In the Wilderness
The children of Israel, with their
flocks and herds, started toward the
eastern border at the southern part of
the Isthmus of Suez. The long procession
moved slowly, and found it necessary to
encamp three times before passing the
Egyptian frontier at the Bitter Lakes.
Meanwhile Pharaoh had repented and was
in pursuit of them with a large army
(Ex. xiv. 5-9). Shut in between this
army and the Red Sea, or the Bitter
Lakes, which were then connected with
it, the Israelites despaired, but Yhwh
divided the waters of the sea so that
they passed safely across; when the
Egyptians attempted to follow, He
permitted the waters to return upon them
and drown them (Ex. xiv. 10-31). Moses
led the Hebrews to Sinai, or Horeb,
where Jethro celebrated their coming by
a great sacrifice in the presence of
Moses, Aaron, and the elders of Israel
(Ex. xviii.). At Horeb, or Sinai, Yhwh
welcomed Moses upon the sacred mountain
and talked with him face to face (Ex.
xix.). He gave him the Ten Commandments
and the Law and entered into a covenant
with Israel through him. This covenant
bound Yhwh to be Israel's God, if Israel
would keep His commandments (Ex. xix. et
(see image) Moses on
Mount Sinai. (From the Sarajevo Haggadah
of the fourteenth century.) Moses and
the Israelites sojourned at Sinai about
a year (comp. Num. x. 11), and Moses had
frequent communications from Yhwh. As a
result of these the Tabernacle,
according to the last chapters of
Exodus, was constructed, the priestly
law ordained, the plan of encampment
arranged both for the Levites and the
non-priestly tribes (comp. Num. i.
50-ii. 34), and the Tabernacle
consecrated. While at Sinai Joshua had
become general of the armies of Israel
and the special minister, or assistant,
of Moses (Ex. xvii. 9). From Sinai Moses
led the people to Kadesh, whence the
spies were sent to Canaan. Upon the
return of the spies the people were so
discouraged by their report that they
refused to go forward, and were
condemned to remain in the wilderness
until that generation had passed away
After the lapse of thirty-eight years
Moses led the people eastward. Having
gained friendly permission to do so,
they passed through the territory of
Esau (where Aaron died, on Mount Hor;
Num. xx. 22-29), and then, by a similar
arrangement, through the land of Moab.
But Sihon, king of the Amorites, whose
capital was at Heshbon, refused
permission, and was conquered by Moses,
who allotted his territory to the tribes
of Reuben and Gad. Og, King of Bashan,
was similarly overthrown (comp. Num.
xxi.), and his territory assigned to the
half-tribe of Manasseh.
Death of Moses.
After all this was accomplished Moses
was warned that he would not be
permitted to lead Israel across the
Jordan, but would die on the eastern
side (Num. xx. 12). He therefore
assembled the tribes and delivered to
them a parting address, which forms the
Book of Deuteronomy. In this address it
is commonly supposed that he
recapitulated the Law, reminding them of
its most important features. When this
was finished, and he had pronounced a
blessing upon the people, he went up
Mount Nebo to the top of Pisgah, looked
over the country spread out before him,
and died, at the age of one hundred and
twenty. Yhwh Himself buried him in an
unknown grave (Deut. xxxiv.). Moses was
thus the human instrument in the
creation of the Israelitish nation; he
communicated to it all its laws. More
meek than any other man (Num. xii. 3),
he enjoyed unique privileges, for "there
hath not arisen a prophet since in
Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord
knew face to face" (Deut. xxxiv. 10).J.
G. A. B.
—In Rabbinical Literature:
Of all Biblical personages Moses has
been chosen most frequently as the
subject of later legends; and his life
has been recounted in full detail in the
poetic haggadah. As liberator, lawgiver,
and leader of a people which was
transformed by him from an unorganized
horde into a nation, he occupies a more
important place in popular legend than
the Patriarchs and all the other
national heroes. His many-sided activity
also offered more abundant scope for
imaginative embellishment. A cycle of
legends has been woven around nearly
every trait of his character and every
event of his life; and groups of the
most different and often contradictory
stories have been connected with his
career. It would be interesting to
investigate the origin of the different
cycles, and the relation of the several
cycles to one another and to the
original source, if there was one. The
present article attempts to give,
without claiming completeness, a picture
of the character of Moses according to
Jewish legend and a narrative of the
most important incidents of his life.
