Egypt, Moshe and Those who never felt they belonged there

Along the Nile River the river’s annual flooding ensured reliable, rich soil for growing crops. Having people cultivating the lands around this rich water made that in ancient North-eastern Africa the Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BCE (according to conventional Egyptian chronology) with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh and became one of the richest civilisations.

The areas in green show the habitable regions of Egypt. Note the locations of the Nile Delta, Upper and Lower Egypt, the Sinai Peninsula, and Kush—Nubia. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

By 3000 BCE, the unified kingdom of Egypt occupied the entire Nile Valley north of a series of rapids called the 1st Cataract (the other cataracts lay in a chain stretching south along the River Nile into present-day Sudan). At its greatest extent, in c. 1250 BCE, Ancient Egypt occupied the land in all directions from the Syrian coast in the north, to the Red Sea in the east, down the Nile Valley to Nubia in the south, and spreading west inland into the Lybian Desert.

Ancient Egypt saw a series of stable Kingdoms, separated by periods of relative instability known as Intermediate Periods: the Old Kingdom of the Early Bronze Age, the Middle Kingdom of the Middle Bronze Age and the New Kingdom of the Late Bronze Age.

The Egyptians worked on a larger scale than any other people for millennia and managed to become one of the oldest and long-lasting civilizations in world history, achieving incredible heights on the matter of writing, architecture, engineering, medicine and statecraft. Its great buildings on the riverbanks still strike awe into those who see them.

The valley was fertile and rich, creating vast surpluses of crops that made possible incredible building projects such as the Pyramids and the temples of Luxor. The surpluses were also used to fund a refined lifestyle for the elite; to develop overseas trade and diplomacy; and to pay for wars of conquest.

Lots of people do have a wrong impression about the workers who build the incredible structures.

The builders of the pyramids were not enslaved people but peasants, working on the pyramids during the farming off-season. These peasants worked alongside specialists like stone cutters, mathematicians, and priests. As a form of taxation, each household was required to provide a worker for these projects, although the wealthy could pay a substitute. This demonstrates both the power of the state to force people to provide labour and also the advantages enjoyed by elites, who could buy their way out of providing labour. but it gave also the impression certain people became bounded or ‘enslaved’ to the regime.

As such after  some reasonable good time by the Egyptians the Hebrews started to feel more and more not at ease in the community of Egyptians. They were not only confronted by the many gods and heathen rites of the Egyptians. They also felt that they were slaves who got not enough opportunity to take time for their own God.

Originally the term Hebrew had nothing to do with race or ethnic origin. It derived from Habiru, a variant spelling of Ḫapiru (Apiru), a designation of a class of people who made their living by hiring themselves out for various services. The biblical Hebrews had been in Egypt for generations, but apparently they became a threat, so one of the pharaohs enslaved them. Unfortunately, the personal name of the king is not given, and scholars have disagreed as to his identity and, hence, as to the date of the events of the narrative of Moses. One theory takes literally the statement in I Kings 6:1 that the Exodus from Egypt occurred 480 years before Solomon began building the Temple in Jerusalem. This occurred in the fourth year of his reign, about 960 bce; therefore, the Exodus would date about 1440 bce. {Encyclopaedia Britannica on the Date of Moses}

It could well be that the governing 19th dynasty (1292–1190 bce) pharaoh would have been Seti I, son of Ramses I, reigning from 1290 to 1279 bce. Seti I also known as Sethos I, battled in northern Palestine and Syria and fought at least one battle with the Hittite king Muwatallis; he subsequently concluded a peace treaty that may have established the frontier at Kadesh on the Orontes River between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountains.

Under the reign of Seti I the Egyptian frontier got fortified and many mines and quarries opened, and the work begun by his father on the construction of the great hypostyle hall at Karnak, which is one of the most impressive monuments of Egyptian architecture, was continued. To do all that work he had to use many people and therefore he did not want to loose the Hebrews.

Abydos: Temple of Seti I
Abydos: Temple of Seti I – The Temple of Seti I, Abydos, Egypt. – Chapultepec

That People of God did not like it to work at his memorial temple at Abydos, which he dedicated to Osiris and six other deities.

Although his son Ramses II is more famous, Seti is thought by many scholars to have been the greatest king of the 19th dynasty. He himself thought him to be stronger than the God of the Hebrews, also by him having many gods behind him. His son also considered his gods better and stronger and challenged Moshe about the power of Moshe his God, convinced that God would never win if from his loyal workers and gods.

Seti I had already taken care to limit the growth of the Hebrews, by ordering the death of all newborn Hebrew males. Moshe (derived from Egyptian mose “is born”) his parents, Amram and Jochebed (whose other children were Aaron and Miriam), had hid him for three months and then set him afloat on the Nile in a reed basket daubed with pitch. The child, found by the pharaoh’s daughter while bathing, was reared in the Egyptian court without the pharaoh ever thinking that child would have been a Hebrew.

We do not know so much of those years of upbringing, but it is evident from his accomplishments later that he had instruction in religious, civil, and military matters. He also must have received a very good education at the court and would have come to know about Canaan (Palestine), Syria and other nations of the Fertile Crescent. Moshe undoubtedly had general knowledge of life in the ancient Near East.

