STORIES: Last Night in Egypt

Once, more than three thousand springtimes ago, near the very beginning of the Jewish people's history, there lived a very rich and mighty Egyptian king. He was also very stubborn. Everyone called the king "Pharaoh". Many kinds of people lived in his kingdom- Egyptians, Africans and many Israelites (that's what they called Jews in the olden days).

Kings who are very mighty sometimes get scared that someone else will try to take away some of their power. That happened to Pharaoh. He always worried that someone would rise up against him. He was afraid of being attacked by his enemies. He was even afraid of being attacked by his friends. He was so afraid that he got meaner and meaner.

One Jewish mother named Yocheved decided to help her baby son escape. She lined his cradle with waterproof tar and prepared to float him down the longest river in the world. She wrapped him in a red blanket with a blue stripe near the edge. She kissed him. "Bye, my sweet little baby," she called sadly, as the cradle drifted out into the big Nile River. "I pray that an Egyptian mother will see your cradle and save you."

The cradle drifted and drifted. A few hours later the river's current brought the cradle to shore. It got stuck in the tall green grasses growing by the riverbank. Guess who found the baby in the boat? Pharaoh's daughter!

Pharaoh's daughter knew that only a Jewish mother would need to help her baby escape by putting him in a floating cradle. She wondered how her own father could be so mean. "What did this cute little baby ever do to hurt anybody?" she thought. Pharaoh's daughter took pity on the little baby and pulled his boat out of the water. She named the baby Moses. In her language Moses meant "I pulled him out of the water."

But guess who was sneaking around that part of the river? Moses's older sister, Miriam! She was pretending to be an Egyptian while she followed her baby brother floating down the river. "Oh! A baby. Don't you need a nurse for the baby? Maybe a Jewish nurse?" she asked Pharaoh's daughter.

"Not a bad idea," said Pharaoh's daughter. "Do you by any chance know any good nurses?" she asked. "I might," Miriam answered. "Let me think about it and I'll see what I can do." So Miriam went out to search for a nurse for her brother Moses. Guess who she found? Their mother, Yocheved!

So Pharaoh's daughter took Moses and his mother to the palace. And that's where they lived. Only a few people knew that Moses was an Israelite and they kept it a big secret from Pharaoh. Pharaoh adopted Moses and made him a prince of Egypt.

But Pharaoh was still afraid and mean. He forced the Israelites to become his slaves. They built huge triangle-shaped buildings called pyramids. They built whole cities. The weather in Egypt was boiling hot, especially in the summer. Hotter than 100 degrees. But Pharaoh hardly gave them any water. When his slaves complained or sat down in the shade, his soldiers beat them with whips.

Meanwhile, Prince Moses grew up in Pharaoh's palace. One day, he took a walk to watch a new city being built. That was very exciting. Huge blocks of stone that weighed tons were being rolled along on round logs. Using long ropes, Jewish slaves dragged these stones for miles. As Moses came closer, he saw some soldiers whipping a Jewish slave.

"Why is he doing that?" Moses wondered. "That slave is so weak, he couldn't hurt anyone."

"I may be a prince of Egypt," Moses said to himself, "but these are still my people." Moses looked this way and that way. He saw no one. He punched the soldier so hard that the soldier died. Moses buried him in the sand.

When Moses came back the next day, the Jewish slaves were afraid of him. "Will you kill us like you killed the Egyptian?" they yelled. Moses knew he had to leave Egypt. Soon Pharaoh would hear what Moses had done. Pharaoh would finally learn that he had been deceived. Soon he would know that Moses was not an really an Egyptian, but a Jew.

So Moses set off into the desert to escape from his adopted father. He came to the land of Midian where he became a shepherd, got married and had two sons. Many years went by. The old Pharaoh died, but a new one took his place who was just as mean, and even more stubborn.

One day, while tending his flocks Moses saw a strange light in the mountains. It was a bush on fire. "Why doesn't the bush burn up?" Moses wondered.

