The Legends of the Jews Volume 3 Bible Times and Characters by Lois Ginzberg

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  • 1909
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“When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a People of strange language, Jacob was His sanctuary and Israel His dominion. Jewish legend attempts to describe how God’s sanctuary, the religion of Israel and His dominion, the beginnings of Israel as a nation, arose in the time between the Exodus from Egypt and the entrance into the Holy Land.

Moses is regarded not only as the greatest religious guide of Israel, but also as its first national leader; he is “the wisest (If the wise, the father of the prophets,” as well as ” king in Jeshiurun, when the heads of the people and the tribes of Israel gathered together.” hence his unique position in Jewish legend, neither Abraham, the friend of God, nor Solomon, the wisest of all men, nor Elijah, the helper in time of need. can lay claim to such a position.

Great religious and national institutions like the Sabbath, the sanctuary, and many other ” commandments of God revealed to Moses ” stand in a special relation to his life and work. The sanctification of the Sabbath became quite a living thing to him through the miracle of the Manna, and the first sanctuary was actually erected by Moses. The life of Moses ceased, therefore, to be a thing of the past and became closely interwoven with the every-day life of the nation.

The most natural way for the popular mind to connect existing conditions with the past is the symbolic method. The present volume contains, therefore, a number of symbolic explanations of certain laws, as, for instance, the symbolical significance of the Tabernacle, which, properly speaking, do not belong to the domain of legend. The life of Moses, as conceived by Jewish legend, would, however, have been in complete if the lines between Legend and Symbolism had been kept too strictly. With this exception the arrangement and presentation of the material in the third volume is the same as that in the two preceding ones.

NEW YORK, March 2, 1911

The Long Route–Pharaoh Pursues the Hebrews–The Sea Divided –The Passage through the Red Sea–The Destruction of the Fgyptians–The Song at the Sea– The Awful Desert–The Heavenly Food–The Gathering of the Manna–Miriam’ s Well–Aniaiek’s War against Israel Amalek Defeated Jethro Installation of Elders– Jethro Rewarded–The Time is at Hand–The Gentiles Refuse the Torah The Contest of the Mountains–The Torah Offered to Israel– Israel Prepares for the Revelation–The Revelation on Mount Sinai–The First Commandment–The Other Commandments Revealed on Sinai– The Unity of the Ten Commandments–Moses Chosen as Intermediator–Moses and the Angels Strive for the Torah–Moses Receives the Torah–The Golden Calf–Moses Blamed for Israel’s Sin–The Punishment of the Sinners– Moses Intercedes for the People–The Inscrutable Ways of the Lord–The Thirteen Attributes of God–The Second Tables–The Census of the People–The Erection of the Tabernacle Commanded–The Materials for the Construction of theTabernacle –Bezalel–The Ark with the Cherubim–The Table and the Candlestick–The Altar–The Symbolical Significance of the Tabernacle–The Priestly Robes–The Stones in the Breastplate–The Completion of the Tabernacle–The Setting up of the Tabernacle–The Consecration of the Priests–The Day of the Ten Crowns–The Interrupted Joy–The Gifts of the Princes–The Revelations in theTabernacle–The Cleansing of the Camp–The Lighting of the Candlestick–The Twelve Princes of the Tribes– The Census of the Levites–The Four Divisions of the Levites–The Four Standards–Thc Camp–The BIasphemer and the Sabbath-breaker–The Ungrateful Multitude–The Flesh-pots of Egypt–The Appointment of the Seventy Elders–Eldad and Medad –The Quails–Aaron and Miriam Slander Moses–Miriam’s Punishment–The Sending of the Spies–Significant Names–The Spies in Palestine–The Slanderous Report–The Night of Tears– Ingratitude Punished–The Years of Disfavor–The Rebellion of Korah–Korah Abuses Moses and the Torah Moses Pleads in Vain with Korah–Korah and His Horde Punished–On and the Three Sons of Korah Saved–Israel Convinced of Aaron’s Priesthood–The Waters of Meribah–Moses’ Anger Causes His Doom–Edom’s Unbrotherly Attitude toward Israel–The Three Shepherds–Preparing Aaron for Impending Death–Aaron’s Death–The General Mourning for Aaron–The False Friends–The Brazen Serpent–At Arnon–Sihon, the King of the Amorites–The Giant Og–Moses’ Speech of Admonition–Balak, King of Moab–Balaam, the Heathen Prophet–Balak’s Messengers to Bahaam– Balaam Accepts Balak’s Invitation–Baiaam’s Ass– Balaam Runs into His Own Destruction–Balaam with Balak Balaam’s Sacrifices Refused–Balaam Extols Israel–Balaam’s Hopes Disappointed–Curses Turned into Blessings–Balaam’s Wicked Counsel–Phinehas, Zealous for God–Twelve Miracles–Phinehas Rewarded–The Daughters of Zelophmehad The appointment of Joshua–Moses’ Legacy to Joshua–Moses’ last campaign–The Complete Annihilation of Midian–The Gruesome End of Balaam– The Victorious Return from the War–Wealth that Bringeth Destruction–Moses’ Death Irrevocably Doomed–Moses Prayer for Suspension of Judgment–God Tries to Comfort Moses Concerning His Death–The Intercessions for Moses–Moses Serves Joshua–The Last Day of Moses’ Life–Moses Beholds the Future–Moses Meets the Messiah in Heaven–The Last Hours of Moses The Blessing of Moses–Moses Prays for Death–Samuel Chastised by Moses–God Kisses Moses’ Soul–The Mourning for Moses–Samuel’s Vain Search–Moses Excels All Pious Men.


The Legends of the Jews Volume III
Bible Times and Characters from the Exodus to the Death of Moses


The exodus would have been impossible if Joseph’s bones had remained behind. Therefore Moses made it his concern to seek their resting-place, while the people had but the one thought of gathering in the treasures of the Egyptians. [1] But it was not an easy matter to find Joseph’s body. Moses knew that he had been interred in the mausoleum of the Egyptian kings, but there were so many other bodies there that it was impossible to identify it. Moses’ mother Jochebed came to his aid. She led him to the very spot where Joseph’s bones lay. As soon as he came near them, he knew them to be what he was seeking, by the fragrance they exhaled and spread around. [2] But his difficulties were not at an end. The question arose, how he was to secure possession of the remains. Joseph’s coffin had been sunk far down into the ground, and he knew not how to raise it from the depths. Standing at the edge of the grave, he spoke these words. “Joseph, the time hath come whereof thou didst say, ‘God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence.'” No sooner had this reminder dropped from his lips than the coffin stirred and rose to the surface.

