by Louis Ginzberg
Philologos Religious Online Books
The Legends of the Jews
by Louis Ginzberg
Bible Times and Characters from Joseph to the Exodus
When Jethro bestowed his daughter Zipporah upon Moses as his wife, he said to his future son-in-law: "I know that thy father Jacob took his wives, the daughters of Laban, and went away with them against their father's will. Now take an oath that thou wilt not do the same unto me," and Moses swore not to leave him without his consent, and he remained with Jethro, who made him the shepherd of his flocks. By the way he tended the sheep, God saw his fitness to be the shepherd of His people, for God never gives an exalted office to a man until He has tested him in little things. Thus Moses and David were tried as shepherds of flocks, and only after they had proved their ability as such, He gave them dominion over men.
Moses watched over the flocks with loving care. He led the young animals to pasture first, that they might have the tender, juicy grass for their food; the somewhat older animals he led forth next, and allowed them to graze off the herbs suitable for them; and finally came the vigorous ones that had attained their full growth, and to them he gave the hard grass that was left, which the others could not eat, but which afforded good food for them. Then spake God, "He that understandeth how to pasture sheep, providing for each what is good for it, he shall pasture My people."
Once a kid escaped from the flock, and when Moses followed it, he saw how it stopped at all the water courses, and he said to it: "Poor kid, I knew not that thou wast thirsty, and wast running after water! Thou art weary, I ween," and he carried it back to the herd on his shoulder. Then said God: "Thou hast compassion with a flock belonging to a man of flesh and blood! As thou livest, thou shalt pasture Israel, My flock."
Not only did Moses take heed that no harm should come to the herds under his charge, but he was also careful that they cause no injury to men. He always chose an open meadow as his pasturing place, to prevent his sheep from grazing in private estates.
Jethro had no reason to be dissatisfied with the services rendered to him by his son-in-law. During the forty years Moses acted as his shepherd not one sheep was attacked by wild beasts, and the herds multiplied to an incredible degree. Once he drove the sheep about in the desert for forty days, without finding a pasturing place for them. Nevertheless he did not lose a single sheep.
Moses' longing for the desert was irresistible. His prophetic spirit caused him to foresee that his own greatness and the greatness of Israel would manifest themselves there. In the desert God's wonders would appear, though it would be at the same time the grave of the human herd to be entrusted to him in the future, and also his own last resting- place. Thus he had a presentiment at the very beginning of his career that the desert would be the scene of his activity, which not only came true in the present order of things, but also will be true in the latter days, when he will appear in the desert again, to lead into the promised land the generation, arisen from their graves, that he brought forth from Egyptian bondage.
Wandering through the desert, he reached Mount Horeb, which is called by six names, each conveying one of its distinctions. It is "the mountain of God," wherein the Lord revealed His law; "Basban," for God "came there"; "a mountain of humps," for the Lord declared all the other mountains unfit for the revelation, as "crookbackt" animals are declared unfit for sacrifices; "mountain of abode," because it is the mountain that God desired for His "abode"; Sinai, because the "hatred" of God against the heathen began at the time when Israel received the law thereon; and Horeb, "sword," because there the sword of the law was drawn upon the sinners.
When Moses drew near to Mount Horeb, he was aware at once that it was a holy place, for he noticed that passing birds did not alight upon it. At his approach the mountain began to move, as though to go forward and meet him, and it settled back into quietude only when his foot rested upon it. The first thing Moses noticed was the wonderful burning bush, the upper part of which was a blazing flame, neither consuming the bush, nor preventing it from bearing blossoms as it burnt, for the celestial fire has three peculiar qualities: it produces blossoms, it does not consume the object around which it plays, and it is black of color. The fire that Moses saw in the bush was the appearance of the angel Michael, who had descended as the forerunner of the Shekinah herself to come down presently. It was the wish of God to hold converse with Moses, who, however, was not inclined to permit any interruption of the work under his charge. Therefore God startled him with the wonderful phenomenon of the burning thorn-bush. That brought Moses to a stop, and then God spoke with him.
There were good reasons for selecting the thorn-bush as the vessel for a Divine vision. It was "clean," for the heathen could not use it to make idols. God's choosing to dwell in the stunted thorn-bush conveyed the knowledge to Moses that He suffers along with Israel. Furthermore, Moses was taught that there is nothing in nature, not even the insignificant thorn-bush, that can exist without the presence of the Shekinah. Besides, the thorn-bush may be taken as the symbol for Israel in several respects. As the thorn- bush is the lowliest of all species of trees, so the condition of Israel in the exile is the lowliest as compared with that of all the other nations, but as the thorn-bush releases no bird that alights upon it without lacerating its wings, so the nations that subjugate Israel will be punished. Also, as a garden hedge is made of the thorn-bush, so Israel forms the hedge for the world, the garden of God, for without Israel the world could not endure. Furthermore, as the thorn- bush bears thorns and roses alike, so Israel has pious and impious members, and as the thorn-bush requires ample water for its growth, so Israel can prosper only through the Torah, the celestial water. And the thorn-bush, the leaf of which consists of five leaflets, was to indicate to Moses that God had resolved to redeem Israel only for the sake of the merits of five pious men, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Aaron, and Moses. The numbers represented by the letters composing the Hebrew word for thorn-bush, Seneh, add up to one hundred and twenty, to convey that Moses would reach the age of one hundred and twenty years, and that the Shekinah would rest on Mount Horeb for one hundred and twenty days. Finally, in order to give Moses an illustration of His modesty, God descended from the exalted heavens and spake to him from a lowly thorn-bush instead of the summit of a lofty mountain or the top of a stately cedar tree.
The vision of the burning bush appeared to Moses alone; the other shepherds with him saw nothing of it. He took five steps in the direction of the bush, to view it at close range, and when God beheld the countenance of Moses distorted by grief and anxiety over Israel's suffering, He spake, "This one is worthy of the office of pasturing My people."
