The Exodus

Modified from a narrative written by Lisa Stolzer.

Exodus means meaning "going out". It is the story of our ancestors who 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. 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, and when she was 90 years old, she gave birth to Isaac. Isaac and Rebecca were the parents of twins, Jacob and Esau. 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 Pharaoh'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 Pharaoh'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, and Yocheved tried to save her baby by setting him adrift on an ark of bulrushes on the river Nile. The Pharoah's daughter, coming to bathe in the river, found 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." Moses grew to manhood at the Pharoah's palace, but he could not ignore the suffering of his people. God came to Moses and said to him: "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 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 Pharaoh'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.

haggadah Section: -- Exodus Story