Looking around him and having his mother also as a nurse he must have felt some connection with those Hebrew workers. Around his 25th year he took an inspection tour among his people, where he was confronted with the oppressive measures under which they laboured. When he found an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew, probably to death, he could control his sense of justice no longer and killed the tough Egyptian overlord.

Having removed one threat to his people he was determined to assist them again. This time, however, he found two Hebrews fighting. After parting them, he questioned the offender in an attempt to mediate the disagreement. Two questions jolted him:

“Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”

The confidence of the self-appointed deliverer turned into fear. One of his own knew his “secret” and soon Pharaoh would, too. Realizing that he would have to flee, he went through the “Wall of the Ruler,” a series of forts at the eastern border, approximately where the Suez Canal is now located and from there he made his way southeast through very desolate country, direction Midian (mainly in northwest Arabia, east of the Gulf of Aqaba).

One day on a mountain Moshe had a very strange encounter, looking up at a burning bush, which did not get consumed. He experienced it as an encounter with The Bore, the Deity or God, who claimed to be the God of Avraham, Jitshak (Isaac), and Ja’akov.
Moshe had fled from Seti I, and he did not relish confrontation with Ramses II, but now he came to hear what his God wanted from him, going back and requesting the pharaoh the liberty of God’s People. Moshe wanted to know the Name of that God Who wanted him to fulfil that task. The Deity commissioning him said to him that He was The God of the fathers Who had been known mostly as El ʿElyon (God Most High) or El Shaddai (God of the Mountain or Almighty God), Who was, is and always shall be The Being, the Most High above all gods and Who is Him Who Creates (Brings Into Being) the Elohim Hashem Jehovah. This revelation on Mount Gerizim enabled Moses to understand the God of the Hebrews as the sovereign Lord over nature and the nations of the world.

Not relishing confrontation with Ramses II, Moshe was not so keen to return to Egypt, but  God reassured him that in the future he and the Hebrews would worship Him at this mountain. To help him accomplish the confrontation with the pharaoh Jehovah allowed his golden-tongued brother Aaron to be the spokesman.

Ramses, like all the pharaohs, claimed to be divine; and his surroundings had to recognise his deity and honour him by making the most magnificent constructions in his name.

The Hebrew people for years having to work for the pharaohs and having to work at places which would be an abomination in the eyes of their God wanted to get out. In a way they never got used to Egypt. They never felt they belonged there.

They never said,

“They are the masters and we are the slaves and that’s the way it is.”

So when Moshe came and told them that they were going to leave, they believed him. they put their hope in him and trusted what he was doing. Following his orders they also slaughtered the lambs in the hope this time the plagues which had come over Egypt would not come over them.

Springtime was in many households in Europe the time to clean the house after having spend so much time in it in Winter. All over Israel and around the world every Jewish man, woman and child and many Jeshuaists will soon be busy cleaning their closets, shelves, drawers and vehicles in order to be ready for their most important celebration and remembering their ancestors who also did such a cleaning and ate unleavened bread after having removed the leaven from their houses.

In obedience to the eternal commandment that the Elohim gave to the children of Israel to remove leaven (yeast) from their houses, every nook and cranny must be emptied, sorted, and wiped in order to make sure that each dwelling place is free of chametz (leavened products) before Passover begins.

Shivat yamim shall ye eat matzot; but the first day ye shall put away se’or (yeast, leaven) out of your batim (houses); for whosoever eateth chametz from the first day until the seventh day, that nefesh shall be cut off from Yisroel.
(Exodus 12:15 OJB)

In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at erev, ye shall eat matzot, until the one and twentieth day of the month at erev. Shivat yamim shall there be no se’or (yeast, leaven) found in your batim (houses); whosoever eateth that which is leavened, even that nefesh shall be cut off from Adat Yisroel, whether he be a ger, or native born in ha’aretz. Ye shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwellingplaces shall ye eat matzot. Then Moshe called for all the Ziknei Yisroel, and said unto them, Draw out as separate and take for yourselves a lamb according to your mishpokhot, and slaughter (shachat) the Pesach [offering, i.e., Pesach lamb (see Yeshayah 53:7)].
(Exodus 12:18-21 OJB)

The elders of Israel listened to Moshe and drew out and toke of the flock for them and their families a new lamb, and killed this passover lamb.

Throughout the coming festival the pierced, striped bread of affliction, the Matzah (unleavened bread) shall be eaten every day. During the Passover Seder the Haggadah, the text that sets the order of the recounting of the deliverance of the Jewish People from Egypt, shall be read and we ‘werde leise zuhören’ or listen very quietly to what happened to Moshe and Bnei Yisroel.

At the same time we shall feel that, like those Hebrews did not feel at home in Egypt, we too are not the ones wanting to belong to this world. We also are not willing to be the slaves of this world but want to be connected with the Most High, Who gives us our life and makes us the Living ones with hope to His Kingdom.

Like the Hebrews did not belong in Egypt we do not belong in this filthy world were materialism and own pride and selfishness is master and where like in Ancient Egypt there are so many gods, whilst we only want to be children of that Only One True God Whom deserves our worship.



At the Shabbat HaChodesh: readings about blood, liberation and purification

Commentary on Parashat Tazria


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