Moses was still a novice in prophecy, therefore God said to Himself, "If I reveal Myself to him in loud tones, I shall alarm him, but if I reveal Myself with a subdued voice, he will hold prophecy in low esteem," whereupon he addressed him in his father Amram's voice. Moses was overjoyed to hear his father speak, for it gave him the assurance that. he was still alive. The voice called his name twice, and he answered, "Here am I! What is my father's wish?" God replied, saying, "I am not thy father. I but desired to refrain from terrifying thee, therefore I spoke with thy father's voice. I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." These words rejoiced Moses greatly, for not only was his father Amram's name pronounced in the same breath with the names of the three Patriarchs, but it came before theirs, as though he ranked higher than they.
Moses said not a word. In silent reverence before the Divine vision he covered his face, and when God disclosed the mission with which He charged him, of bringing the Israelites forth from the land of Egypt, he answered with humility, "Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?" Thereupon spake God, "Moses, thou art meek, and I will reward thee for thy modesty. I will deliver the whole land of Egypt into thine hand, and, besides, I will let thee ascend unto the throne of My glory, and look upon all the angels of the heavens."
Hereupon God commanded Metatron, the Angel of the Face, to conduct Moses to the celestial regions amid the sound of music and song, and He commanded him furthermore to summon thirty thousand angels, to serve as his body-guard, fifteen thousand to right of him and fifteen thousand to left of him. In abject terror Moses asked Metatron, "Who art thou?" and the angel replied, "I am Enoch, the son of Jared, thy ancestor, and God has charged me to accompany thee to His throne." But Moses demurred, saying, "I am but flesh and blood, and I cannot look upon the countenance of an angel," whereupon Metatron changed Moses' flesh into torches of fire, his eyes into Merkabah wheels, his strength into an angel's, and his tongue into a flame, and he took him to heaven with a retinue of thirty thousand angels, one half moving to right of them and one half to left of them.
In the first heaven Moses saw streams upon streams of water, and he observed that the whole heaven consisted of windows, at each of which angels were stationed. Metatron named and pointed out all the windows of heaven to him: the window of prayer and the window of supplication; of weeping and of joy; plenitude and starvation; wealth and poverty; war and peace; conception and birth; showers and soft rains; sin and repentance; life and death; pestilence and healing; sickness and health; and many windows more.
In the second heaven Moses saw the angel Nuriel, standing three hundred parasangs high, with his retinue of fifty myriads of angels, all fashioned out of water and fire, and all keeping their faces turned toward the Shekinah while they sang a song of praise to God. Metatron explained to Moses, that these were the angels set over the clouds, the winds, and the rains, who return speedily, as soon as they have executed the will of their Creator, to their station in the second of the heavens, there to proclaim the praise of God.
In the third heaven Moses saw an angel, so tall it would take a human being five hundred years to climb to his height. He had seventy thousand heads, each head having as many mouths, each mouth as many tongues, and each tongue as many sayings, and he together with his suite of seventy thousand myriads of angels made of white fire praised and extolled the Lord. "These," said Metatron to Moses, "are called Erelim, and they are appointed over the grass, the trees, the fruits, and the grain, but as soon as they have done the will of their Creator, they return to the place assigned to them, and praise God."
In the fourth heaven Moses saw a Temple, the pillars thereof made of red fire, the staves of green fire, the thresholds of white fire, the boards and clasps of flaming fire, the gates of carbuncles, and the pinnacles of rubies. Angels were entering the Temple and giving praise to God there. In response to a question from Moses Metatron told him that they presided over the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, and the other celestial bodies. and all of them intone songs before God. In this heaven Moses noticed also the two great planets, Venus and Mars, each as large as the whole earth, and concerning these he asked unto what purpose they had been created. Metatron explained thereupon, that Venus lies upon the sun to cool him off in summer, else he would scorch the earth, and Mars lies upon the moon, to impart warmth to her, lest she freeze the earth.
Arrived in the fifth heaven, Moses saw hosts of angels, whose nether parts were of snow and their upper parts of fire, and yet the snow did not melt nor was the fire extinguished, for God had established perfect harmony between the two elements. These angels, called Ishim, have had nothing to do since the day of their creation but praise and extol the Lord.
In the sixth of the heavens were millions and myriads of angels praising God, they were called 'Irin and kadishim, "Watchers" and "Holy Ones," and their chief was made of hail, and he was so tall, it would take five hundred years to walk a distance equal to his height.
In the last heaven Moses saw two angels, each five hundred parasangs in height, forged out of chains of black fire and red fire, the angels Af, "Anger," and Hemah, "Wrath," whom God created at the beginning of the world, to execute His will. Moses was disquieted when he looked upon them, but Metatron embraced him, and said, "Moses, Moses, thou favorite of God, fear not, and be not terrified," and Moses became calm. There was another angel in the seventh heaven, different in appearance from all the others, and of frightful mien. His height was so great, it would have taken five hundred years to cover a distance equal to it, and from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet he was studded with glaring eyes, at the sight of which the beholder fell prostrate in awe. "This one," said Metatron, addressing Moses, "is Samael, who takes the soul away from man." "Whither goes he now?" asked Moses, and Metatron replied, "To fetch the soul of Job the pious." Thereupon Moses prayed to God in these words, "O may it be Thy will, my God and the God of my fathers, not to let me fall into the hands of this angel."
Here, in the highest heaven, he saw also the seraphim with their six wings. With two they cover their face, that they gaze not upon the Shekinah; and with two their feet, which, being like a calf's feet, they hide, to keep secret Israel's transgression of the golden calf. With the third pair of wings they fly and do the service of the Lord, all the while exclaiming, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory." The wings of these angels are of prodigious size, it would take a man five hundred years to traverse their length and their breadth, as from one end of the earth to the other.
And Moses saw in the seventh heaven the holy Hayyot, which support the throne of God; and he beheld also the angel Zagzagel, the prince of the Torah and of wisdom, who teaches the Torah in seventy languages to the souls of men, and thereafter they cherish the precepts contained therein as laws revealed by God to Moses on Sinai. From this angel with the horns of glory Moses himself learnt all the ten mysteries."