And even yet the difficulties in Moses’ way were not removed wholly. The Egyptian magicians had stationed two golden dogs at Joseph’s coffin, to keep watch,. and they barked vehemently if anyone ventured close to it. The noise they made was so loud it could be heard throughout the land, from end to end, a distance equal to a forty day’s journey. When Moses came near the coffin, the dogs emitted their warning sound, but he silenced them at once with words, “Come, ye people, and behold the miracle! The real, live dogs did not bark, and these counterfeit dogs produced by magic attempt it!” [3] What he said about real, live dogs and their refraining from barking had reference to the fact that the dogs of the Egyptians did not move their tongues against any of the children of Israel, through they had barked all the time the people were engaged in burying the bodies of their smitten first-born. As a reward God gave the Israelites the law, to cast to the dogs the flesh they themselves are forbidden to eat, for the Lord withholds due recompense from none of His creatures. [4] Indeed, the dogs received a double reward, for their excrements are used in tanning the hides from which the Torah scrolls are made, as well as the Mezuzot and the phylacteries. [5]

Joseph’s coffin in the possession of Moses, the march of the Israelites could begin. The Egyptians put no manner of obstacle in their way. Pharaoh himself accompanied them, to make sure that they were actually leaving the land, [6] and now he was so angry at his counselors for having advised against letting the Israelites depart that he slew them. [7]

For several reasons God did not permit the Israelites to travel along the straight route to the promised land. He desired them to go to Sinai first and take the law upon themselves there, and, besides, the time divinely appointed for the occupation of the land by the Gentiles had not yet elapsed. Over and above all this, the long sojourn in the wilderness was fraught with profit for the Israelites, spiritually and materially. If they had reached Palestine directly after leaving Egypt, they would have devoted themselves entirely each to the cultivation of his allotted parcel of ground, and no time would have been left for the study of the Torah. In the wilderness they were relieved of the necessity of providing for their daily wants, and they would give all their efforts to acquiring the law. On the whole, it would not have been advantageous to process at once to the Holy Land and take possession thereof, for when the Canaanites heard that the Israelites were making for Palestine, they burnt the crops, felled the trees, destroyed the buildings, and choked the water springs, all in order to render the land uninhabitable. Hereupon God spake, and said: “I did not promise their fathers to give a devastated land unto their see, but a land full of all good things. I will lead them about in the wilderness for forty years, and meanwhile the Canaanites will have time to repair the damage they have done.” [8] Moreover, the many miracles preformed for the Israelites during the journey through the wilderness had made their terror to fall upon the other nations, and their hearts melted, and there remained no more spirit in any man. They did not venture to attack the Israelites, and the conquest of the land was all the easier. [9]

Nor does this exhaust the list of reasons for preferring the longer route through the desert. Abraham had sworn a solemn oath to live at peace with the Philistines during a certain period, and the end of the term had not yet arrived. Besides, there was the fear that the sight of the land of the Philistines would awaken sad recollections in the Israelites, and drive them back into Egypt speedily, for once upon a time it had been the scene of a bitter disappointment to them. they had spent one hundred and eighty years in Egypt, in peace and prosperity, not in the least molested by the people. Suddenly Ganon came, a descendant of Joseph, of the tribe of Ephraim, and he spake, “The Lord hat appeared unto me, and He bade me lead you forth out of Egypt.” The Ephraimites were the only ones to heed his words. Proud of their royal lineage as direct descendants of Joseph, and confident to their valor in war, for they were great heroes, they left the land and betook themselves to Palestine. [10] They Carried only weapons and gold and silver. They had taken no provisions, because they expected to buy food and drink on the way or capture them by force if the owners would not part with them for money.

After a day’s march they found themselves in the neighborhood of Gath, at the place where the shepherds employed by the residents of the city gathered with the flocks. the Ephraimites asked them to sell them some sheep, which they expected to slaughter in order to satisfy their hunger with them, but the shepherds refused to have business dealings with them, saying, “Are the sheep ours, or does the cattle belong to us, that we could part with them for money?” Seeing that they could not gain their point by kindness, the Ephraimites used force. The outcries of the shepherds brought the people of Gath to their aid. A violent encounter, lasting a whole day, took place between the Israelites and the Philistines. The people of Gath realized that alone they would not be able to offer successful resistance to the Ephraimites, and they summoned the people of the other Philistine cities to join them. The following day an army of forty thousand stood ready to oppose the Ephraimites. Reduced in strength, as they were, by their three days’ fast, they were exterminated root and branch. Only ten of them escaped with their bare life, and returned to Egypt, to bring Ephraim word of the disaster that had overtaken his posterity, and he mourned many days.

This abortive attempt of the Ephraimites to leave Egypt was the first occasion for oppressing Israel. Thereafter the Egyptians exercised force and vigilance to keep them in their land. As for the disaster of the Ephraimites, it was well-merited punishment, because they had paid no heed to the wish of the father Joseph, who had adjured his descendants solemnly on his deathbed not to think of quitting the land until the redeemer should appear. Their death was followed by disgrace, for their bodies lay unburied for many years on the battlefield near Gath, and the purpose of God in directing the Israelites to choose the longer route from Egypt to Canaan, was to spare them the sight of those dishonored corpses. Their courage might have deserted them, and out of apprehension of sharing the fate of their brethren they might have hastened back to the land of slavery. [11]


