Bnei Yisrael marched out of Mitzrayim with a mighty hand under their great leader Moshe Rabbeinu. This was not, however, the first time Bnei Yisrael attempted to escape from Mitzrayim and return to the land that Hashem had promised their fathers.
One hundred and eighty years after Bnei Yisrael went down to Mitzrayim, a man named Yignon from the tribe of Efraim appeared before the people and said:
“Hashem appeared to me and told me to take Bnei Yisrael out of Mitzrayim because the time has come for their redemption.”
Most of Bnei Yisrael refused to believe him, but the tribe of Efraim agreed to follow him. They marched out of Mitzrayim with complete faith in their new leader, not even taking food along with them.
“We will buy food from the Plishtim,” they declared, “and if they refuse to sell us the food, we will take it from them by force.”
The children of Efraim reached the area of Gos, and they saw Plishtim tending their cattle and sheep.
“Sell us some of the cattle you have there,” they called, “because we are very hungry.”
“We cannot sell you anything because the cattle is not ours,” the shepherds replied.
“In that case we will take them ourselves,’’ Yignon said.
A great battle soon raged between Efraim and the Plishtim. Many fell on both sides, but eventually the valley of Gos was filled with the bodies of the fallen Efraimites. There the bones remained for many, many years, until the Navi Yechezkel, in his vision of the dry bones, restored them to life through the Word of Hashem.
A few stragglers managed to stagger back to Mitzrayim where they told the whole tragic story. Thus, the attempt to leave Mitzrayim – made in defiance of Hashem’s command – proved a failure, and Bnei Yisrael remained slaves.
Meanwhile, Moshe was king in Ethiopia. For 40 years he ruled with kindness and justice, and was much beloved by the people. Now, however, Menechris, son of the former King Nikanos – who was an infant when his father died – was of the proper age to reign in his father’s place and Moshe turned over the kingdom to him.
Now 67 years old, Moshe was still afraid to return to Mitzrayim, so he went to the Land of Midyan. As he arrived, a drama was taking place in that country.
In Midyan there lived a pagan priest, Yisro, who was greatly respected by his people. He worshiped idols of stone and wood and led all his countrymen in this religion.
But Yisro, the priest, was not a fool. He was a clever and analytical thinker, and 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. He called in his seven daughters and told them: “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 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 had pity on these girls who were strangers to him, 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.”
The daughters of Yisro rushed home to their father and excitedly told him about the incident.
“Father,” they exclaimed, “a man from Mitzrayim saved us from the shepherds who tried to drive us away from the well.”
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.”
“I am a Hebrew and I come from Mitzrayim,” said Moshe, who then told Yisro all that had befallen him in both Mitzrayim and Ethiopia.
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 in Ethiopia and, because of this, he had fled. I will have him thrown into prison until the Mitzrim come and 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 Zipporah, 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.
(To be continued)