(see image) Traditional Tomb of Moses:
Scene During a Pilgrimage. (From a
photograph by the American Colony,
(The following special abbreviations of
book-titles are used: "D. Y." = "Dibre
ha-Yamim le-Mosheh Rabbenu," in Jellinek,
"B. H." ii.; "S. Y." = "Sefer ha-Yashar";
"M. W." = "Midrash Wayosha'," in
Moses' influence and activity reach back
to the days of the Creation. Heaven and
earth were created only for his sake
(Lev. R. xxxvi. 4). The account of the
creation of the water on the second day
(Gen. i. 6-8), therefore, does not close
with the usual formula, "And God saw
that it was good," because God foresaw
that Moses would suffer through water
(Gen. R. iv. 8). Although Noah was not
worthy to be saved from the Flood, yet
he was saved because Moses was destined
to descend from him (ib. xxvi. 15). The
angels which Jacob in his nocturnal
vision saw ascending to and descending
from heaven (Gen. vii. 12) were really
Moses and Aaron (Gen. R. lxviii. 16).
The birth of Moses as the liberator of
the people of Israel was foretold to
Pharaoh by his soothsayers, in
consequence of which he issued the cruel
command to cast all the male children
into the river (Ex. i. 22). Later on
Miriam also foretold to her father, Amram, that a son would be born to him
who would liberate Israel from the yoke
of Egypt (Sotah 11b, 12a; Meg. 14a; Ex.
R. i. 24; "S. Y.," Shemot, pp. 111a,
112b; comp. Josephus, "Ant." ii. 9, §
3). Moses was born on Adar 7 (Meg. 13b)
in the year 2377 after the creation of
the world (Book of Jubilees, xlvii. 1).
He was born circumcised (Sotah 12a), and
was able to walk immediately after his
birth (Yalk., Wayelek, 940); but
according to another story he was
circumcised on the eighth day after
birth (Pirke R. El. xlviii.). A peculiar
and glorious light filled the entire
house at his birth (ib.; "S. Y." p.
112b), indicating that he was worthy of
the gift of prophecy (Sotah l.c.). He
spoke with his father and mother on the
day of his birth, and prophesied at the
age of three (Midr. Petirat Mosheh, in
Jellinek, "B. H." i. 128). His mother
kept his birth secret for three months,
when Pharaoh was informed that she had
borne a son. The mother put the child
into a casket, which she hid among the
reeds of the sea before the king's
officers came to her (Jubilees, l.c. 47;
"D. Y." in Jellinek, "B. H." ii. 3; "S.
Y." p. 112b). For seven days his mother
went to him at night to nurse him, his
Miriam protecting him from the
birds by day (Jubilees, l.c. 4).
Then God sent a fierce heat upon Egypt
("D. Y." l.c.), and Pharaoh's daughter
Bithiah (comp. I. Chron. iv. 18; Tarmut
[Thermutis], according to Josephus, l.c.
and Jubilees, l.c.), who was afflicted
with leprosy, went to bathe in the
river. Hearing a child cry, she beheld a
casket in the reeds. She caused it to be
brought to her, and on touching it was
cured of her leprosy (Ex. R. i. 27). For
this reason she was kindly disposed
toward the child. When she opened the
casket she was astonished at his beauty
(Philo, "Vita Mosis," ii.), and saw the
Shekinah with him (Ex. R. i. 28).
Noticing that the child was circumcised,
she knew that the parents must have been
Hebrews (Sotah 12b). Gabriel struck
Moses, so as to make him cry and arouse
the pity of the princess (Ex. R. i. 28).
She wished to save the child; but as her
maids told her she must not transgress
her father's commands, she set him down
again (Midr. Abkir, in Yalk., Ex. 166).