When Pharaoh permitted Israel to depart, he was under the impression that they were going only a three days’ journey into the wilderness for the purpose of offering sacrifices. He sent officers with them, whose duty was to bring them back at the appointed time. The exodus took place on a Thursday. On the following Sunday the king’s watchers noticed that the Israelites, so far from preparing for a return, were making arrangements looking to a long sojourn in the desert. They remonstrated and urged them to go back. The Israelites maintained that Pharaoh had dismissed them for good, but the officers would not be put off with their mere assertions. They said, “Willy-nilly, you will have to do as the powers that be command.” To such arrogance the Israelites would not submit, and they fell upon the officers, slaying some and wounding others. The maimed survivors went back to Egypt, and report the contumacy of the Israelites to Pharaoh. Meantime Moses, who did not desire the departure of his people to have the appearance of flight before the Egyptians, gave the signal to turn back to Pi-hahiroth. Those of little faith among the Israelites tore their hair and their garments in desperation, though Moses assured them that by the word of God they were free men, and no longer slaves to Pharaoh. [12] Accordingly, they retraced their steps to Pi-hahiroth, where two rectangular rocks form an opening, within which the great sanctuary of Baal-zephon was situated. The rocks are shaped like human figures, the one a man and the other a woman, and they were not chiseled by human hands, but by the Creator Himself. The place had been called Pithom in earlier times, but later, on account of the idols set up there, it received the name Hahiroth. Of set purpose God had left Baal-zephon uninjured, alone of all the Egyptian idols. He wanted the Egyptian people to think that this idol was possessed of exceeding might, which it exercised to prevent the Israelites from journeying on. To confirm them in their illusory belief, God caused wild beasts to obstruct the road to the wilderness, and they took it for granted that their idol Baal-zephon had ordained their appearance. [13]

Pi-hahiroth was famous, besides, on account of the treasures heaped up there. The wealth of the world which Joseph had acquired through the sale of corn he had stored up during the seven years of plenty, he had divided into three parts. The first part he surrendered to Pharaoh. The second part he concealed in the wilderness, where it was found by Korah, though it disappeared again, not to come to view until the Messianic time, and then it will be for the benefit of the pious. The third part Joseph hid in the sanctuary of Baal-zephon, whence the Hebrews carried it off as booty. [14]

When Amalek and the magicians brought the information to Pharaoh, that the Israelites had resolved not to return to Egypt, his heart and the heart of his whole people turned against them. The very counselors that had persuaded him to dismiss the children of Israel spake now as follows: ” If we had only been smitten with the plaques, we could have resigned ourselves to our fate. Or if, besides being smitten with the plagues, we had been compelled to let the Hebrews depart from the land, that, too, we could have been borne with patience. But to be smitten with the plagues, to be compelled to let our slaves depart from us, and to sit by and see them go off with our riches, that is more than we can endure.”

Now that the children of Israel had gone from them the Egyptians recognized how valuable an element they had been in their country. In general, the time of the exodus of Israel was disastrous for their former masters. In addition to losing their dominion over the Israelites, the Egyptians had to deal with mutinies that broke out among many other nations tributary to them, for hitherto Pharaoh had been the ruler of the whole world. The king resorted to blandishments and promises, to induce the people to make war against the Israelites, saying, “As a rule the army marches forth first, and the king follows in security, but I will precede you; and as a rule the king has the first choice of the booty, and as much of it as he desires, but I will take no more than any one of you, and on my return from the war I will divide my treasures of silver, gold, and precious stones among you.”

In his zeal Pharaoh did not wait to have his chariot made ready for him he did it with his own hands, and his nobles followed his example. [15] Samael granted Pharaoh assistance, putting six hundred chariots manned with his own hosts at his disposal. [16] These formed the vanguard, and they were joined by all the Egyptians, with their vast assemblages of chariots and warriors, no less than three hundred of their men to one of the children of Israel, each equipped with their different sorts of weapons. The general custom was for two charioteers to take turns at driving a car, but to overtake the Israelites more surely and speedily, Pharaoh ordered three to be assigned to each. The result was that they covered in one day the ground which it had taken the Israelites three to traverse.

The mind of the Egyptians was in no wise directed toward spoil and plunder in this expedition. Their sole and determined purpose was to exterminate Israel, kith and kin. As the heathen lay great stress upon omens when they are about to start out on a campaign, God caused all their preparations to proceed smoothly, without the slightest untoward circumstance. Everything pointed to a happy issue. [17] Pharaoh, himself an adept in magic, had a presentiment that dire misfortune would befall the children of Israel in the wilderness, that they would lose Moses there, and there the whole generation that had departed from Egypt would find its grave. Therefore he spoke to Dathan and Abiram, who remained behind in Egypt, saying: “Moses is leading them, but he himself knows not whither. Verily, the congregation of Israel will lift up their voice in the wilderness, and cry, and there they will be destroyed.” He thought naturally that these visions had reference to an imminent future, to the time of his meeting with his dismissed slaves. But his error was profound – he was hurrying forward to his own destruction. [18]

When he reached the sanctuary of Baal-zephon, Pharaoh, in his joy at finding him spared while all the other idols in Egypt had been annihilated, lost no time, but hastened to offer sacrifices to him, and he was comforted, “for,” he said, “Baal-zephon approves my purpose of drowning the children of Israel in the sea.” [19]

When the Israelites beheld the huge detachments of the Egyptian army moving upon them, and when they considered that in Migdol there were other troops stationed, besides, more, indeed, than their own numbers, men, women, and children all told, great terror overwhelmed them. [20] What affrighted them most, was the sight of the Angel of Egypt darting through the air as he flew to the assistance of the people under his tutelage. They turned to Moses, saying: “What has thou done to us? Now they will requite us for all that hath happened – that their first-born were smitten, and that we ran off with their money, which was thy fault, for thou didst bid up borrow gold and silver from our Egyptian neighbors and depart with their property.”

The situation of the Israelites was desperate. Before them was the sea, behind them the Egyptians, on both sides the wild beasts of the desert. [21] The wicked among them spoke to Moses, saying, “While we were in Egypt, we said to thee and to Aaron, ‘The Lord look upon you, and judge, because ye have made our savor to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to slay us.’ Then there died many of our brethren during the days of darkness, which was worse than the bondage in which the Egyptians kept us. Nevertheless our fate in the desert will be sadder than theirs. They at least were mourned, and their bodies ere buried, but our corpses will lie exposed, consumed in the day by drought and by frost in the night.”