Having seen what there is in the seven heavens, he spoke to God, saying, "I will not leave the heavens unless Thou grantest me a gift," and God replied, "I will give thee the Torah, and men shall call it the Law of Moses."
When Moses was on the point of departing from heaven, a celestial voice announced: "Moses, thou camest hither, and thou didst see the throne of My glory. Now thou shalt see also Paradise and hell," and God dispatched Gabriel on the errand of showing hell to him. Terrified by its fires, when he caught sight of them as he entered the portals of hell, Moses refused to go farther. But the angel encouraged him, saying, "There is a fire that not only burns but also consumes, and that fire will protect thee against hell fire, so that thou canst step upon it, and yet thou wilt not be seared."
As Moses entered hell, the fire withdrew a distance of five hundred parasangs, and the Angel of Hell, Nasargiel, asked him, "Who art thou?" and he answered, "I am Moses, the son of Amram."
Nasargiel: "This is not thy place, thou belongest in Paradise."
Moses: "I came hither to see the manifestation of the power of God."
Then said God to the Angel of Hell, "Go and show hell unto Moses, and how the wicked are treated there." Immediately he went with Moses, walking before him like a pupil before his master, and thus they entered hell together, and Moses saw men undergoing torture by the Angels of Destruction: some of the sinners were suspended by their eyelids, some by their ears, some by their hands, and some by their tongues, and they cried bitterly. And women were suspended by their hair and by their breasts, and in other ways, all on chains of fire. Nasargiel explained: "These hang by their eyes, because they looked lustfully upon the wives of their neighbors, and with a covetous eye upon the possessions of their fellow-men. These hang by their ears because they listened to empty and vain speech, and turned their ear away from hearing the Torah. These hang by their tongues, because they talked slander, and accustomed their tongue to foolish babbling. These hang by their feet, because they walked with them in order to spy upon their fellow-men, but they walked not to the synagogue, to offer prayer unto their Creator. These hang by their hands, because with them they robbed their neighbors of their possessions, and committed murder. These women hang by their hair and their breasts, because they uncovered them in the presence of young men, so that they conceived desire unto them, and fell into sin."
Moses heard hell cry with a loud and a bitter cry, saying to Nasargiel: "Give me something to eat, I am hungry."-- Nasargiel: "What shall I give thee?"--Hell: "Give me the souls of the pious."--Nasargiel: "The Holy One, blessed be He, will not deliver the souls of the pious unto thee."
Moses saw the place called Alukah, where sinners were suspended by their feet, their heads downward, and their bodies covered with black worms, each five hundred parasangs long. They lamented, and cried: "Woe unto us for the punishment of hell. Give us death, that we may die!" Nasargiel explained: "These are the sinners that swore falsely, profaned the Sabbath and the holy days, despised the sages, called their neighbors by unseemly nicknames, wronged the orphan and the widow, and bore false witness. Therefore bath God delivered them to these worms."
Moses went thence to another place, and there he saw sinners prone on their faces, with two thousand scorpions lashing, stinging, and tormenting them, while the tortured victims cried bitterly. Each of the scorpions had seventy thousand heads, each head seventy thousand mouths, each mouth seventy thousand stings, and each sting seventy thousand pouches of poison and venom, which the sinners are forced to drink down, although the anguish is so racking that their eyes melt in their sockets. Nasargiel explained: "These are the sinners who caused the Israelites to lose their money, who exalted themselves above the community, who put their neighbors to shame in public, who delivered their fellow-Israelites into the hands of the Gentiles, who denied the Torah of Moses, and who maintained that God is not the Creator of the world."
Then Moses saw the place called Tit ba-Yawen, in which the sinners stand in mud up to their navels, while the Angels of Destruction lash them with fiery chains, and break their teeth with fiery stones, from morning until evening, and during the night they make their teeth grow again, to the length of a parasang, only to break them anew the next morning. Nasargiel explained: "These are the sinners who ate carrion and forbidden flesh, who lent their money at usury, who wrote the Name of God on amulets for Gentiles, who used false weights, who stole money from their fellow-Israelites, who ate on the Day of Atonement, who ate forbidden fat, and animals and reptiles that are an abomination, and who drank blood."
Then Nasargiel said to Moses: "Come and see how the sinners are burnt in hell," and Moses answered, "I cannot go there," but Nasargiel replied, "Let the light of the Shekinah precede thee, and the fire of hell will have no power over thee." Moses yielded, and he saw how the sinners were burnt, one half of their bodies being immersed in fire and the other half in snow, while worms bred in their own flesh crawled over them, and the Angels of Destruction beat them incessantly. Nasargiel explained: "These are the sinners who committed incest, murder, and idolatry, who cursed their parents and their teachers, and who, like Nimrod and others, called themselves gods." In this place, which is called Abaddon, he saw the sinners taking snow by stealth and putting it in their armpits, to relieve the pain inflicted by the scorching fire, and he was convinced that the saying was true, "The wicked mend not their ways even at the gate of hell."
As Moses departed from hell, he prayed to God, "May it be Thy will, O Lord my God and God of my fathers, to save me and the people of Israel from the places I have seen in hell." But God answered him, and said, "Moses, before Me there is no respecting of persons and no taking of gifts. Whoever doeth good deeds entereth Paradise, and he that doeth evil must go to hell."
At the command of God, Gabriel now led Moses to Paradise. As he entered, two angels came toward him, and they said to him, "Thy time is not yet arrived to leave the world," and Moses made answer, "What ye say is true, but I have come to see the reward of the pious in Paradise." Then the angels extolled Moses, saying: "Hail, Moses, servant of God! Hail, Moses, born of woman, that hast been found worthy to ascend to the seven heavens! Hail to the nation to which thou belongest!"
Under the tree of life Moses saw the angel Shamshiel, the prince of Paradise, who led him through it, and showed him all there is therein. He saw seventy thrones made of precious stones, standing on feet of fine gold, each throne surrounded by seventy angels. But one of them was larger than all the others, and it was encircled by one hundred and twenty angels. This was the throne of Abraham, and when Abraham beheld Moses, and heard who he was, and what his purpose was in visiting Paradise, he exclaimed, "Praise ye the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endureth forever."
