Why are we all talking in Hebrew and having a party tonight? Why is
tonight different from all other nights?
Tonight we are celebrating our escape from Egypt, almost 4000 years
ago. Even though this is the story of our ancestors, it is also our own
escape. They did it for us as well as for themselves.
Our ancestors didnít start out in Egypt. A man named Abraham, who
founded the Jewish religion, was a prosperous farmer in a land called
Canaan. He had two sons. His firstborn, Ishmael, became the father of the
Arab people. It was normal in those days for a child to have a personal
religious experience and found a new religion. Abrahamís other son,
Isaac followed Abrahamís religion.
Isaac had two sons. His firstborn, Esau, followed a nature-religion.
Esauís twin, Jacob, followed the religion of Abraham and Isaac.
Sometimes youíll hear about Judaism being the religion of Abraham, Isaac
and Jacob. They were the first three men to follow this religion.
Jacob had 4 wives. With them he had 12 sons and one daughter. All of
his children followed the religion of Abraham. Jacob did something that
parents know they shouldnít do. He had a favorite child. This favorite
child was Joseph, one of his youngest children. Jacob bought a fancy
multicolored coat for Joseph, but didnít buy coats for his brothers or
his sister. His brothers became jealous.
Joseph also had dreams about his brothers bowing down to him. He was
just a little boy and they were nearly full grown. They didnít want to
bow down to a child, and they thought he was bragging and showing off.
They didnít understand how their father could like him best. He was a
One day they threw him into a well and were about to kill him when some
Egyptian traders came by. These traders were Ishmaelites, descendants of
Ishmael, and therefore 5th cousins of Joseph and his brothers.
The brothers decided not to kill Joseph. Instead they sold Joseph to the
traders as a slave. They then spattered his fancy coat with animal blood
and took it back to their father Jacob. They lied and told him that Joseph
had been killed by a wild animal. In Egypt, meanwhile, Joseph discovered
he could interpret other peopleís dreams. His interpretations came true.
One day the Pharoah had a dream and sent for Joseph to interpret it.
Joseph said his ability to interpret dreams was a God-given talent. He
then told Pharaoh that the dream was God telling him there would be 7
years of good harvest followed by 7 years of drought. Pharaoh put Joseph
in charge of storing grain during the years of good harvest, so nobody
would starve during the years without rain.
No one warned Josephís family in Canaan about the drought, and when
the rains didnít come, they had no stored food to eat. Jacob sent ten of
his sons to Egypt for food. Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did
not know him. To teach them a lesson, he put his meanest brother in jail,
and gave the others only enough food to get home and back again. He
ordered them to bring their father and the one brother who had not come
with them, and their wives and children if they wanted any more food.
When they returned, Joseph told them they were his family. And if his
brothers hadnít sold him into slavery, there would be no food for
anyone, so it all worked out well. Then he let his meanest brother out of
Joseph asked Pharaoh for land in Egypt for his family. Pharaoh was
grateful to Joseph for all he had done and gave him the fertile region of
About 400 years later, an easily frightened man became Pharaoh. He saw
that the children of Israel were prosperous and feared that they might
someday join with an enemy, if Egypt were attacked.
That Pharaoh made our ancestors into slaves and ordered their midwives
to kill all the male children. But the midwives feared God and disobeyed
Pharaoh. Then Pharaoh ordered the Israelites to kill their own sons by
putting them into the river. One woman kept her son, named Moses, for
three months and then put him into the river in a waterproof basket and
sent her daughter Miriam to see what would happen.
The baby Moses floated right by the Pharaoh's kindly daughter while she
was taking her bath in the river. The princess took pity on Moses and
rescued him. Moses' sister Miriam offered to fetch a wetnurse and returned
with her mother. Pharaoh's daughter paid Moses' mother to nurse him.
Later, when Moses was older, she made sure he was educated by the best
teachers in Egypt. Education is another important Jewish value.
When he grew up, Moses knew he wasnít like the other children in the
palace. He knew he was Jewish. One day Moses saw an Egyptian beating a
Hebrew. He killed the Egyptian and hid him. Remember Ė Moses was raised
in a class-based society. He was raised as royalty. He thought royal
people were more important than working men. And working men thought they
were more important than slaves. Egyptians hit Hebrews and Royalty could
hit working men. But they werenít supposed to kill each other.
The next day Moses saw two Israelites fighting and asked why brothers
should fight. One responded "Will you kill me as you killed the
Egyptian?" Moses feared how many might know what he had done and left
the country. Yes, Moses was a murderer who ran away to avoid being
While he was in exile, he married and had children. One day he saw a
bush that was burning, but not being consumed. He stopped to watch. He
must have watched for quite a while in order to notice that the bush was
not being consumed. At first glance, heíd never know if the bush had an
eternal flame or if it was burning down to ashes, like they usually do. A
voice from the bush told Moses that he had been chosen by God to free his
brethren, now 600,000 men, plus women and children, from Egyptian bondage.
Magicians were very popular in those days. The Pharaoh had many
magicians to entertain him. Moses was a talented magician, too. At first
when Moses went to the Pharaoh to ask for our freedom, everybody just
thought he had learned some new magic tricks, like turning a cane into a
snake, or giving his hand a temporary case of leprosy.
If Moses was doing tricks, he was indeed the greatest Magician ever
recorded. He said he was Godís messenger. He brought ten plagues on
Egypt in order to convince Pharaoh to let our people go. Moses announced
each one, and each time he gave Pharaoh the opportunity to avoid the
plague by letting our people go.