Moses in his wisdom knew how to pacify the thousands and myriads under his leadership. He impressed them with the words, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.” “When will His salvation come?” questioned the people, and he told them it would appear the following day, but they protested, “We cannot wait until to-morrow.” Then Moses prayed to God, and the Lord showed him the angel hosts standing ready to hasten to the assistance of the people. [22]

They were not agreed as to what they were to do. There were four contending parties. The opinion of the first party was that they seek death by drowning in the sea; of the second, that they return to Egypt; the third was in favor of a pitched battle with the enemy, and the fourth thought it would be a good plan to intimidate the Egyptians by noise and a great hubbub. To the first Moses said, “Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord;” to the second, “The Egyptians whom ye have seen to-day, ye shall see them again no more forever;” to the third, “The Lord shall fight for you;” and to the fourth, “Ye shall hold your peace.” “What, then, shall we do?” these asked their leader, and Moses answered them, saying, “Ye shall bless, praise, extol, adore and glorify Him that is the Lord of war!” Instead of the sword and the five sorts of arms which they bore, they mad use of their mouth, and it was of greater avail than all possible weapons of war. The Lord hearkened unto their prayer, for which He had but been waiting. [23]

Moses also addressed himself to God, saying: “O Lord of the world! I am like the shepherd who, having undertaken to pasture a flock, has been heedless enough to drive his sheep to the edge of a precipice, and then is in a despair how to get them down again. Pharaoh is behind my flock Israel, in the south is Baal-zephon, in the north Midgol, and before us the sea lies spread out. [24] Thou knowest, O Lord, that it is beyond human strength and human contrivance to surmount the difficulties standing in our way. Thine alone is the work of procuring deliverance for this army, which left Egypt at Thy appointment. We despair of all other assistance or device, and we have recourse only to our hope in Thee. If there be any escape possible, we look up to Thy providence to accomplish it for us.” [25] With such words Moses continued to make fervent supplication to God to succor Israel in their need. But God cut short his prayer, saying: “Moses, My children are in distress – the sea blocks the way before them, the enemy is in hot pursuit after them, and thou standest here and prayest. Sometimes long prayer is good, but sometimes it is better to be brief. If I gathered the waters together unto one place, and let the dry land appear for Adam, a single human being, should I not do the same for this holy congregation? I will save them if only for the sake of the merits of Abraham, who stood ready to sacrifice his son Isaac unto Me, and for the sake of My promise to Jacob. The sun and the moon are witnesses that I will cleave the sea for the seed of the children of Israel, who deserve My help for going after Me in the wilderness unquestioningly. Do thou but see to it that they abandon their evil thought of returning to Egypt, and then it will not be necessary to turn to Me and entreat My help.” [26]

Moses, however, was still very much troubled in mind, on account of Samael, who had not left off lodging accusations before God against Israel since the exodus from Egypt. The Lord adopted the same procedure in dealing with the accuser as the experienced shepherd, who, at the moment of transferring his sheep across a stream, was faced by a ravening wolf. The shepherd threw a strong ram to the wolf, and while the two engaged in combat, the rest of the flock was carried across the water, and then the shepherd returned and snatch the wolf’s supposed prey away from him. Samael said to the Lord: “Up to this time the children of Israel were idol worshippers, and now Thou proposest so great a thing as dividing the sea for them?” What did the Lord do? He surrendered Job to Samael, saying, “While he busies himself with Job, Israel will pass through the sea unscathed, and as soon as they are in safety, I will rescue Job from the hands of Samael.” [27]

Israel had other angel adversaries, besides. Uzza, the tutelary Angel of the Egyptians, appeared before God, and said, “O Lord of the world! I have a suit with this nation which Thou hast brought forth out to Egypt. If it seemeth well to Thee, let their angel Michael appear, and contend with me before Thee.” The Lord summoned Michael, and Uzza stated his charges against Israel: “O Lord of the world! Thou didst decree concerning this people of Israel that is hall be held in bondage by my people, the Egyptians, for a period of four hundred years. But they had dominion over them only eighty-six years, therefore the time of their going forth hath not yet arrived. If it be Thy will, give me permission to take them back to Egypt, that they may continue in slavery for the three hundred and fourteen years that are left, and Thy word be fulfilled. As Thou are immutable, so let Thy decree be immutable!”

Michael was silent, for he knew not how to controvert these words, and it seemed as if Uzza had won his suit. But the Lord Himself espoused the cause of Israel, and He said to Uzza: “The duty of serving thy nation was laid upon My children only on account of an unseemly word uttered by Abraham. When I spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it,’ he made answer, ‘Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?’ Therefore did I say to him, ‘Thy seed shall be a stranger.’ But it is well-known and manifest before Me that they were ‘strangers’ from the day of Isaac’s birth, and. reckoning thence, the period of four hundred years has elapsed, and thou hast no right to keep My children in bondage any longer.” [28]


God spake to Moses, saying, “Why dost thou stand here praying? My children’s prayer has anticipated thine. For thee there is naught to do but lift up thy rod and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it.” Moses replied: “Thou commandest me to divide the sea, and lay bare the dry ground in the midst of it, and yet Thou didst Thyself make it a perpetual decree, that the sand shall be placed for the bound of the sea.” And again God spake to Moses: “Thou has not read the beginning of the Torah. I, yea, I, did speak, ‘Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear,’ and at that time I made the condition that the waters shall divide before Israel. [29] Take the rod that I gave unto thee, and go to the sea upon Mine errand, and speak thus: ‘I am the messenger sent by the Creator of the world! Uncover thy paths, O sea, for My children, that they may go through the midst of thee on dry ground.'”

Moses spoke to the sea as God had bidden him, but it replied, “I will not do according to thy words, for thou are only a man born of woman, and, besides, I am three days older than thou, O man, for I was brought forth on the third day of creation, and thou on the sixth.” Moses lost no time, but carried back to God the words the sea has spoken, and the Lord said” “Moses, what does a master do with an intractable servant?” “He beats him with a rod,” said Moses. “Do thus!” ordered God. “Lift up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea and divide it.” [30]

Thereupon Moses raised up his rod – the rod that had been created at the very beginning of the world, on which were graven in plain letters the great and exalted Name, the names of the ten plagues inflicted upon the Egyptians, and the names of the three Fathers, the six Mothers, and the twelve tribes of Jacob. This rod he lifted up, and stretched it out over the sea. [31]