Moses asked Shamshiel about the size of Paradise, but not even he who is the prince thereof could answer the question, for there is none that can gauge it. It can neither be measured nor fathomed nor numbered. But Shamshiel explained to Moses about the thrones, that they were different one from the other, some being of silver, some of gold, some of precious stones and pearls and rubies and carbuncles. The thrones made of pearls are for the scholars that study the Torah day and night for her own sake; those of precious stones are for the pious, those of rubies for the just, those of gold for the repentant sinners, and those of silver for the righteous proselytes. "The greatest of them all," continued Shamshiel, "is the throne of Abraham, the next in size the thrones of Isaac and Jacob, then come the thrones of the prophets, the saints, and the righteous, each in accordance with a man's worth, and his rank, and the good deeds he has performed in his lifetime." Moses asked then for whom the throne of copper was intended, and the angel answered, "For the sinner that has a pious son. Through the merits of his son he receives it as his share."
Again Moses looked, and he beheld a spring of living water welling up from under the tree of life and dividing into four streams, which passed under the throne of glory, and thence encompassed Paradise from end to end. He also saw four rivers flowing under each of the thrones of the pious, one of honey, the second of milk, the third of wine, and the fourth of pure balsam.
Beholding all these desirable and pleasant things, Moses felt great joy, and he said, "Oh, how great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee, which Thou hast wrought for them that put their trust in Thee, before the sons of men!" And Moses left Paradise, and returned to the earth.
At the moment of his departure, a heavenly voice cried aloud: "Moses, servant of the Lord, thou that art faithful in His house, even as thou hast seen the reward that is laid up for the pious in the world to come, so also thou wilt be worthy of seeing the life of the world that shall be in the future time. Thou and all Israel, ye shall see the rebuilding of the Temple and the advent of the Messiah, behold the beauty of the Lord, and meditate in His Temple."
In the world to come Moses, beside sharing the joys of Israel, will continue his activity as the teacher of Israel, for the people will go before Abraham and request him to instruct them in the Torah. He will send them to Isaac, saying, "Go to Isaac, he hath studied more of the Torah than ever I studied," but Isaac, in turn, will send them to Jacob, saying, "Go to Jacob, he hath had more converse with the sages than ever I had." And Jacob will send them to Moses, saying, "Go to Moses, he was instructed in the Torah by God Himself."
In the Messianic time, Moses will be one of the seven shepherds that shall be the leaders of Israel with the Messiah.
When Moses turned aside to see the great sight, that the bush was not consumed, he heard a voice calling to him, "Draw not nigh hither." These words were to convey that the dignity to be conferred upon him God intended for Moses personally, not for his descendants, and further he was warned not to arrogate honors appointed for others, as the priesthood, which was to belong to Aaron and Aaron's descendants, or royalty, which was to appertain to David and the house of David.
Again the voice spake: "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." These words conveyed the desire of God that he cut asunder every bond uniting him with earthly concerns, he was even to give up his conjugal life. Hereupon the angel Michael spoke to God: "O Lord of the world, can it be Thy purpose to destroy mankind? Blessing can prevail only if male and female are united, and yet Thou biddest Moses separate from his wife." God answered, saying, "Moses has begot children, he has done his duty toward the world. I desire him to unite himself now with the Shekinah, that she may descend upon earth for his sake."
God spake furthermore, addressing Moses, "Thou seest only what is to happen in the near future, that Israel is to receive the Torah on Mount Sinai, but I behold what cometh after, bow the people will worship the steer, the figure of which they will see upon My chariot, even while My revelation will be made on Sinai. Thus they will excite My wrath. Nevertheless, though I know all the perverseness of their hearts, wherein they will rebel against Me in the desert, I will redeem them now, for I accord unto man the treatment he merits for his present actions, not what he will deserve in the future. I promised their father Jacob, 'I will go down with thee into Egypt, and I will also surely bring thee up again,' and now I will betake myself thither, to bring Israel up in accordance with My words unto Jacob, and bear them to the land I swore unto their fathers, that their seed should inherit it. So long as the time of affliction that I had appointed unto his seed in My revelation to Abraham was not past, I hearkened not to the supplication and the groaning of his children, but now the end hath come. Therefore, go before Pharaoh, that he dismiss My people. If thou dost not bring about the redemption, none other will, for there is none other that can do it. In thee doth Israel hope, and upon thee doth Israel wait. The matter lieth in thine hands alone."
Moses, however, refused to take the mission upon himself. He said to God, "Thy promise unto Jacob was, 'I will surely bring thee up again out of Egypt.' Thou didst undertake to do it Thyself, and now it is Thy purpose to send me thither. And how, indeed, were it possible for me to accomplish this great matter, to bring the children of Israel up out of Egypt? How could I provide them with food and drink? Many are the women in childbirth among them, many are the pregnant women and the little children. Whence shall I procure dainties for those who have borne babes, whence sweetmeats for the pregnant, and whence tidbits for the little ones? And how may I venture to go among the Egyptian brigands and murderers? for Thou art bidding me to go to mine enemies, to those who lie in wait to take my life. Why should I risk the safety of my person, seeing that I know not whether Israel possesses merits making them worthy of redemption?' I have reckoned up the years with care, and I have found that but two hundred and ten have elapsed since the covenant of the pieces made with Abraham, and at that time Thou didst ordain four hundred years of oppression for his seed."
But God overturned all his objections. He spake to Moses, saying: "I will be with thee. Whatever thou desirest I will do, so that the redemption will in very truth be realized through Me, in accordance with My promise to Jacob. The little ones that Israel will carry up out of Egypt I will provide with food for thirty days. This shall prove to thee in what manner I will supply the needs of all. And as I will be at thy side, thou hast no need to fear any man. Respecting thy doubt, whether Israel deserves to be redeemed, this is My answer: they will be permitted to go forth from Egypt on account of the merits they will acquire at this mountain, whereon they will receive the Torah through thee. And thy reckoning of the end is not correct, for the four hundred years of bondage began with the birth of Isaac, not with the going down of Jacob into Egypt. Therefore the appointed end hath come."
