Moses in the Eyes of Judaism

Moses was born during the time when the Israelites were living in Egypt as slaves. How did the Israelites become slaves in Egypt? It all started when Joseph, one of Jacob’s twelve sons, was sold as a slave by his own brothers because they envied Joseph for being the favorite of Jacob. Joseph was taken to Egypt by his masters. But Joseph, because of his talent for interpreting dreams, intelligence, and character, was well-liked by the pharaoh and became a powerful leader in Egypt. Joseph was later on reunited with his brothers when they, upon the advice of Jacob, travelled to Egypt to buy grains because of food shortage in Canaan. Upon the request of Joseph, all of his family to his brothers along with their families and his father Jacob—settled in Egypt. Their numbers grew and they lived a good life. But when Joseph died, things turned bad for the Israelites because they were forced to become slaves in the Egyptian empire. When the Israelites called on God for help, God chose Moses to lead them out of Egypt and return them to the promised land of Canaan.

Moses was himself an Israelite but he spent the first half of his life as an Egyptian prince. The growing population of the Israelites became a threat to the Egyptian empire, so one day the pharaoh ordered that all male Israelite newborns be killed. To save the life of Moses, his mother and elder sister put the baby Moses in a basket and placed the basket in the Nile River. It happened that the pharaoh’s daughter was about to bathe in the river. Upon seeing baby Moses, the Pharaoh’s daughter decided to adopt Moses and treat him as one of her own. So Moses grew up living a life of an Egyptian prince while his fellow Israelites were suffering. One day, Moses killed an Egyptian foreman while protecting an Israelite slave from the harsh treatment of the foreman. The pharaoh ordered Moses to be killed, but Moses was able to escape. He lived in Midian, a place outside Egypt. Moses got married and lived a quiet and simple life as a herdsman. One day, through a burning bush, God called Moses and asked him to return to Egypt to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

Despite a series of peaceful negotiations with Moses, and along with the plagues that God sent to Egypt to demonstrate His power, the pharaoh would not allow Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt until the tenth plague, in which the angel of death killed all firstborn sons of Egyptians but spared the firstborn sons of Israelites. This event, called the Passover, is an important event in the history of the Jews and is still being recalled as a Jewish holiday. On their way out of Egypt, the Israelites were chased by the pharaoh’s army. God helped them cross the Red Sea on dry land by making the waters subside, but the waters returned in time to drown the pharaoh’s pursuing army. The Israelites were guided by a pillar of cloud by the day and a pillar of fire by night as they crossed the Red Sea or the Sinai Peninsula. God provided them manna and quail for food as well as water on a daily basis during this episode.

The highlight of this experience for the Israelites was the receiving of God’s commandments, given to Moses by God on top of Mount Sinai. This essentially was a renewal of God’s covenant with them, being the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If they would obey, serve, and be faithful to God, he would make them a great nation in a land God promised to them, bless their lives, and protect them from harm. They, however, had to fulfill their part of the contract. They needed to fulfil their obligations, which now God had stated clearly for them.

The Israelites first wandered for 40 years before being able to enter Canaan. After Moses died, Joshua led the new generation to enter Canaan. After the entry into Canaan, three major periods of Hebrew history followed: (1) the age of the judges (the judges were appointed by God to lead the people in particular situations); (2) the age of the kings (the first of the kings was Saul, followed by David, and then by Solomon); and (3) the age of the prophets (the prophets included Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, among others, who were messengers or spokespersons of God).