Abraham was the first Jew. He became a believer in the One God, who promised him and his wife Sarah that their descendants would become a great people, as numerous as the stars in the sky. God led Abraham and Sarah to the land of Israel (then called Canaan) but warned that their descendants would be strangers in a strange land, enslaved for 400 years.
Indeed, this prophecy came true. Joseph, the great-grandson of Abraham, and the son of Jacob and Rachel, came to live in Egypt after being sold by his jealous brothers to a caravan of merchants. Joseph had a gift: he was able to interpret dreams. Because of this, he rose in power as an advisor to Pharaoh. Joseph told Pharaoh to build storehouses and fill them with grain. When years of famine struck, there was still food to eat in Egypt. Pharaoh was so grateful that when Joseph's brothers came in search of food, he invited them to settle in the area. Jacob's descendants, known as the Israelites, multiplied greatly and lived peacefully in Egypt for many years.
Years later, though, a new Pharaoh came to rule, who did not remember Joseph and all he had done for the Egyptian people. This Pharaoh feared that the Israelites were becoming too numerous and too powerful and might side with the enemy if there should be war. This Pharaoh made the Israelites slaves. He forced them to do hard labor, building cities and palaces for Pharaoh. The people knew neither peace nor rest, only misery and pain. The cruelest decree of all was Pharaoh's order that every baby boy born to an Israelite must be drowned in the River Nile.
All sing (meaning: We were slaves in Egypt)
Avadim Hayinu Hayinu
Atah b'nai chorin b'nai chorin
Atah Atah b'nai chorin b'nai chorin
One couple, Amram and Yocheved, hid their baby in a basket on the riverbank, so Pharaoh wouldn't find him. When Pharaoh's daughter, the princess, came down to the river, she found the baby and decided to take him home to the palace. She named the baby Moses. In Hebrew his name means, "Brought out of the water."
Miriam, the baby's sister, saw the princess come to rescue her baby brother and asked if she needed a helper to take care of the baby. The princess said yes, and Miriam went back to her mother and told her she could go to the palace and care for the baby. In this way, Yocheved was able to care for her son Moses, and teach him about his people.
Moses could have lived at the Pharaoh's palace forever, but he could not ignore the suffering of his people. One day, he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite slave, and he was unable to control his anger. He killed the Egyptian. Knowing his life would be in danger once the news of this deed spread, Moses fled to the land of Midian where he became a shepherd.
One day, while tending sheep on Mount Horeb, Moses saw a bush that seemed to be on fire but was not burning up. From the bush, he heard God's voice calling to him. The voice told Moses to go back to Egypt to free the Jewish slaves and lead them away from Pharaoh. So, with his older brother Aaron, Moses returned to Egypt.
When Israel was in Egypt land
Let my people go!
Oppressed so hard they could not stand
Let my people go!
Go down, Moses
Way down in Egypt land
Tell old Pharaoh
Let my people go!
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