Persuaded now of God's unalterable resolve to use him as His instrument in the redemption of Israel from Egypt, Moses entreated God to impart to him the knowledge of His Great Name, that he be not confounded if the children of Israel ask for it. God answered, saying: "Thou desirest to know My Name? My Name is according to My acts. When I judge My creatures, I am called Elohim, "judge"; when I rise up to do battle against the sinners, I am Lord Zebaot, "the Lord of hosts"; when I wait with longsuffering patience for the improvement of the sinner, My name is El Shaddai; when I have mercy upon the world, I am Adonai. But unto the children of Israel shalt thou say that I am He that was, that is, and that ever will be, and I am He that is with them in their bondage now, and He that shall be with them in the bondage of the time to come."
In reply to the latter words of God, Moses said, "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof," and God assented thereto. He admitted that it was not proper to force the knowledge of future suffering upon Israel in a present that was itself full of evil and sorrow. And the Lord said to Moses: "My words about the future were meant for thee alone, not also for them. Tell the children of Israel, besides, that at My behest an angel can stretch his hand from heaven and touch the earth with it, and three angels can find room under one tree, and My majesty can fill the whole world, for when it was My will, it appeared to Job in his hair, and, again, when I willed otherwise, it appeared in a thorn-bush."
But the most important communication from God to Moses concerning the Divine Names were the words to follow: "In mercy I created the world; in mercy I guide it; and with mercies I will return to Jerusalem. But unto the children of Israel thou shalt say that My mercy upon them is for the sake of the merits of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."
When Moses heard these words, he spoke to God, saying, "Are there men that transgress after death?" and when God assured him that it was not possible for the dead to sin, Moses asked again, "Why, then, is it that Thou didst reveal Thyself to me at the first as the God of my father, and now Thou passest him over?" Whereupon God said, "In the beginning it was My purpose to address thee with flattering words, but now thou hearest the whole and exact truth, I am only the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob."
Moses prayed to God, entreating Him to reveal His Great and Holy Name unto him, so that he might call upon Him with it and secure the fulfilment of all his wishes. The Lord granted the prayer of Moses, and when the celestials knew that He had revealed the secret of the Ineffable Name, they cried out, "Blessed art Thou, O Lord, gracious Giver of knowledge!"
God is always regardful of the honor of the elders of a people, and He bade Moses assemble those of Israel and announce the approaching redemption to them. And as God knew beforehand how Pharaoh's obduracy would display itself, He made it known to Moses at once, lest he reproach God later with the Egyptian king's frowardness.
In spite of all these safeguards, Moses was not yet ready to accept the mission God wished to impose upon him. He persisted in urging his fears, saying: "But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice, for they will say, 'The Lord hath not appeared unto thee. And the Lord said unto him, "What is that in thine hand?" And he said, "A rod." And the Lord said: "Thou deservest to be castigated with it. If thou didst not intend to take My mission upon thyself, thou shouldst have said so in the beginning. Instead, thou didst hold back with thy refusal, until I revealed to thee the great secret of the Ineffable Name, that thou mightest know it if the children of Israel should ask thee concerning it. And now thou sayest, I will not go. Now, therefore, if thou wilt not execute My charge to thee, it will be executed by this rod. It was My wish to distinguish thee and make thee My instrument for doing many miracles. But thou deservest a punishment for having suspected My children of lack of faith. The children of Israel are believers and sons of believers, but thou wilt show thyself of little faith in thy career, and as thou followest the example of the slanderous serpent, so shalt thou be punished with leprosy, wherewith the serpent was punished."
The Lord now bade Moses put his hand into his bosom and take it out again, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous, as white as snow. And God bade him put his hand into his bosom again, and it turned again as his other flesh. Beside being a chastisement for his hasty words, the plague on his hand was to teach him that as the leper defiles, so the Egyptians defiled Israel, and as Moses was healed of his uncleanness, so God would cleanse the children of Israel of the pollution the Egyptians had brought upon them.
The second wonder connected with the rod of Moses likewise conveyed a double meaning, in that it pointed to the coming redemption of Israel, and taught Moses a specific lesson. At the bidding of God, Moses cast his rod on the ground, and it became a serpent, to show him that when he traduced Israel, he was following the example of the abusive serpent, and also to show him that the great dragon that lieth in the midst of the rivers of Egypt, though he was now hacking into Israel with his teeth, would be rendered harmless like the rod of wood, which has no power to bite.
And, again, through the third miracle he was bidden to perform, God conveyed to Moses what would happen in the latter years of his own life. The sign He gave him was to make known to him that, before the water came, blood would flow from the rock at Meribah, when Moses should strike it after uttering the hasty, impatient words that were destined to bring death down upon him.
For seven days God urged Moses to undertake the mission He desired him to execute. He resorted to persuasion, that the heathen might not say, that He abused His power as the Ruler of the world, forcing men to do His service against their will. But Moses remained obdurate, he could not be won over. He said: "Thou doest a wrong unto me in sending me to Pharaoh. In the palace of the Egyptian king there are persons that know how to speak the seventy languages of the world. No matter what language a man may use, there is someone that understands him. If I should come as Thy representative, and they should discover that I am not able to converse in the seventy languages, they will mock at me, and say, 'Behold this man, he pretends to be the ambassador of the Creator of the world, and he cannot speak the seventy languages.' " To this God made reply, as follows: "Adam, who was taught by none, could give names to the beasts in the seventy languages. Was it not I that made him to speak?"
Moses was not yet satisfied, he continued to urge objections, and he said: "O Lord of the world, Thou wouldst charge me with the task of chastising Egypt and redeeming Israel, and I am ready to be Thy messenger. But is it seemly that a man should execute two errands at once? Nay, my Lord, for this two men are needed." God made answer, and said, "Moses, I know well whom thou hast in mind with thy request, to be thy companion in the mission I assign to thee. Know, therefore, that the holy spirit hath already come upon thy brother Aaron, and even now he is awaiting thee on the way of Egypt, and when his eyes rest upon thee he will rejoice."
