Exodus means meaning "going out". It is the story of our our ancestors went out from slavery in Egypt to freedom.
The Bible says, "We were slaves in the land of Egypt." And we have an obligation to tell the story of the Exodus because "in every generation, one ought to regard oneself as though he or she had been personally liberated from slavery."
It is written "in every generation" because in all generations people struggle for dignity and independence, for meaning and continuity. Every people has its Moses.
Long ago, Abraham left his country and his father's house to go to the land of Canaan, where he would become the founder of "a great nation." He married Sarah, the princess of Ur, who brought him riches, flocks, and hereditary power.
When Sarah was 90 years old, she gave birth to Isaac. Isaac and Rebecca were the parents of twins, Jacob and Esau. Esau sold his share of his birthright to his brother, Jacob, in exchange for red pottage. Jacob, then, was recognized as Isaac's firstborn. Jacob had four wives, two of them sister, Rachel and Leah. Among the twelve sons of Jacob was Joseph, who was sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt.
In Egypt, Joseph came to the attention of the Pharaoh because he had the ability to interpret the Pharoah's dreams. He became an advisor to Pharaoh. He told Pharaoh to build storehouses and fill them with grain. When years of famine struck, there was food to eat in Egypt. The Pharaoh was so grateful that when Joseph's brothers came in search of food, he invited them to settle. They lived there for many years and became known as the Israelites.
After a while, a new king ruled over Egypt "who knew not Joseph." He enslaved the Israelites because they were becoming "too many and too might for us." Taskmasters were set over them and they were afflicted with burdens and they were made to build cities and pyramids for the Egyptians.
Generations passed and a new Pharaoh feared a prophecy that a male child would be born to the Hebrew slaves who would lead a rebellion among the slaves and threaten the Pharoah's throne. This Pharaoh ordered that all newborn boys be thrown into the Nile River.
A Levite couple, Amram and Yocheved, would not kill their newborn son. Midrash tells us he was radiant with light. Instead, they hid him in their hut for three months. When his cries became too loud, Yocheved saves her baby by setting him adrift on an ark of bulrushes on the river Nile. Their daughter, Miriam, kept watch to see what would happen. The Pharoah's daughter, coming to bathe in the river, finds the child. She felt pity for the helpless child and decided to keep him as her own. She named him Moshe (Moses), which means "drawn from the water." Bravely, Miriam asked the Pharoah's daughter if she needed a nurse to help him with the baby. And so, it happened that Yocheved was able to care for her own son and teach him about his heritage.
Moses would have continued to live at the Pharoah's palace forever, but he could not ignore the suffering of his people. Once when he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite slave, he could not control his anger, and he killed the Egyptian. Knowing his life would be in danger once the news of his deed spread, Moses fled to the land of Midian, where he became a shepherd. There he marries Zipporah, the daughter of Midianite priest Jethro.
One day, while tending sheep on Mount Horeb, Moses heard God's voice calling him. God appeared to him as a burning bush. Moses asked God for his name and God replied "I AM that I AM."
God said, "I am the God of your ancestors. I have seen the suffering of the Israelites and I have heard their cries. I am ready to take them out of Egypt and bring them to a new land, a land flowing with milk and honey." God told Moses to return to Egypt to bring the message of freedom to the Israelites, to lead the them into Canaan, the land promised to Abraham.
When Moses asked Pharaoh to free the Israelites, he refused, so God brought ten plagues on the Egyptians, including a river of blood, an invasion of frogs, and the death of first-born children. Each plague frightened the Pharaoh, and each time, he promised to free the slaves. But when each plague ended, Pharaoh did not keep his word. It was only after the last plague, the death of the first-born of the Egyptians, that Pharaoh agreed to let the Israelites go. To make sure that no Israelite first-born was destroyed by mistake, the Israelites marked their doorways with the blood of the Paschal lamb so that the Angel of Death would " pass over their houses."
The Israelites feared that Pharaoh would not keep his promise to release them, so they prepared to leave Egypt in a great hurry. They did not have time to allow the dough to rise to make bread to take with them, so they baked a simple, unleavened bread.
The Israelites did not leave Egypt alone; a “mixed multitude” went with them. From this we learn that liberation is not for us alone, but for all the nations of the earth. Even Pharaoh’s daughter came with them.
Pharaoh reneged on his promise and sent his armies to to capture and kill the Israelites as they are leaving. They followed the Israelites to the Sea of Reeds, and the waters parted to let the Israelites cross in safety and freedom. We mourn, even now, that Pharoah's army drowned. Our liberation is bittersweet because people died in our pursuit. To this day, we relive our liberation, that we many not become complacent, that we may always rejoice in our freedom.
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