The sea, however, continued in its perverseness, and Moses entreated God to give His command direct to it. But God refused, saying: “Were I to command the sea to divide, it would never again return to its former estate. Therefore, do thou convey My order to it, that it be not drained dry forever. But I will let a semblance of My strength accompany thee, and that will compel its obedience.” When the sea saw the Strength of God at the right hand of Moses, it spoke to the earth saying, “Make hollow places for me, that I may hide myself therein before the Lord of all created things, blessed be He.” Noticing the terror of the sea, Moses said to it: “For a whole day I spoke to thee at the bidding of the Holy One, who desired thee to divide, but thou didst refuse to pay heed to my words; even when I showed thee my rod, thou didst remain obdurate. What hath happened now that thou skippest hence?” The sea replied, “I am fleeing, not before thee, but before the Lord of all created things, that His Name be magnified in all the earth.” [32] And the waters of the Red Sea divided, and not they alone, but all the waters in heaven and on earth, in whatever vessel it was, in cisterns, in wells, in caves, in casks, in pitchers, in drinking cups, and in glasses, and none of these waters returned to their former estate until Israel has passed through the sea on dry land. [ 33]

The angel Gabriel was eager to drown the Egyptians during the same night, but God bade him wait until early the next day, until the hour of the morning watch, when Abraham had made himself ready to set out for the sacrifice of his son. Gabriel succeeded, however, in holding back the turbulent water about to sweep over Israel. To the wall of water on the right, he called, “Beware of Israel, who will receive the law in time to come from the right hand of the Lord,” and turning to the wall of water on the left, he said, “Beware of Israel, who will wind the phylacteries about their left hand in time to come.” The water behind he admonished, “Beware of Israel, who will let the Zizit drop down upon their back in time to come,” and to the water towering in front of them, he called, “Beware of Israel, who bear the sign of the covenant upon their bodies.” [34]

God caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind, the wind He always makes use of when He chastises the nations. The same east wind had brought the deluge; it had laid the tower of Babel in ruins; it was to cause the destruction of Samaria, Jerusalem, and Tyre; and it will, in future, be the instrument for castigating Rome drunken with pleasure; and likewise the sinners in Gehenna are punished by means of the east wind. All night long God made it to blow over the sea. To prevent the enemy from inflicting harm upon the Israelites, He enveloped the Egyptians in profound darkness, so impenetrable it could be felt, and none could move or change his posture. He that sat when it fell could not arise from his place, and he that stood could not sit down. Nevertheless, the Egyptians could see that the Israelites were surrounded by bright light, and were enjoying a banquet where they stood, and when they tried to speed darts and arrows against them, the missiles were caught up by the cloud and by the angels hovering between the two camps, and no harm came to Israel. [35]


On the morning after the eventful night, though the sea was not yet made dry land, the Israelites, full of trust in God, were ready to cast themselves into its waters. The tribes contended with one another for the honor of being the first to jump. Without awaiting the outcome of the wordy strife, the tribe of Benjamin sprang in, and the princes of Judah were so incensed at having been deprived of pre-eminence in danger that they pelted the Benjamites with stones. God knew that the Judaeans and the Benjamites were animated by a praiseworthy purpose. The ones like the others desired but to magnify the Name of God, and He rewarded both tribes: in Benjamin’s allotment the Shekinah took up her residence, and the royalty of Israel was conferred upon Judah.

When God saw the two tribes in the waves of the sea, He called upon Moses, and said: “My beloved are in danger of drowning, and thou standest by and prayest. Bid Israel go forward, and thou lift up thy rod over the sea, and divide it.” Thus it happened, and Israel passed through the sea with its water cleft in twain.

The dividing of the sea was but the first of ten miracles connected with the passage of the Israelites through it. The others were that the waters united in a vault above their heads; twelve paths opened up, one for each of the tribes; the water became transparent as glass, and each tribe could see the others; the soil underfoot was dry, but it changed into clay when the Egyptians stepped upon it; the walls of water transformed into rocks, against which the Egyptians were thrown and dashed to death, while before the Israelites could slake their thirst; and, finally, the tenth wonder was, that this drinking water was congealed in the heart of the sea as soon as they had satisfied their need. [36]

And there were other miracles, besides. The sea yielded the Israelites whatever their hearts desired. If a child cried as it lay in the arms of its mother, she needed but to stretch out her hand and pluck and apple or some fruit and quiet it. [37] The waters were piled up to the height of sixteen hundred miles, and they could be seen by all the nations of the earth. [38]

The great wonder of Israel’s passage through the sea took place in the presence of the three Fathers and the six Mothers, for God had fetched them out of their graves to the shores of the Red Sea, to be witnesses of the marvelous deeds wrought in behalf of their children. [39]

Wonderful as were the miracles connected with the rescue of the Israelites from the waters of the sea, those performed when the Egyptians were drowned were no less remarkable. First of all God felt called upon to defend Israel’s cause before Uzza, the Angel of the Egyptians, who would not allow his people to perish in the waters of the sea. He appeared on the spot at the very moment when God wanted to drown the Egyptians, and he spake: “O Lord of the world! Thou are called just and upright, and before Thee there is no wrong, no forgetting, no respecting of persons. Why, then, dost Thou desire to make my children perish in the sea? Canst Thou say that my children drowned or slew a single one of Thine? If it be on account of the rigorous slavery that my children imposed upon Israel, then consider that Thy children have received their wages, in that they took their silver and golden vessels from them.”

Then God convoked all the members of His celestial family, and He spake to the angel hosts: “Judge ye in truth between Me and yonder Uzza, the Angel of the Egyptians. At the first I brought a famine upon his people, and I appointed My friend Joseph over them, who saved them through his sagacity, and they all became his slaves. Then My children went down into their land as strangers, in consequence of the famine, and they made the children of Israel to serve with rigor in all manner of hard work there is in the world. They groaned on account of their bitter service, and their cry rose up to Me, and I sent Moses and Aaron, My faithful messengers, to Pharaoh. When they came before the king of Egypt, they spake to him, ‘Thus said the Lord, the God of Israel, Let My people go, that they may hold a feast unto Me in the wilderness.’ In the presence of the kings of the East and of the West, the sinner began to boast, saying: ‘Who is the Lord, that I should hearken unto His voice, to let Israel go? Why comes He not before me, like all the kings of the world, and why doth He not bring me a present like the others? This God of whom you speak, I know Him not at all. Wait and let me search my lists, and see whether I can find His Name.’ But his servants said, ‘We have heard that He is the son of the wise, the son of ancient kings.’ Then Pharaoh asked My messengers, ‘What are the works of this God?’ and they replied, ‘He is the God of gods, the Lord of lords, who created the heaven and the earth.’ But Pharaoh doubted their words, and said, ‘There is no God in all the world that can accomplish such works besides me, for I made myself, and I made the Nile river.’ Because he denied Me thus, I sent ten plagues upon him, and he was compelled to let My children go. Yet, in spite of all, he did not leave off from his wicked ways, and he tried to bring them back under his bondage. Now, seeing all that hath happened to him, and that he will not acknowledge Me as God and Lord, does he not deserve to be drowned in the sea with his host?”

