In the land of Midyan there lived a pagan priest, Yisro, who was greatly respected by his people. He worshiped idols of stone and wood and so did his countrymen.
But Yisro was not a fool. Indeed he was a clever and analytical thinker, and he soon came to the conclusion that his worship of these idols was futile and foolish. They were not really gods, he saw, and so he called his people together and said:
“My people, I have a very important message to tell you, and I would like you to listen very carefully. I have grown old and I can no longer worship and lead you in the worship of all these gods.
“I call upon you, therefore, to please choose some other man to be your priest. Choose a younger and stronger man, and allow me to retire in my remaining years.”
But the people understood Yisro’s real reason for wishing to step down as their priest, and they grew angry.
“Cursed be the man who befriends Yisro and who helps him do his work and who shepherds his flocks!”
Thus was Yisro ostracized, and his life became difficult. However, since he had seven daughters, he called then in and said:
“Since we have no one who is willing to help us any longer, you must become shepherds and take care of our flocks.”
But the people of Midyan would not even allow this, and they made it a point to drive away the daughters of Yisro when they appeared at the well to take water for their flocks.
It was at just such a moment that Moshe, the son of Amram, who had been raised in Pharoh’s palace, suddenly appeared on the scene. He saw the shepherds chasing away the young girls, and he felt sorry for them. He came forward and drove away the bullies, thus allowing the girls to draw water for their flocks.
And the Almighty looked down and saw what Moshe had done.
“Because Moshe did such a thing,” He said, “and because he had pity on strange girls, he shall now be called the servant of the Lord, and the people of the world shall know that My servants are good to all and that their mercies are on all the creatures of the Lord.”
And the daughters of Yisro rushed home to their father and excitedly told him about the incident.
“Father,” they exclaimed, “an Egyptian saved us from the shepherds who tried to drive us away from the well.”
Moshe stood outside the home and heard the words of the daughters of Yisro. He did not, however, come forward to correct their mistake.
Because of this, the Almighty said: “Because Moshe did not object to being called an Egyptian, because he did not call out and say that he was a Hebrew, therefore will he not be privileged to enter the Land of the Hebrews, and his bones will not be buried there.”
Thrown Into Prison
When Yisro heard his daughters’ words, he asked them:
“If this man did such a good thing for you, why did you not invite him in to eat? Go, get him.”
And so Moshe was brought into the house of Yisro, and they spoke.
“I am a Hebrew and I come from Egypt,” said Moshe, who then told Yisro all that had befallen him.
Yisro listened carefully to all that Moshe told him and thought to himself:
“Can this be? Can a man who has comfort and wealth give it all up for principle and ideals? I cannot believe such a thing. Surely, there was some evil action that he did. I will have him thrown into prison until the Egyptians send for him.”
And so, Moshe was seized and thrown into a deep and dark pit. There he remained for years and would have surely died of hunger if not for Tzipporah, the daughter of Yisro, who would come secretly every day and feed him. Yisro knew nothing of this, and put Moshe out of his mind.
One day Tzipporah approached Yisro. “Father,” she said, “Ten years ago, you placed the man Moshe in the pit. You ordered all to refrain from feeding or giving him drink. Why do you not send one of the servants now to see if he still lives?”
Yisro looked at his daughter in astonishment and said:
“You speak foolishly, daughter, How is it possible for a man who had not eaten for 10 years to live?”
His daughter persisted, however, and Yisro went to the pit where he had placed Moshe. Looking down into the dark hole, he was astonished to see Moshe, standing and praying to G-d for deliverance. He was dirty and haggard, but he was alive.
“It is a miracle!” cried Yisro. “He is still alive after all these years without food and water.”