Then Gabriel threw all her maids down (Sotah
12b; Ex. R. i. 27); and God filled
Bithiah with compassion (Yalk., l.c.),
and caused the child to find favor in
her eyes ("M. W." in Jellinek, l.c. i.
41). Thereupon she took the child up,
saved him, and loved him much (Ex. R.
l.c.). This was on the sixth day of the
month of Siwan (Sotah 12b); according to
another version, on Nisan 21 (ib.). When
the soothsayers told Pharaoh that the
redeemer of Israel had been born and
thrown into the water, the cruel edict
ordering that the children be thrown
into the river was repealed (Ex. R. i.
29; Sotah l.c.). Thus the casting away
of Moses saved Israel from further
persecution. According to another
version (Gen. R. xcvii. 5),600,000
children had already been thrown into
the river, but all were saved because of
His Bringing up
Bithiah, Pharaoh's daughter, took up the
child to nurse him; but he refused the
breast ("M. W." l.c.). Then she gave him
to other Egyptian women to nurse, but he
refused to take nourishment from any of
them (Josephus, l.c. ii. 9, § 5; "S. Y."
p. 112b; Sotah 12b; "D. Y." p. 3). The
mouth which was destined to speak with
God might not take unclean milk (Sotah
l.c.; "D. Y." l.c.); Bithiah therefore
gave him to his mother to nurse. Another
legend says that he did not take any
milk from the breast (Yalk., Wayelek,
940). Bithiah then adopted him as her
son ("S. Y." p. 113b). Aside from the
name "Moses," which Bithiah gave to him
(Ex. ii. 10), he had seven (Lev. R. i.
3), or according to other stories ten,
other names given to him by his mother,
his father, his brother Aaron, his
Miriam, his nurse, his
grandfather Kehat, and Israel ("D. Y."
p. 3; "S. Y." p. 112b; Meg. 13a). These
names were: Jared, Abi Gedor, H.eber,
Abi Soko, Jekuthiel, Abi Zanoah, and
Shemaiah ("Shama 'Yah" = "God has
heard"), the last one being given to him
by Israel. He was also called "Heman"
([i.e., ; Num. xii. 7] B. B. 15a).
Removes Pharaoh's Crown.
Moses was a very large child at the age
of three (Ex. R. i. 32; comp. Josephus;
l.c.; Philo, l.c.); and it was at this
time that, sitting at the king's table
in the presence of several princes and
counselors, he took the crown from
Pharaoh's head and placed it on his own
("D. Y." l.c.; for another version see
"M. W." l.c.). The princes were
horrified at the boy's act; and the
soothsayer said that this was the same
boy who, in accordance with their former
predictions, would destroy the kingdom
of Pharaoh and liberate Israel
(Josephus, l.c.; "M. W." l.c.). Balaam
and Jethro were at that time also among
the king's counselors (Sotah 11a; Sanh.
106). Balaam advised the king to kill
the boy at once; but Jethro (according
to "D. Y." l.c., it was Gabriel in the
guise of one of the king's counselors)
said that the boy should first be
examined, to see whether he had sense
enough to have done such an act
intentionally. All agreed with this
advice. A shining piece of gold, or a
precious stone, together with a live
coal, was placed on a plate before the
boy, to see which of the two he would
choose. The angel Gabriel then guided
his hand to the coal, which he took up
and put into his mouth. This burned his
tongue, causing him to stutter (comp.
Ex. iv. 10); but it saved his life ("M.
W." l.c.; "D. Y." l.c.; "S. Y." l.c.;
Ex. R. i. 31).
Moses remained in Pharaoh's house
fifteen years longer ("D. Y." l.c.; "M.
W." l.c.). According to the Book of
Jubilees (l.c.), he learned the writing
of the Assyrians (the "Ketab Ashurit";
the square script ?) from his father,
Amram. During his sojourn in the king's
palace he often went to his brethren,
the slaves of Pharaoh, sharing their sad
lot. He helped any one who bore a too
heavy burden or was too weak for his
work. He reminded Pharaoh that a slave
was entitled to some rest, and begged
him to grant the Israelites one free day
in the week. Pharaoh acceded to this
request, and Moses accordingly
instituted the seventh day, the Sabbath,
as a day of rest for the Israelites (Ex.