The Celestial family called out when the Lord had ended His defense, “Thou hast every right to drown him in the sea!”

Uzza heard their verdict, and he said: “O Lord of all the worlds! I know that my people deserve the punishment Thou has decreed, but may it please Thee to deal with them according to Thy attribute of mercy, and take pity upon the work of Thy hands, for Thy tender mercies are over all Thy works!”

Almost the Lord had yielded to Uzza’s entreaties, when Michael gave a sign to Gabriel that mad him fly to Egypt swiftly and fetch thence a brick for which a Hebrew child had been used as a mortar. Holding this incriminating object in his had, Gabriel stepped into the presence of God, and said: “O Lord of the world! Wilt Thou have compassion with the accursed nation that has slaughtered Thy children so cruelly?” Then the Lord turned Himself away from His attribute of mercy, and seating Himself upon His throne of justice He resolved to drown the Egyptians in the sea. [40]

The first upon whom judgement was executed was the Angel of Egypt – Uzza was thrown into the sea. [41] A similar fate overtook Rahab, the Angel of the Sea, with his hosts. Rahab had made intercession before God in behalf of the Egyptians. He had said: “Why shouldst Thou drown the Egyptians? Let is suffice the Israelites that Thou hast saved them out of the hand of their masters.” At that God dealt Rahab and his army a blow, under which they staggered and fell dead, and then He cast their corpses in the sea, whence its unpleasant odor. [42]


At the moment when the last of the Israelites stepped out of the bed of the sea, the first of the Egyptians set foot into it, but in the same instant the waters surged back into their wonted place, and all the Egyptians perished. [43]

But drowning was not the only punishment decreed upon them by God. He undertook a thoroughgoing campaign against them. When Pharaoh was preparing to persecute the Israelites, he asked his army which of the saddle beasts was the swiftest runner, that one he would use, and they said: “There is none swifter than thy piebald mare, whose like is to be found nowhere in the world.” Accordingly, Pharaoh mounted the mare, and pursued after the Israelites seaward. And while Pharaoh was inquiring of his army as to the swiftest animal to mount, God was questioning the angels as to the swiftest creature to use to the detriment of Pharaoh. And the angels answered: “O Lord of the world! All thing are Thine, and all are Thine handiwork. Thou knowest well, and it is manifest before Thee, that among all Thy creatures there is none so quick as the wind that comes from under the throne of Thy glory,” and the Lord flew swiftly upon the wings of the wind. [44]

The angels now advanced to support the Lord in His war against the Egyptians. Some brought swords, some arrows, and some spears. But God warded them off, saying, “Away! I need no help!” [45] The arrows sped by Pharaoh against the children of Israel were answered by the Lord with fiery darts directed against the Egyptians. Pharaoh’s army advanced with gleaming swords, and the Lord sent out lightnings that discomfited the Egyptians. Pharaoh hurled missiles, and the Lord discharged hailstones and coals of fire against him. With trumpets, sackbuts, and horns the Egyptians made their assault, and the Lord thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered His voice. In vain the Egyptians marched forward in orderly battle array; the Lord deprived them of their standards, and they were thrown into wild confusion. [46] To lure them into the water, the Lord caused fiery steeds to swim out upon the sea, and the horses of the Egyptians followed them, each with a rider upon his back. [47]

Now the Egyptians tried to flee to their land in their chariots drawn by she-mules. As they had treated the children of Israel in a way contrary to nature, so the Lord treated them now. Not the she-mules pulled the chariots but the chariots, though fire from heaven had consumed their wheels, dragged the men and the beasts into the water. The chariots were laden with silver, gold, and all sorts of costly things, which the river Pishon, as it flows forth from Paradise, carries down into the Gihon. Thence the treasures float into the Red Sea, and by its waters they were tossed into the chariots of the Egyptians. It was the wish of Israel, and for this reason He caused the chariots to roll down into the sea, and the sea in turn to cast them out upon the opposite shore, at the feet of the Israelites. [48]

And the Lord fought against the Egyptians also with the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire. The former made the soil miry, and the mire was heated to the boiling point by the latter, so that the hoofs of the horses dropped from their feet, and they could not budge from the spot. [49]

The anguish and the torture that God brought upon the Egyptians at the Red Sea caused them by far more excruciating pain than the plagues they had endured in Egypt, for at the sea He delivered them into the hands of the Angels of Destruction, who tormented them pitilessly. Had God not endowed the Egyptians with a double portion of strength, they could not have stood the pain a single moment. [50]

The last judgement executed upon the Egyptians corresponded to the wicked designs harbored against Israel by the three different parties among them when they set out in pursuit of their liberated slaves. The first party had said, “We will bring Israel back to Egypt;” the second had said, “We will strip them bare,” and the third had said, “We will slay them all.” The Lord blew upon the first with His breath, and the sea covered them; the second party He shook into the sea, and the third He pitched into the depths of the abyss. [51] He tossed them about as lentils are shaken up and down in a saucepan; the upper ones are made to fall to the bottom, the lower ones fly to the top. This was the experience of the Egyptians. And worse still, first the rider and his beast were whisked high up in the air, and then the two together, the rider sitting upon the back of the beast, were hurled to the bottom of the sea. [52]

The Egyptians endeavored to save themselves from the sea by conjuring charms, for they were great magicians. Of the ten measures of magic allotted to the world, they had taken nine for themselves. And, indeed, they succeeded for the moment; they escaped out of the sea. But immediately the sea said to itself, “How can I allow the pledge entrusted to me by God to be taken from me?” And the water rushed after the Egyptians, and dragged back every man of them.

