The story of Passover begins with Joseph, son of our patriarch, Jacob.   Joseph was held in high esteem by the Pharoah after having advised that Egypt should store grain, preventing a widespread famine.

After Joseph and his brothers died, the Pharaoh forgot all that Joseph had done for Egypt, and fearing the increasing numbers of the Israelites, he enslaved the Israelites to prevent them from becoming too powerful.

Pharaoh put heavy taxes on them and recruited the men into forced labor battalions under the supervision of harsh taskmasters.

But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more the children multiplied. Finally, when Pharaoh saw that forcing the Hebrews to do hard labor did not succeed in suppressing their growing numbers, he decreed that all their newly born male children be thrown into the Nile River.

Rather than slaughter her newborn son, an Israelite named Yocheved placed him in a basket which she hid amongst the reeds at the edge of the Nile River.

When Pharaoh's daughter came to bathe in the Nile, she discovered the baby and decided to raise him as her own in the palace.  She named him Moshe (Moses), meaning "drawn from water".  Yocheved bravely asked if the princess needed a nurse for her baby.  The princess did, and thus Yocheved was able to care for her own son and teach him about his Jewish heritage.

One day, Moshe saw an Egyptian taskmaster savagely beating an enslaved Israelite.  Moshe could not control his rage and killed the Eygptian.  Realizing his life would be in danger when news of his deed spread, Moshe fled to the land of Midian and became a sheep herder.

When the children of Israel could no longer endure their terrible suffering at the hands of their cruel overlords, their cries for help coming from the very bottom of their hearts pierced the heavens.

G-d remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and decided to deliver their descendants from bondage.

One day while Moshe was tending his flock of sheep, he witnessed a bush that appeared to be on fire, but did not burn up.  From it he heard the Voice of G-d, who instructed him to free His people from the Egyptian Pharaoh.

Moshe returned to the Egyptian palace to deliver G-d's message: "The G-d of Israel said, 'Let My people go, that they may serve me.'" Pharaoh refused, saying that he had never heard of the G-d of the Israelites.

Moshe warned him that G-d would punish both him and his people.

First, the waters of the land of Egypt were to be turned into blood.

Then, frogs covered the entire land.

Third, lice crawled forth from the dust to cover all of Egypt.

The fourth plague consisted of hordes of wild animals roving all over the country destroying everything in their path.

As he had before, Pharaoh promised faithfully to let the Jews go on the condition that they would not go too far. Moshe prayed to G-d and the wild animals disappeared. But as soon as they had gone, Pharaoh withdrew his promise and refused Moshe's demand.

Then G-d sent a fatal pestilence that killed most of the domestic animals of the Egyptians.

In the sixth plague, boils burst forth upon man and beast throughout the land of Egypt.

The seventh plague brought violent hail.

The eighth plague ushered in swarms of locusts, covering the sun and devouring everything green that had escaped the hail and previous plagues.

The ninth plague enveloped Egypt in a thick and impenetrable veil of darkness, which extinguished all lights kindled.

Finally, all firstborn in the land of Egypt began dying, from the firstborn of King Pharaoh unto the firstborn of the cattle, exactly as Moshe had warned.

At last the pride of the stubborn king was broken and he realized that there indeed was a G-d.  Pharaoh called for Moshe and granted the Israelites freedom.

Not trusting the Pharoah, as he had gone back on his word several times before, the Israelites fled in haste with unrisen dough to bake on their backs.

After three days, Pharaoh regretted that he had permitted the Israelites to leave. He mobilized his army in hot pursuit of his former slaves. He reached them near the banks of the Red Sea and pressed them close to the water, in an effort to cut off their escape.

Moshe led the Israelites onwards until they came to the very borders of the Red Sea.  Then G-d spoke to Moshe: "Lift up your rod, stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it; and the children shall go into the midst of the sea on dry ground." Moshe did as G-d ordered and a strong east wind rose and the waters of the Red Sea were divided and gathered into a wall on either side, leaving a dry passage in the midst. The Israelites thus reached the opposite side in safety.

The Egyptians continued their pursuit, but Moshe stretched forth his staff again, and the waters resumed their usual course, closing over the whole army of Pharaoh.

Thus, G-d saved the children of Israel from the Egyptians and Israel saw His great power; they recognized G-d and believed in Him and in His servant Moshe -- the first redeemer of Israel.

haggadah Section: Maggid - Beginning