Furthermore God spake to Moses, saying, "When I appeared unto thee the first time, thou wast meek, and didst hide thy face, not to see the vision. Whence cometh now this effrontery of thine, that thou addressest Me as a servant his master? Thou speakest too many words by far. Perchance thou thinkest I have no messengers, hosts, seraphim, ofanim, ministering angels, and Merkabah wheels, to send to Egypt, to bring My children thence, that thou sayest, 'Send by the hand of him whom Thou wilt send.' In sooth, thou deservest severe chastisement. But what can I do, seeing that I am the Master of mercy? If thou escapest unpunished, thou owest it to thy father Amram, who rendered great services in behalf of the preservation of the Israelitish people in Egypt."
But Moses replied: "O Lord of the world, I a prophet and the son of a prophet obeyed Thy words only after much hesitation, and I cannot expect Pharaoh, a wicked man and the son of a wicked man, and the Egyptians, a disobedient people and the sons of a disobedient people, to give ear to my words. O Lord of the world, Thou dost send me to Egypt to redeem sixty myriads of Thy people from the oppression of the Egyptians. If it were a question of delivering a couple of hundred men, it were a sufficiently difficult enterprise. How much severer is the task of freeing sixty myriads from the dominion of Pharaoh! If Thou hadst called upon the Egyptians to give up their evil ways soon after they began to enslave Israel, they might have heeded Thy admonitions. But if I should go and speak to them now, after they have been ruling over Israel these two hundred and ten years, Pharaoh would say, 'If a slave has served his master for ten years, and no protest has made itself heard from any quarter, how can a man conceive the idea suddenly of having him set at liberty?' Verily, O Lord of the world, the task Thou puttest upon me is too heavy for my strength."
Moses said furthermore: "I am not an eloquent man, nor can I see of what avail words can be in this matter. Thou art sending me to one that is himself a slave, to Pharaoh of the tribe of Ham, and a slave will not be corrected by words. I consent to go on Thy errand only if Thou wilt invest me with the power of chastising Pharaoh with brute force." To these words spoken by Moses, God made reply: "Let it not fret thee that thou art not an eloquent speaker. It is I that made the mouth of all that speak, and I that made men dumb. One I make to see, another I make blind; one I make to hear, another I make deaf. Had I willed it so, thou hadst been a man of ready speech. But I desired to show a wonder through thee. Whenever I will it, the words I cast into thy mouth shall come forth without hesitation. But what thou sayest about a slave, that he cannot be corrected by words, is true, and therefore I give thee My rod for Pharaoh's castigation."
But Moses still stood his ground. He raised other objections. "His grandchild," he said, "is closer to a man than his nephew. Nevertheless when Lot was taken captive, Thou didst send angels to the aid of Abraham's nephew. But now, when the life of sixty myriads of Abraham's lineal descendants is at stake, Thou sendest me, and not the angels. When the Egyptian bondwoman Hagar was in distress, Thou didst dispatch five angels to stand by her, and to redeem sixty myriads of the children of Sarah Thou dost dispatch me. O Lord, send, I pray Thee, by the hand of him whom Thou wilt send in days to come." To this God answered, saying, "I said not that I would send thee to Israel, but to Pharaoh, and that one whom thou madest mention of, I will send to Israel at the end of days--Elijah will appear to them before the great and terrible day."
If Moses refused to do the errand of the Lord, there was a reason. God had revealed to him the treasures of the Torah, of wisdom, and of knowledge, and the whole world's future. Now he beheld in the inner chamber of God rows of scholars and judges interpreting the Torah in forty- nine different ways as they sat in the court of hewn stones; and he saw, besides, Rabbi Akiba explaining the meaning of the crowns upon the letters. Then said Moses: "I do not care to be God's messenger. Let Him rather send one of these great scholars." Then God ordered the Angel of Wisdom to carry Moses to a place of myriads of scholars, all interpreting the Torah, and all making use of the formula: This is a Halakah revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Now Moses recognized that even the greatest scholars of future generations would be dependent upon him, and then, at last, he was ready to execute the mission God desired to lay upon him.
But Moses had to pay dear for having hesitated in the execution of the Divine bidding. God said to him: "It was appointed that thou shouldst be priest, and Aaron should be the Levite. Because thou hast refused to execute My will, thou shalt be the Levite, and Aaron shall be priest,"--a punishment that did not fall upon Moses personally, but only upon his descendants, all of whom are Levites. As for himself, he performed a priest's service in the Tabernacle.
Moses had said to God, "Thou hast been speaking to me now these many days, nevertheless I am still slow of speech and of a slow tongue." For this he received another punishment. God said to him: "I might change thee into a new man, and heal thee of thy imperfect speech, but because thou hast uttered such words, I refrain from curing thee."
When Moses finally gave in, and declared himself ready to go to Egypt as God's messenger, his acceptance was still conditional upon the promise of God to fulfil all his wishes, and God granted whatsoever he desired, except immortality and entering the Holy Land. God also allayed his fears regarding the danger that threatened him from his whilom enemies Dathan and Abiram, on account of whom he had had to flee from Egypt. He told him that they had sunk to the estate of poor and insignificant men, bereft of the power of doing him harm.
Moses was loyal to the oath he had given his father-in-law Jethro, never to return to Egypt without securing his consent. His first concern therefore was to go back to Midian and obtain his permission, which Jethro gave freely. Then Moses could set out on his journey. He tarried only to take his wife and his children with him, which made his father- in-law say, "Those who are in Egypt are to leave it, and thou desirest to take more thither?" Moses replied: "Very soon the slaves held in bondage in Egypt will be redeemed, and they will go forth from the land, and gather at Mount Sinai, and hear the words, 'I am the Lord thy God,' and should my sons not be present there?" Jethro acknowledged the justice of Moses' words, and he said to him, "Go in peace, enter Egypt in peace, and leave the land in peace."