Among the Egyptians were the two arch-magicians Jannes and Jambres. They made wings for themselves, with which they flew up to heaven. They also said to Pharaoh: “If God Himself hath done this thing, we can effect naught. But if this work has been put into the hands of His angel, then we will shake his lieutenants into the sea.” They proceeded at once to use their magic contrivances, whereby they dragged the angels down. These cried up to God: “Save us, O God, for the waters are come in unto our soul! Speak Thy word that will cause the magicians to drown in the mighty waters.” And Gabriel cried to God, “By the greatness of Thy glory dash Thy adversaries to pieces.” Hereupon God bade Michael go and execute judgement upon the two magicians. The archangel seized hold of Jannes and Jambres by the locks of their hair, and he shattered them against the surface of the water. [53]

Thus all the Egyptians were drowned. Only one was spared – Pharaoh himself. When the children of Israel raised their voices to sing a song of praise to God at the shores of the Red Sea, Pharaoh heard it as he was jostled hither and thither by the billows, and he pointed his finger heavenward, and called out: “I believe in Thee, O God! Thou art righteous, and I and My people are wicked, and I acknowledge now that there is no god in the world beside Thee.” Without a moments delay, Gabriel descended and laid and iron chain about Pharaoh’s neck, and holding him securely, he addressed him thus: “Villain! Yesterday thou didst say, ‘Who is the Lord that I should hearken to His voice?’ and now thou sayest, ‘The Lord is righteous.'” With that he let him drop into the depths of the sea, and there he tortured him for fifty days, to make the power of God known to him. At the end of the time he installed him as king of the great city of Nineveh, and after the lapse of many centuries, when Jonah came to Nineveh, and prophesied the overthrow of the city on account of the evil done by the people, it was Pharaoh who, seized by fear and terror, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes, and with his own mouth made proclamation and published this decree through Nineveh: “Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not feed nor drink water; for I know there is no god beside Him in all the world, all His words are truth, and all His judgements are true and faithful.”

Pharaoh never died, and never will die. He always stands at the portal of hell, and when the kings of the nations enter, he makes the power of God known to them at once, in these words: “O ye fools! Why have ye not learnt knowledge from me? I am denied the Lord God, and He brought ten plagues upon me, sent me to the bottom of the sea, kept me there for fifty days, released me then, and brought me up. Thus I could not but believe in Him.” [54]

God caused the Egyptians to be washed ashore in their death struggle. There were four reasons for this. The Israelites were not to say that as they themselves had escaped, so also the Egyptians had passed through the sea dryshod, only the latter had gone in another direction, and therefore had vanished from sight. The Egyptians, on the other hand, were not to think that the children of Israel had been drowned in the sea like themselves. In the third place, the Israelites were to have, as their booty, the silver, gold, and other precious things with which the Egyptians were decked; and, finally, the Israelites were to enjoy the satisfaction of seeing their enemies suffer. With their finger thy could point them out one by one, saying, “This one way my taskmaster, who beat me with those fists of his at which the dogs are now gnawing, and yonder Egyptian, the dogs are chewing the feet with which he kicked me.”

As they lay on the shore in their last agony, they had to witness their own destruction and the victory of the Israelites, and they also beheld the suffering of their brethren that had remained behind in Egypt, for God poured out His punishment over the whole people, whether in Egypt or at the Red Sea. [55] As for the corpses by the shores of the sea, they did not remain unburied, the earth swallowed them, by way of reward for Pharaoh’s having acknowledged the justice of the chastisement that had been inflicted upon king and people. Before their corpses had been disposed of in this way, there had been a quarrel between the earth and the sea. The sea said to the earth, “Take thy children unto thyself,” and the earth retorted, “Keep those whom thou hast slain.” The sea hesitated to do as the earth bade, for fear that God would demand them back on the day of judgement; and the earth hesitated, because it remembered with terror the curse that had been pronounced upon it for having sucked up Abel’s blood. Only after God swore and oath, not to punish it for receiving the corpses of the Egyptians, would the earth swallow them. [56]


Mighty is faith, for the spirit of God came upon the Israelites as a reward for their trust in God, and in His servant Moses; and it was in this exaltation that they sang to the Lord a song [57] that moved Him to grant forgiveness for all their sins. [58] This song was the second of the nine songs that in the course of history of Israel sang to their God. They assembled to sing the first in Egypt, on the night when they were freed from captivity; their second was the song of triumph by the Red Sea; their third, when the well sprang up in the wilderness; Moses sang the fourth before his death; the fifth was Joshua’s song after his victory over the five Amorite Kings; Deborah and Barak sang the sixth when they conquered Sisera; the seventh was David’s psalm of thanksgiving to God for his deliverance out of the hand of all his enemies; the eighth was Solomon’s song at the dedication of the Temple; the ninth Jehoshaphat sang as, trusting in God, he went to battle against the Moabites and the Ammonites. The tenth and last song, however, will be that grand and mighty song, when Israel will raise their voice in triumph at their future deliverance, for that will be the final release of Israel for all time. [59]

When Israel prepared to sound their praises to God for delivering them from destruction in the Red Sea, God, to show His recognition of Israel’s fulfillment of the token of the Abrahamic covenant, bade the angels who came to intone their song, wait: “Let My children sing first,” He said. This incident with the angels is like the story of the king who, upon returning from a victorious campaign, was told that his son and his servant were waiting with wreaths in their hands, and were asking who should first crown him. The king said, “O ye fools, to question if my servant should walk before my son! No, let my son come first!”

This was the second time the angels were obliged to retire before Israel. When Israel stood by the Red Sea, before them the rolling waters, and behind them the hosts of Egypt, then, too, the angels appeared, to sing their daily song of praise to the Lord, but God called to them, “Forbear! My children are in distress, and you would sing!”