R. i. 32; "S. Y." p. 115a).
Flees from Egypt
Moses did not commit murder in killing
the Egyptian (Ex. ii. 12); for the
latter merited death because he had
forced an Israelitish woman to commit
adultery with him (Ex. R. i. 33). Moses
was at that time eighteen years of age
("D. Y." l.c.; "M. W." l.c.; "S. Y."
l.c.). According to another version,
Moses was then twenty, or possibly
forty, years of age (Ex. R. i. 32, 35).
These divergent opinions regarding his
age at the time when he killed the
Egyptian are based upon different
estimates of the length of his stay in
the royal palace (Yalk., Shemot, 167;
Gen. R. xi.), both of them assuming that
he fled from Egypt immediately after the
slaying (Ex. ii. 15). Dathan and Abiram
were bitter enemies of Moses, insulting
him and saying he should not act as if
he were a member of the royal house,
since he was the son not of Batya, but
of Jochebed. Previous to this they had
slandered him before Pharaoh. Pharaoh
had forgiven Moses everything else, but
would not forgive him for killing the
Egyptian. He delivered him to the
executioner, who chose a very sharp
sword with which to kill Moses; but the
latter's neck became like a marble
pillar, dulling the edge of the sword
("M. W." l.c.). Meanwhile the angel
Michael descended from heaven, and took
the form of the executioner, giving the
latter the shape of Moses and so killing
him. He then took up Moses and carried
him beyond the frontier of Egypt for a
distance of three, or, according to
another account, of forty, days ("D. Y."
l.c.; "S. Y." p. 115b). According to
another legend, the angel took the shape
of Moses, and allowed himself to be
caught, thus giving the real Moses an
opportunity to escape (Mek, Yitro. 1
[ed. Weiss. 66a]; Ex. R. i. 36).
King in Ethiopia.
The fugitive Moses went to the camp of
King Nikanos, or Kikanos, of Ethiopia,
who was at that time besieging his own
capital, which had been traitorously
seized by Balaam and his sons and made
impregnable by them through magic. Moses
joined the army of Nikanos, and the king
and all his generals took a fancy to
him, because he was courageous as a lion
and his face gleamed like the sun ("S.
Y." P. 116a; comp. B. B. 75a). When
Moses had spent nine years with the army
King Nikanos died, and the Hebrew was
made general. He took the city, driving
out Balaam and his sons Jannes and
Jambres, and was proclaimed king by the
Ethiopians. He was obliged, in deference
to the wishes of the people, to marry
Nikanos' widow, Adoniya (comp. Num.
xii.), with whom he did not, however,
cohabit ("D. Y." l.c.; "S. Y." p. 116b).
Aaron spoke against Moses on
account of the Cushite (Ethiopian) woman
whom he had married. He was twenty-seven
years of age when he became king; and he
ruled over Ethiopia for forty years,
during which he considerably increased
the power of the country. After forty
years his wife, Queen Adoniya, accused
him before the princes and generals of
not having cohabited with her during the
many years of their marriage, and of
never having worshiped the Ethiopian
gods. She called upon the princes not to
suffer a stranger among them as king,
but to make her son by Nikanos, Munahas
or Munakaros, king. The princes complied
with her wishes, but dismissed Moses in
peace, giving him great treasures.
Moses, who was at this time sixty-seven
years old, went from Ethiopia to Midian
According to Josephus' account of this
story (see Moses in Hellenistic
Literature), after Moses' marriage to
the daughter of the Ethiopian king, he
did not become King of Ethiopia, but led
his troops back to Egypt, where he
remained. The Egyptians and even Pharaoh
himself were envious of his glorious
deeds, fearing also that he might use
his power to gain dominion over Egypt.
