on, certain elements of the people had become skeptical and even begun to chide and mock those who still believed. The combination of suffering and scoffing had made the majority almost despair of ever being redeemed. But when Moses and Aaron announced the imminent redemption, the people believed, and when they heard that God had taken note of the Israelites and that He had observed their misery, they bowed down and prostrated themselves in thanks.101

Moses Meets Pharaoh

Seventh Reading 5:1 Although the elders were meant to go with Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh,102 they slipped away one by one, so that in the end, only Moses and Aaron later went to Pharaoh and said, "This is what God, the God of Israel, has said: 'Send forth My people, so that they may celebrate a festival for Me in the wilderness.' "

2 Pharaoh replied, "Who is God that I should heed His voice and let Israel go? I do not recognize God, nor will I let Israel leave."

3 They said, "The God of the Hebrews has appeared to us. Let us therefore make a three-day journey in the wilderness and we shall sacrifice to God, our God, lest He strike us [i.e., you—they spoke euphemistically out of respect for Pharaoh's office—] with a plague or the sword."

4 The king of Egypt said to them, "Moses and Aaron, why are you distracting the people from their daily work? I don't believe that God revealed Himself to you and told you to take them on vacation. And anyway, they don't need a vacation: I am not overburdening them with an excessive workload, for they accepted this work upon themselves willingly and have gotten used to it! No, I think you've come here with these stories because you're lazy and trying to avoid your own personal obligations. And the same probably applies to your whole tribe: you all want to avoid running your home affairs, so you came up with this idea of taking the people into the desert to offer sacrifices. Well, I advise you to stop being lazy and get back to your own chores!"103

5 Pharaoh thought: "If the Levites are so lazy that they consider their daily chores an oppressive burden, the same is probably true of the people as a whole." Pharaoh continued, "The people of the land are now numerous, and you would have them cease from their work, which they consider not just normal work but hard labor! You want them to take a vacation for three whole days? This will cause us a great loss in productivity!"

6 Pharaoh thought further: "If the people are so lazy and consider their daily workload so burdensome, they are probably not working up to par. We have to do something to make them work harder." So,104 on that day, Pharaoh gave orders to the people's Egyptian taskmasters and Israelite foremen,105 as follows:

7 "You shall no longer provide the people with straw for making bricks as you did until now; let them go and gather their own straw.

8 However, you must impose upon them the same quota of bricks as they made until now. Do not reduce it. For they are evidently lazy; that is why they are crying out and saying, 'Let us go and sacrifice to our God!'

9 Make the work heavier for the men and let them keep at it; then they will stop talking vain words."

10 The people's Egyptian taskmasters and Israelite foremen went out and told the people as follows, "This is what Pharaoh has said: 'I will no longer give you straw.

11 Therefore, you must quickly go and get your own straw wherever you can find it, because nothing has been reduced from your usual daily workload—your quota remains unchanged.' " They did not, however, tell them why Pharaoh was no longer providing them with straw. Furthermore, they referred to the Israelites' tasks as their "(usual) workload" and not as their "(burdensome) labor" since they wanted to give the impression that the demands they were now making of them were not unusual or excessive.106

12 So the people spread out over the entire land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw.

13 The Egyptian taskmasters pressured them and said, "You must complete your daily quota of work, just as before, when straw was provided."

14 But the Israelite foremen had pity on the people and did not urge them to meet their quota, so, after a few days, the foremen from among the Israelites, whom Pharaoh's taskmasters had appointed over them, were flogged by the taskmasters. The foremen were told by the taskmasters, "Why did you not complete your former brick-making quota, neither yesterday nor today?"

15 The Israelites' foremen came and cried out to Pharaoh, saying, "Why are you doing this to us, your servants?

16 Your servants are not given any straw, yet the taskmasters tell us, 'Make the same number of bricks as before!' Your servants are being flogged unjustly, and the sin is therefore not ours but your people's!"

17 He retorted, "Lazy, that's what you are, lazy! That's why you are saying, 'Let us go and sacrifice to God.'

18 Now go and get to work! You will not be given any straw, but you must deliver your quota of bricks!" The Egyptians now began to enforce the Jew's quota of bricks so rigidly that if it was not fulfilled, they immured their children into the walls.107

19 The Israelites' foremen saw their fellow Israelites in the painful predicament that resulted from the order they relayed: "You shall not reduce your daily quota of bricks."

20 Dathan and Aviram encountered Moses and Aaron standing before them as they were leaving Pharaoh's presence.

21 They said to them, "May God reveal Himself to you and judge you, for you have made us loathsome in the eyes of Pharaoh and his servants, providing them with a sword with which to kill us! Leave us alone and let us serve the Egyptians!"108

Moses Complains; God Rebukes

Maftir 22 Moses returned to God and said, "O God, why have You mistreated this people? Things have gotten so bad that the Egyptians are immuring the Israelites' children in the buildings if they do not meet their daily quota of bricks! And why have You sent me?

23 For since I went to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has made things worse for this people, and still You have not delivered Your people!"

6:1 God said to Moses, "Are you questioning my justice? The children that are being immured are only those who would have become consummately wicked had they lived, and in this way I am purifying the people of their immoral elements and saving these children from future punishment. If you wish, you may test Me in this: I will allow you to save one of them, and you will see what will happen." Moses went and saved a child named Micah, who in fact later played a key role in the sin of the Golden Calf.109 God continued: "Now, because you questioned my justice, you will only see what I shall do to Pharaoh: that because of My strong hand he will send them forth, and indeed, he will be so anxious to send them forth that he will forcibly drive them out of his land even before they have prepared properly for their journey and are ready to go.110 But I will not allow you to see Israel's victory over the kings of Canaan. You should have learned from Abraham: even though I promised him that he would father a nation through Isaac, when I told him to slaughter Isaac he did not question Me, even though My command seemed to contravene My promise."111