At last Moses sallied forth upon his journey to Egypt, accompanied by his wife and his children. He was mounted upon the very ass that had borne Abraham to the Akedah on Mount Moriah, the ass upon which the Messiah will appear riding at the end of days. Even now, his journey begun, Moses was but half-hearted about his mission. He travelled leisurely, thinking: "When I arrive in Egypt and announce to the children of Israel that the end of the term of Egyptian slavery has come, they will say, 'We know very well that our bondage must last four hundred years, and the end is not yet,' but if I were to put this objection before God, He would break out in wrath against me. It is best for me to consume as much time as possible on the way thither."
God was ill pleased with Moses for this artifice, and He spake to him, saying, "Joseph prophesied long ago that the oppression of Egypt would endure only two hundred and ten years." For his lack of faith Moses was punished while he was on the road to Egypt. The angels Af and Hemah appeared and swallowed his whole body down to his feet, and they gave him up only after Zipporah, nimble as a "bird," circumcised her son Gershom, and touched the feet of her husband with the blood of the circumcision. The reason why their son had remained uncircumcised until then was that Jethro had made the condition, when he consented to the marriage of his daughter with Moses, that the first son of their union should be brought up as a Gentile.
When Moses was released by the angels, he attacked them, and he slew Hemah, whose host of angels, however, held their own before the assailant.
The Divine voice heard by Moses in Midian telling him to return to his brethren in Egypt fell at the same time upon the ear of Aaron, dwelling in Egypt, and it bade him "go into the wilderness to meet Moses." God speaketh marvellously with His voice, and therefore the same revelation could be understood one way in Midian and another way in Egypt.
The greeting of the two brothers was very cordial. Envy and jealousy bad no place between them. Aaron was rejoiced that God had chosen his younger brother to be the redeemer of Israel, and Moses was rejoiced that his older brother had been divinely appointed the high priest in Israel. God knew their hearts, for at the time when He charged him with the Egyptian mission, Moses had said, "All these years Aaron has been active as a prophet in Israel, and should I now encroach upon his province and cause him vexation?" But God reassured him, saying, "Moses, thy brother Aaron will surely not be vexed, he will rather rejoice at thy mission, yea, he will come forth and meet thee."
Aaron showed his joy freely at seeing his brother once more, after their separation of many years. As for his joy in the distinction accorded to Moses, it was too great to be expressed in all its depth and extent. For his kind, generous spirit, he received a reward from God, in that he was permitted to bear the Urim and Thummim upon his heart, "for," God said, "the heart that rejoiced at the exalting of a brother shall wear the Urim and Thummim."
Aaron ran to meet his brother, and embraced him, and asked where he had spent all the years of their separation. When he was told in Midian, he continued to question him, saying, "Who are these that are travelling with thee?"
Moses: "My wife and my sons."
Aaron: "Whither goest thou with them?"
Moses: "To Egypt."
Aaron: "What! Great enough is our sorrow through those who have been in Egypt from the beginning, and thou takest more to the land?"
Moses recognized that Aaron was right, and he sent his wife and his sons back to his father-in-law Jethro.
He was no less magnanimous than Aaron. If the elder brother felt no envy on account of the younger brother's dignity, the younger brother did not withhold from the other the teachings and revelations he had received. Immediately after meeting with Aaron, Moses told him all that God had taught him, even the awful secret of the Ineffable Name communicated to him on Mount Horeb.
In obedience to the command of God, the elders of the people were assembled, and before them Moses performed the wonders that were to be his credentials as the redeemer sent to deliver the people. Nevertheless, the deeds he did were not so potent in convincing them of the reality of the mission as the words wherein God had announced the approaching redemption to him, which he repeated in their ears. The elders knew that Jacob had imparted to Joseph the secret mark designating the redeemer, and Joseph had in turn confided it to his brethren before his death. The last surviving one of the brethren, Asher, had revealed it to his daughter Serah, in the following words: "He that will come and proclaim the redemption with the words of God, 'I have surely visited you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt,' he is the true redeemer." Serah was still alive at Moses' return, and the elders betook themselves to her, and told her the words of Moses announcing the redemption. When she heard that his words had been the same as those Asher had quoted, she knew that he was the promised redeemer, and all the people believed in him.
Thereupon Moses invited the elders to go to Pharaoh with him, but they lacked the courage to appear before the king. Though they started out with Moses, they dropped off stealthily on the way, one by one, and when Moses and Aaron stood in the presence of the king, they found themselves alone, deserted by all the others. The elders did not go out free. Their punishment was that God did not permit them to ascend the holy mountain with Moses. They durst accompany him on the way to God only as far as they had accompanied him on the way to Pharaoh, and then they had to tarry until he came again.
The day Moses and Aaron made their appearance before Pharaoh happened to be the anniversary of his birth, and he was surrounded by many kings, for he was the ruler of the whole world, and this was the occasion on which the kings of the earth came to do him homage. When the attendants announced Moses and Aaron, Pharaoh inquired whether the two old men had brought him crowns, and, receiving a negative reply, he ordered that they were not to be admitted to his presence, until he had seen and dismissed all the others desirous of paying him their respects.
Pharaoh's palace was surrounded by a vast army. It was built with four hundred entrances, one hundred on each side, and each of them guarded by sixty thousand soldiers. Moses and Aaron were overawed by this display of power, and they were afraid. But the angel Gabriel appeared, and he led them into the palace, observed by none of the guards, and Pharaoh decreed severe punishment upon the inattentive sentinels for having admitted the old men without his permission. They were dismissed, and others put in their places. But the same thing happened the next day. Moses and Aaron were within the palace, and the new guard had not been able to hinder their passing. Pharaoh questioned his servants, how it had been possible for the two old men to enter, and they said: "We know it not! Through the doors they did not come. Surely, they must be magicians."