They therefore sought how they might
assassinate him; and Moses, learning of
the plot, fled to Midian. This narrative
of Josephus' agrees with two haggadic
accounts, according to which Moses fled
from Egypt direct to Midian, not staying
in Ethiopia at all. These accounts are
as follows: (1) Moses lived for twenty
years in Pharaoh's house; he then went
to Midian, where he remained for sixty
years, when, as a man of eighty, he
undertook the mission of liberating
Israel (Yalk., Shemot, 167). (2) Moses
lived for forty years in Pharaoh's
house; thence he went to Midian, where
he stayed for forty years until his
mission was entrusted to him (Gen. R.
xi.; comp. Sifre, Deut. xxxiv. 7).
Relations with Jethro.
On his arrival at Midian Moses told his
whole story to Jethro, who recognized
him as the man destined to destroy the
Egyptians. He therefore took Moses
prisoner in order to deliver him to
Pharaoh ("D. Y." l.c.). According to
another legend, Jethro took him for an
Ethiopian fugitive, and intended to
deliver him to the Ethiopians ("S. Y."
l.c.). He kept him prisoner for seven
("D. Y." l.c.) or ten ("S. Y." l.c.)
years. Both of these legends are based
on another legend according to which
Moses was seventy-seven years of age
when Jethro liberated him. According to
the legend ("D. Y." l.c.) which says
that he went to Nikanos' camp at the age
of thirty, and ruled over Ethiopia for
forty years, he was only seven years in
Jethro's hands (30+40+7 = 77). According
to the other legend ("S. Y." l.c.) he
was eighteen years old when he fled from
Egypt; he remained for nine years in the
camp of Nikanos; and was king over
Ethiopia for forty years. Hence he must
have been Jethro's captive for ten
years, or till his seventy-seventh year.
The Circumcision of Gershom.
Moses was imprisoned in a deep dungeon
in Jethro's house, and received as food
only small portions of bread and water.
He would have died of hunger had not
Zipporah, to whom Moses had before his
captivity made an offer of marriage by
the well, devised a plan by which she no
longer went out to pasture the sheep,
but remained at home to attend to the
household, being thereby enabled to
supply Moses with food without her
father's knowledge. After ten (or seven)
years Zipporah reminded her father that
he had at one time cast a man into the
dungeon, who must have died long ago;
but ifhe were still living he must be a
just man whom God had kept alive by a
miracle. Jethro went to the dungeon and
called Moses, who answered immediately.
As Jethro found Moses praying, he really
believed that he had been saved by a
miracle, and liberated him. Jethro had
planted in his garden a marvelous rod,
which had been created on the sixth day
of the Creation, on Friday afternoon,
and had been given to Adam. This curious
rod had been handed down through Enoch,
Shem, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to
Joseph, at whose death it came into the
possession of Pharaoh's court. Jethro,
who saw it there, stole it and planted
it in his garden. On the rod were
engraved the name of God (Yhwh) and the
initials of the ten plagues destined for
Egypt. Jethro asked every one who wished
to marry one of his daughters to pull up
the rod; but no suitor had yet succeeded
in doing so. Moses, on being set at
liberty, walked in the garden, saw the
rod, and read the inscription. He easily
pulled it out of the ground and used it
for a staff (see Aaron's Rod). Jethro
thereby recognized Moses as the
deliverer of Israel, and gave him the
virtuous Zipporah as wife, together with
much money ("S. Y.," "D. Y.," and "M.
W." l.c.). Jethro stipulated that the
first-born son of the marriage should
adopt Jethro's pagan belief, while all
the other children might be reared as
Jews; and Moses agreed thereto (Mek,
Yitro, 1 [ed. Weiss, p. 65b]). According
to "M. W." l.c., one-half of the
children of this marriage were to belong
to Judaism and one-half to paganism.
When therefore his son Gershom—who
subsequently became the father of
Jonathan—was born, Moses, under his
agreement with Jethro, could not
circumcise him ("S. Y." l.c.). Moses,
therefore, went with his wife and child
(another version says that both of his
sons were then already born) to Egypt.