Suddenly Moses heard a voice. "Do not come closer. Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground." The voice said it was the G-d of Moses's parents talking. Moses had heard about this G-d from his mother while he was growing up in Pharaoh's palace. His mother told him that the G-d of the Jews was invincible and even stronger than Pharaoh. G-d knew everything, even exactly what was going to happen in the future. The voice told Moses that G-d knew about how mean Pharaoh had been to his Jewish slaves. G-d heard their cries of pain and wanted to take them out of Egypt and set them free.

"But Moses, you must be their leader," said G-d. "Go tell Pharaoh to let my people go. I know that mean Pharaoh won't want to let the Jews go. So I, the mighty and awesome G-d, will show him who is boss. I'll send ten plagues to Egypt and then Pharaoh will let my people go."

Moses heard all this and grew more and more afraid. "What if no-one believes you?" Moses asked G-d. "And why should the Jews listen to me. I have a lisp and can't even speak clearly. And forget about Pharaoh! He doesn't listen to anybody anyway!"

"Your brother Aaron will help you," said G-d. And G-d gave Moses special signs to convince the Jews and the Egyptians that G-d meant business. G-d showed Moses two mysterious tricks to do when he got back to Egypt-how to make the skin on his hand change from very smooth to very rough and how to make the water turn red like blood.G-d gave Moses a special rod to help do these tricks.

Moses was right, no-one listened. Pharaoh just made his Jewish slaves work even harder! He even took away the straw they needed to make bricks. That made their work so hard it was almost impossible.

So G-d told Moses to warn Pharaoh about the plagues, one at a time. First the rivers all turned to blood. But Pharaoh didn't care.

Then frogs started jumping out of the river until the whole country smelled of frogs. Pharaoh pleaded with Moses to make the frogs go away. But when they did, he still wouldn't let the Jews leave Egypt.

Then lice came and made everyone itch.

Then insects covered everything.

Then all the animals owned by the Egyptians started to get sick.

Then all the Egyptians started to get big sores all over their bodies.

Then huge hail stones fell all over Egypt. The hail stones were so big they made holes in the roof.

Then swarms of crickets came and ate all the plants.

Then the sun didn't come out for three whole days. And the darkness was so thick you could touch it.

Each time a plague came Pharaoh agreed to let the Jews go. But as soon as the plague ended he changed his mind. So G-d sent another plague. Pharaoh told Moses never to come back. But he still wouldn't let the Jews go.

G-d told Moses to get ready for the last and the worst plague of all. This one would finally convince Pharaoh to let the Jews go free. G-d was going to kill the first-born of every single Egyptian--people and even animals. G-d spoke to Moses saying "Tell the Jews to paint their doorposts with the blood of a lamb as a sign so I will pass over their homes. They should roast the lamb and eat it with bitter herbs and Matzah. And tell them to stay inside their homes."

G-d also told Moses this. "Tell the Jews that every spring they should have a holiday to remember what happened on this last night in Egypt. For seven days they should eat Matzah but no bread. When you children ask what this holiday is all about you shall tell them, 'It is Passover...because G-d passed over the houses of the Jews in Egypt and brought us out of slavery."

That was a long, scary and very sad night for everyone in Egypt. Many Egyptians died--all those who were oldest brothers and sisters. The Jews were safe. But Egyptian mothers trying to save their children kept knocking on the doors of Jewish homes. And the Jewish people did not know what to do. Should they let these Egyptians in or not?

That was one thing the Jews were thinking about that night. But they were also wondering about leaving Egypt the next morning. Life was bad in Egypt, but it was still home. And where would they go? Out into the desert, following orders that Moses got from the mighty and invisible G-d? And what would they take with them? And what would they eat and drink in the desert? Maybe it would be better to stay in Egypt?

But by the time the morning had come, stubborn Pharaoh finally decided to send the Jews away. And the Jews packed up and left Egypt. It was time to learn how to be a free people. "Maybe," they thought, "we can make a country that is a better place for people to live than Egypt." And that is what we, the Jewish people are still trying to do.

"In every generation, every individual should feel as if he or she had actually gone out of Egypt."

--"Last Night in Egypt" written by Dr. David Arnow

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