Long ago, our ancestors worshipped idols, but the Ancient of Days drew us close, and said, "Your ancestors used to dwell beyond the River.* And I took your mother Sarah and your father Avraham across the River, and led them throughout all the land of Canaan. They had a son Yitzkhak (Isaac) who with his beloved Rivkah (Rebekah) gave birth to Ya'acov (Jacob) whose name later became Yisrael (Israel), and whose name became the name of our people.
When Yisrael and his kin went down into Egypt, they numbered only 70 persons. But the Eternal made them as countless as the stars in the sky, and there we became a nation.** Jacob's son, Joseph, rose to high position in Pharaoh's court, and our people were well-respected and well-regarded, secure in the power structure of the time.
Generation passed and our people remained in Egypt. In time, a new Pharaoh ascended to the to the throne. He found our difference threatening, and order our people enslaved. In fear of rebellion, Pharaoh decreed that all Hebrew baby boys be killed. Two midwives, Shifrah and Pu'ah, defied his orders. These two women set up a network to hide the infants. The pharaoh questioned their contempt they lied that "the Hebrew women...are lively and they deliver before the midwife can get to them." (Exod 1:19).
Through their courage, a boy survived. Fearing for his safety, his family placed him in a basket and he floated down the Nile. He was found, and adopted, by Pharaoh's daughter, who named him Moses because she drew him for from the water. Thanks to Moses' sister Miriam ,Pharaoh's daughter hired their mother, Yocheved, as his wet-nurse. Thus he survived into adulthood, and he was raised as Prince of Egypt.
Although a child of privilege, as he grew he became aware of the slaves were worried in the brickyards of his father. When he saw an overseer misread a slave, Moses struck the overseer and killed him. Fearing retribution, he set out across the Sinai alone. God spoke to him from a burning bush, which though it flamed was not consumed. The Voice called him to lead the Hebrew people to freedom. Moses argued with God, pleading inadequacy, but God disagreed. Sometimes our responsibilities choose us.
Moses returned to Egypt and went to Pharaoh to argue the injustice of slavery. He gave Pharaoh a mandate which resounds through history: Let my people go. Pharaoh refused, and Moses warned I'm that the Egyptian people would be stricken. These threats were not idle; ten terrible plagues were unleashed upon the Egyptians. Only when his nation lay in ruins did Pharaoh agree to our liberation.
Fearful that Pharaoh would change his mind, our people fled, not waiting for their bread dough to rise. Our people 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 us.
Pharaoh's army followed into the Sea of Reeds. We plunged into the waters. Only when we had gone as far as we could did the waters part for us. We mourn, even now, that Pharaoh's army drowned; our liberation, that we may not become complacent, that we may always rejoice in our freedom.
And all gave thanks for having crossed the Yam Soof in safety. And Miriam, the Prophet, who foretold the birth of Moshe, "took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dances," (Exod 15:20). What better way to begin a new cycle.
*Some say the Jordan; others, the Euphrates **We define ourselves as a nation, yet others who do not take the time to understand us often refer to us as a religion.
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