On the way he met Satan, or Mastema, as
he is called in the Book of Jubilees
(xlviii. 2), in the guise of a serpent,
which proceeded to swallow Moses, and
had ingested the upper part of his body,
when he stopped. Zipporah seeing this,
concluded that the serpent's action was
due to the fact that her son had not
been circumcised (Ned. 31b-32a; Ex. R.
v.), whereupon she circumcised him and
smeared some of the blood on Moses'
feet. A voice ("bat kol") was then heard
commanding the serpent to disgorge the
half-swallowed Moses, which it
immediately did. When Moses came into
Egypt he met his old enemies Dathan and
Abiram, and when they asked him what he
was seeking in Egypt, he immediately
returned to Midian ("M. W." l.c.).
At the Burning Bush
As the shepherd of his father-in-law he
drove his sheep far into the desert (Ex.
iii. 1), in order to prevent the sheep
from grazing in fields not belonging to
Jethro (Ex. R. i. 3). Here God appeared
to him and addressed him for seven
consecutive days (ib. iii. 20). Moses,
however, refused to listen, because he
would not allow himself to be disturbed
in the work for which he was paid. Then
God caused the flaming bush to appear
(Ex. iii. 2-3), in order to divert
Moses' attention from his work. The
under-shepherds with Moses saw nothing
of the marvelous spectacle, which Moses
alone beheld (Ex. R. ii. 8). Moses then
interrupted his work, and stepped nearer
the bush to investigate (ib. ii. 11). As
Moses was at this time entirely
inexperienced in prophecy, God, in
calling him, imitated the voice of Amram,
so as not to frighten him. Moses, who
thought that his father, Amram, was
appearing to him, said: "What does my
father wish?" God answered: "I am the
God of thy father" (Ex. iii. 6), and
gave him the mission to save Israel (ib.).
Moses hesitated to accept the mission
(comp. Ex. iii. 11) chiefly because he
feared that his elder brother, Aaron,
who until then had been the only prophet
in Israel, might feel slighted if his
younger brother became the savior of the
people; whereupon God assured him that
Aaron would be glad of it (Ex. R. iii.
21-22). According to another version (ib.
xv. 15), Moses said to God: "Thou hast
promised Jacob that Thou Thyself
wouldest liberate Israel [comp. Gen.
xlvi. 4], not appointing a mediator."
God answered: "I myself will save them;
but go thou first and announce to My
children that I will do so." Moses
consented, and went to his
father-in-law, Jethro (Ex. iv. 18), to
obtain permission to leave Midian (Ned.
65a; Ex. R. iv. 1-4), for he had
promised not to leave Midian without his
sanction. Moses departed with his wife
and children, and met Aaron (comp. Ex.
iv. 27), who told him it was not right
to take them into Egypt, since the
attempt was being made to lead the
Israelites out of that country. He
therefore sent his wife and children
back to Midian ("S. Y." p. 123a; Mek.,
Yitro, 1 [ed. Weiss, p. 65b]). When they
went to Pharaoh, Moses went ahead, Aaron
following, because Moses was more highly
regarded in Egypt (Ex. R. ix. 3);
otherwise Aaron and Moses were equally
prominent and respected (Mek, Bo, 1 [ed.
Weiss, p. 1a]). At the entrance to the
Egyptian royal palace were two leopards,
which would not allow any one to
approach unless their guards quieted
them; but when Moses came they played
with him and fawned upon him as if they
were his dogs ("D. Y." l.c.; "S. Y."
l.c.). According to another version,
there were guards at every entrance.
Gabriel, however, introduced Moses and
Aaron into the interior of the palace
without being seen (Yalk., Shemot, 175).
As Moses' appearance before Pharaoh
resulted only in increasing the tasks of
the children of Israel (comp. Ex. v.),
Moses returned to Midian; and, according
to one version, he took his wife and
children back at the same time (Ex. R.