Not enough that the palace was guarded by a host, at each entrance two lions were stationed, and in terror of being torn to pieces none dared approach the doors, and none could go within until the lion tamer came and led the beasts away. Now Balaam and all the other sacred scribes of Egypt advised that the keepers loose the lions at the approach of Moses and Aaron. But their advice availed naught. Moses had but to raise his rod, and the lions bounded toward him joyously, and followed at his feet, gambolling like dogs before their master on his return home.
Within the palace, Moses and Aaron found seventy secretaries busy with Pharaoh's correspondence, which was carried on in seventy languages. At the sight of the messengers of Israel, they started up in great awe, for the two men resembled angels. In stature they were as the cedars of Lebanon, their countenances radiated splendor like the sun, the pupils of their eyes were like the sphere of the morning star, their beards like palm branches, and their mouths emitted flames when they opened them for speech. In their terror, the secretaries flung down pen and paper, and prostrated themselves before Moses and Aaron.
Now the two representatives of the children of Israel stepped before Pharaoh, and they spake, "The God of the Hebrews hath met with us; let us go, we pray thee, three days' journey into the wilderness, and sacrifice unto the Lord our God, lest He fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword." But Pharaoh answered, saying: "What is the name of your God? Wherein doth His strength consist, and His power? How many countries, how many provinces, how many cities hath He under His dominion? In how many campaigns was He victorious? How many lands did He make subject to Himself? How many cities did He capture? When He goeth to war, how many warriors, riders, chariots, and charioteers doth He lead forth?" Whereto Moses and Aaron replied: "His strength and His power fill the whole world. His voice heweth out flames of fire; His words break mountains in pieces. The heaven is His throne, and the earth His footstool. His bow is fire, His arrows are flames, His spears torches, His shield clouds, and His sword lightning flashes. He created the mountains and the valleys, He brought forth spirits and souls, He stretched out the earth by a word, He made the mountains with His wisdom, He forms the embryo in the womb of the mother, He covers the heavens with clouds, at His word the dew and the rain descend earthward, He causes plants to grow from the ground, He nourishes and sustains the whole world, from the horns upon the rem down to the eggs of vermin. Every day He causes men to die, and every day He calls men into life."
Pharaoh answered, and said: "I have no need of Him. I have created myself, and if ye say that He causes dew and rain to descend, I have the Nile, the river that hath its source under the tree of life, and the ground impregnated by its waters bears fruit so huge that it takes two asses to carry it. and it is palatable beyond description, for it has three hundred different tastes."
Then Pharaoh sent to fetch the books of the chronicles of his kingdom from his archives, wherein are recorded the names of the gods of all the nations, to see whether the name of the God of the Hebrews was among them. He read off: "The gods of Moab, the gods of Ammon, the gods of Zidon--I do not find your God inscribed in the archives!" Moses and Aaron exclaimed: "O thou fool! Thou seekest the Living in the graves of the dead. These which thou didst read are the names of dumb idols, but our God is the God of life and the King of eternal life."
When Pharaoh said the words, "I know not the Lord," God Himself made answer, saying: "O thou rascal! Thou sayest to My ambassadors, 'I know not the strength and the power of your God'? Lo, I will make thee to stand, for to show thee My power, and that My Name may be declared throughout all the earth."
Having searched his list of the gods of the nations in vain for a mention of the God of the Hebrews, Pharaoh cited before him the wise men of Egypt, and he said to them: "Have ye ever heard the name of the God of these people?" They replied, "We have been told that He is a son of the wise, the son of ancient kings." Then spake God, saying, "O ye fools! Ye call yourselves wise men, but Me ye call only the son of the wise. Verily, I will set at naught all your wisdom and your understanding."
Pharaoh persisted in his obduracy, even after Moses and Aaron had performed the miracle of the rod. At the time when the two Hebrews succeeded in entering the palace, guarded as it was by lions, Pharaoh had sent for his magicians, at their head Balaam and his two sons Jannes and Jambres, and when they appeared before him, he told them of the extraordinary incident, how the lions had followed the two old men like dogs, and fawned upon them. It was Balaam's opinion that they were simply magicians like himself and his companions, and he prayed the king to have them come before him together with themselves, to test who were the master magicians, the Egyptians or the Hebrews.
Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and he said to them: "Who will believe you when you say that you are the ambassadors of God, as you pretend to be, if you do not convince men by performing wonders?" Thereupon Aaron cast his rod to the ground, and it became a serpent. Pharaoh laughed aloud. "What," he exclaimed, "is this all your God can do? It is the way of merchants to carry merchandise to a place if there is none of it there, but would anyone take brine to Spain or fish to Accho? It seems you do not know that I am an adept in all sorts of magic!" He ordered little school children to be brought, and they repeated the wonder done by Moses and Aaron; indeed, Pharaoh's own wife performed it. Jannes and Jambres, the sons of Balaam, derided Moses, saying, "Ye carry straw to Ephrain!" whereto Moses answered, "To the place of many vegetables, thither carry vegetables."
To show the Egyptians that Aaron could do something with his rod that their magicians could not imitate, God caused the serpent into which His rod had been changed to swallow up all the rods of the magicians. But Balaam and his associates said: "There is nothing marvellous or astonishing in this feat. Your serpent has but devoured our serpents, which is in accordance with a law of nature, one living being devours another. If thou wishest us to acknowledge that the spirit of God worketh in thee, then cast thy rod to the earth, and if, being wood, it swallows up our rods of wood, then we shall acknowledge that the spirit of God is in thee." Aaron stood the test. After his rod had resumed its original form, it swallowed up the rods of the Egyptians, and yet its bulk showed no increase. This caused Pharaoh to reflect, whether this wonderful rod of Aaron might not swallow up also him and his throne. Nevertheless he refused to obey the behest of God, to let Israel go, saying, "Had I Jacob-Israel himself here before me, I should put trowel and bucket on his shoulder." And to Moses and Aaron, he said, "Because ye, like all the rest of the tribe of Levi, are not compelled to labor, therefore do ye speak, 'Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.' If you had asked for a thousand people, or two thousand, I should have fulfilled your request, but never will I consent to let six hundred thousand men go away."