After staying six months in Midian he
returned to Egypt (ib.), where he was
subjected to many insults and injuries
at the hands of Dathan and Abiram (ib.
v. 24). This, together with the fear
that he had aggravated the condition of
the children of Israel, confused his
mind so that he uttered disrespectful
words to God (Ex. v. 22). Justice ("Middat
ha-Din") wished to punish him for this;
but as God knew that Moses' sorrow for
Israel had induced these words he
allowed Mercy ("Middat ha-Rahamim") to
prevail (ib. vi. 1). As Moses feared
that Middat ha-Din might prevent the
redemption of Israel, since it was
unworthy of being redeemed, God swore to
him to redeem the people for Moses' sake
(ib. vi. 3-5, xv. 4). Moses in treating
with Pharaoh alwaysshowed to him the
respect due to a king (ib. vii. 2).
Moses was really the one selected to
perform all the miracles; but as he
himself was doubtful of his success (ib.
vi. 12) some of them were assigned to
Aaron (ib. 1). According to another
version, Aaron and not Moses undertook
to send the plagues and to perform all
the miracles connected with the water
and the dust. Because the water had
saved Moses, and the dust had been
useful to him in concealing the body of
the Egyptian (ib. ii. 12), it was not
fitting that they should be the
instruments of evil in Moses' hand (ib.
ix. 9, x. 5, xx. 1). When Moses
announced the last plague, he would not
state the exact time of its appearance,
midnight, saying merely "ka-hazot" =
"about midnight" (ib. xi. 4), because he
thought the people might make a mistake
in the time and would then call him a
liar (Ber. 3b, 4a). On the night of the
Exodus, when Moses had killed his
paschal lamb, all the winds of the world
were blowing through paradise, carrying
away its perfumes and imparting them to
Moses' lamb so that the odor of it could
be detected at a distance of forty days
(Ex. R. xix. 6).
At the Exodus.
During this night all the first-born,
including the female first-born, were
killed, with the exception of Pharaoh's
daughter Batya, who had adopted Moses.
Although she was a first-born child, she
was saved through Moses' prayer ("S. Y."
p. 125b). During the Exodus while all
the people thought only of taking the
gold and silver of the Egyptians, Moses
endeavored to carry away boards for use
in the construction of the future Temple
(comp. Gen. R. xciv. 4 and Jew. Encyc.
vii. 24, s.v. Jacob) and to remove
Joseph's coffin (Ex. R. xviii. 8). Serah,
Asher's daughter, told Moses that the
coffin had been lowered into the Nile;
whereupon Moses went to the bank of the
river and cried: "Come up, Joseph"
(according to another version, he wrote
the name of God on a slip of paper,
which he threw into the Nile), when the
coffin immediately rose to the surface (Sotah
13a; Ex. R. xx. 17; "D. Y." l.c.; "S.
Y." p. 126). Another legend says that
Joseph's coffin was among the royal
tombs, the Egyptians guarding it with
dogs whose barking could be heard
throughout Egypt; but Moses silenced the
dogs and took the coffin out (Sotah
l.c.; Ex. R. l.c.; comp. Joseph in
On arriving at the Red Sea Moses said to
God when commanded by Him to cleave the
water: "Thou hast made it a law of
nature that the sea shall never be dry,"
whereupon God replied that at the
Creation He had made an agreement with
the sea as to the separation of its
waters at this time (Ex. R. xxi. 16;
comp. "M. W." p. 38). When the
Israelites saw Pharaoh and his army
drown in the Red Sea (Ex. xiv. 30-31)
they wished to return to Egypt and set
up a kingdom there; but Moses prevented
them, urging them on by force. He also
removed the idols which the Israelites
had brought with them from Egypt (Ex. R.
Receives the Torah
The giving of the tables of the Law and
of the Torah in general to Moses is a
favorite subject for legends. In
contrast to the pithy sentence of R.
Jose (Suk. 5a) to the effect that Moses
never ascended into heaven, there are
many haggadot which describe in detail
how Moses made his ascension and
received the Torah there. Moses went up
in a cloud which entirely enveloped him
(Yoma 4a). As he could not penetrate the
cloud, God took hold of him and placed
him within it (ib. 4b). When he reached
heaven the angels asked God: "What does
this man, born of woman, desire among
us?" God replied that Moses had come to
receive the Torah, whereupon the angels
claimed that God ought to give the Torah
to them and not to men. Then God told
Moses to answer them. Moses was afraid
that the angels might burn him with the
breath of their mouths; but God told him
to take hold of the throne of glory.
Moses then proved to the angels that the
Torah was not suited to them, since they
had no passions to be subdued by it. The
angels thereupon became very friendly
with Moses, each one of them giving him
something. The angel of death confided
to him the fact that incense would
prevent the plague (Shab. 88b-89a; Ex.
R. xxviii.). Moses subsequently caused
Aaron to employ this preventive (Num.
xvii. 11-13). Moses, following the
custom of the angels, ate nothing during
his forty days' sojourn in heaven (B. M.
87b), feeding only on the splendor of
the Shekinah. He distinguished day from
night by the fact that God instructed
him by day in the Scripture, and by
night in the Mishnah (Ex. R. xlvii. 9).
God taught him also everything which
every student would discover in the
course of time (ib. i.). When Moses
first learned the Torah he soon forgot
it; it was then bestowed upon him as a
gift and he did not again forget it
Worship of the Golden Calf.
The Torah was intended originally only
for Moses and his descendants; but he
was liberal enough to give it to the
people of Israel, and God approved the
gift (Ned. 38a). According to another
version, God gave the Torah to the
Israelites for Moses' sake (Ex. R.
xlvii. 14). Moses' burnt tongue was
healed when he received the Law (Deut.
R. i. 1). As Moses was writing down the
Torah, he, on reaching the passage "Let
us make man" (Gen. i. 26), said to God,
"Why dost thou give the Minim the
opportunity of construing these words to
mean a plurality of gods?" whereupon God
replied: "Let those err that will" (Gen.
R. viii. 7). When Moses saw God write
the words "erek appayim" (=
"long-suffering"; Ex. xxxiv. 6), and
asked whether God was long-suffering
toward the pious only, God answered,
"Toward sinners also." When Moses said
that sinners ought to perish, God
answered, "You yourself will soon ask me
to be long-suffering toward sinners" (Sanh.
111a). This happened soon after Israel
had made the golden calf (ib.). Before
Moses ascended to heaven he said that he
would descend on the forenoon of the
forty-first day. On that day Satan
confused the world so that it appeared
to be afternoon to the Israelites. Satan
told them that Moses had died, and was
thus prevented from punctually
fulfilling his promise. He showed them a
form resembling Moses suspended in the
air, whereupon the people made the
golden calf (Shab. 89a; Ex. R. lxi.).
When, in consequence of this, Moses was
obliged to descend from heaven (Ex.
xxxii. 7), he saw the angels of
destruction, who were ready todestroy
him. He was afraid of them; for he had
lost his power over the angels when the
people made the golden calf. God,
however, protected him (Ex. R. xli. 12).
When Moses came down with the tables and
saw the calf (Ex. xxxii. 15-20), he said
to himself: "If I now give to the people
the tables, on which the interdiction
against idolatry is written (Ex. xx.
2-5), they will deserve death for having
made and worshiped the golden calf." In
compassion for the Israelites he broke
the tables, in order that they might not
be held responsible for having
transgressed the command against
idolatry (Ab. R. N. ii.). Moses now
began to pray for the people, showing
thereby his heroic, unselfish love for
them. Gathering from the words "Let me"
(Ex. xxxii. 10) that Israel's fate
depended on him and his prayer, he began
to defend them (Ber. 32a; Meg. 24a). He
said that Israel, having been sojourning
in Egypt, where idolatry flourished, had
become accustomed to this kind of
worship, and could not easily be brought
to desist from it (Yalk, Ki Tissa, 397).
Moreover, God Himself had afforded the
people the means of making the golden
calf, since he had given them much gold
and silver (Ber. l.c.). Furthermore, God
had not forbidden Israel to practise
idolatry, for the singular and not the
plural was used in Ex. xx. 2-5,
referring, therefore, only to Moses (Ex.
R. xlvii. 14).