But even after the men had completed their song, it was not yet given to the angels to raise their voices, for after the men followed the women of Israel, and only then came the turn of the angels. Then they began to murmur, and said, “Is it not enough that the men have preceded us? Shall the women come before us also?” But God replied, “As surely as ye live, so it is.” [60]

At first Israel requested their leader Moses to begin the song, but he declined, saying, “No, ye shall begin it, for it is a greater mark of honor to be praised by the multitude than by a single one.” At once the people sang: “We will glorify the Eternal, for He has shown us signs and tokens. When the Egyptians passed the decree against us, and said, ‘Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river,’ our mothers went into the field, and Thou didst bid a sleep to fall upon them, and they bore us without any pain; and the angels descended from Heaven, washed and anointed us, and robed us in many-colored silken garments, and placed in our hands two lumps, one of butter and one of honey. When our mothers awoke and saw us washed, anointed, and clothed in silk, then they praised Thee, and said, ‘Praise be God who has not turned His grace and His lasting love from the seed of our father Abraham; and now behold! they are in Thy hand, do with them as Thou wilt.’ And they departed. When the Egyptians saw us, they approached to kill us, but Thou in Thy great mercy didst bid the earth swallow us and set us in another place, where we were not seen by the Egyptians, and lo! in this way didst Thou save us from their hand. When we grew up, we wandered in troops to Egypt, where each recognized his parents and his family. All this hast Thou done for us, therefore will we sing of Thee.”

Thereupon Moses said: “Ye have given thanks to the Holy One, blessed be He, and not I will praise His name, for to me also has He shown signs and tokens. The Lord is my strength and my song, and He is become my salvation; He is my God, and I will prepare Him and habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt Him.” [61]

The song by the Red Sea was as much the song of Moses as of all Israel, for the great leader counted as not less than all the other Israelites together, and, besides, [62] he had composed a large portion of the song. In virtue of the spirit of God that possessed them while they sang, Moses and the people mutually supplemented each other, so that, as soon as Moses spoke half the verse, the people repeated it, and linked the second complementary part to it. So Moses began with the half verse, “I will sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously,” whereupon the people answered, “The horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea.” And in this wise developed the whole song. [63]

But not alone the adults took part in this song, even the sucklings dropped their mothers’ breasts to join in singing; yea, even the embryos in the womb joined the melody, and the angels’ voices swelled the song. [64] God so distinguished Israel during the passage through the Red Sea, that even the children beheld His glory, yea, even the woman slave saw more of the presence of God by the Red Sea than the Prophet Ezekiel was ever permitted to behold. [65]

They closed the song with the words: “Let us set the crown of glory upon the head of our Deliverer, who suffers all things to perish, but does not Himself decay, who changes all things, but is Himself unchanged. His is the diadem of sovereignty, for He is the King of kings in this world, and His is the sovereignty of the world to come; it is His and will be His in all eternity.” [66] Thereupon Moses spake to Israel, “Ye have seen all the signs, all miracles and works of glory that the Holy One, blessed be He, hath wrought for you, but even more will He do for you in the world to come; for not like unto this world is the world of the hereafter; for in this world war and suffering, evil inclination, Satan, and the Angel of Death hold sway; but in the future would, there will be neither suffering nor enmity, neither Satan nor the Angel of Death, neither groans nor oppression, nor evil inclination.” [67]

As Moses and the race that wandered from Egypt with him sang a song to the Lord by the Red Sea, so shall they sing again in the world to come. In the world to come, all generations will pass before the Lord and will ask Him who should first intone the song of praise, whereupon He will reply: “In the past it was the generation of Moses that offered up to me a song of praise. Let them do it now once more, and as Moses conducted the song by the Red Sea, so shall he do in the world of the hereafter.” [68]

In other respects, too, it shall be in the world to come as it was at the time of the song by the sea. For when Israel intoned the song of praise, God put on a festive robe, on which were embroidered all the promises for a happy future to Israel. Among them were written: “Then shall thy light break forth as the morning”; “Then said they among the heathen. ‘The Lord hath done great things for them,'” and many similar promises. But when Israel sinned, God rent the festive robe, and He will not restore it, or put it on until the coming of the future world. [69]

After the men had completed the song, the women under the guidance of Miriam sang the same song to the accompaniment of music and dancing. The Israelites had had perfect faith, that God would perform for them miracles and deeds of glory, hence they had provided themselves with timbrels and with flutes, that they might have them at hand to glorify the anticipated miracles. [70] Then Miriam said to the women, “Let us sing unto the Lord, for strength and sublimity are His; He lords it over the lordly, and He resents presumption. He hurled Pharaoh’s horses and chariots into the sea, and drowned them, because wicked Pharaoh in his presumption pursued God’s people, Israel.” [71]


Just as Israel had displayed sullenness and lack of faith upon approaching the sea, so did they upon leaving it. Hardly had they seen that the Egyptians met death in the waters of the sea, when they spoke to Moses, and said: “God had led us from Egypt only to grant us five tokens: To give us the wealth of Egypt, to let us walk in clouds of glory, to cleave the sea for us, to take vengeance on the Egyptians, and to let us sing Him a song of praise. Now that all this has taken place, let us return to Egypt.” Moses answered: “The Eternal said, ‘The Egyptians whom ye have seen to-day, yes shall see them again no more forever.'” But the people were not yet content, and said, “Now the Egyptians are all dead, and therefore we can return to Egypt.” Then Moses said, “You must now redeem your pledge, for God said, ‘When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.'” Still the people remained headstrong, and without giving heed to Moses, they set out on the road to Egypt, under the guidance of an idol that they had brought with them out of Egypt, and had even retained during their passage through the sea. Only through sheer force was Moses able to restrain them from their sinful transgression. [72] This was the second of the ten temptations with which Israel tempted God during their wanderings through the desert. [73]

There was one other difficulty with the people that Moses had to overcome: The sea cast up many jewels, pearls and other treasures that had belonged to the Egyptians, drowned in its waves, and Israel found it hard to tear themselves away from the spot that brought them such riches. Moses, however, said, “Do you really believe that the sea will continue to yield you pearls and jewels?” [74]

From the sea they passed to the desert Shur, a horrible and dreadful wilderness, full of snakes, lizards, and scorpions, extending over hundreds of miles. So deadly is the nature of the snakes that dwell in the desert, that if one of them merely glides over the shadow of a flying bird, the bird falls into pieces. [75] It was in this desert that the following happened to King Shapor: A cohort that he sent through this desert was swallowed by a snake, and the same fate overtook a second and a third cohort. Upon the advice of his sages, he then filled the hides of animals with hot coals wrapped in straw, and had these cast before the snake until it expired. [76]

It was then a proof of Israel’s great faith in their God, that they obeyed Moses, and without murmur or delay followed him into this frightful wilderness. [77] Therefore did God reward them for their trust in Him, for not only were they not harmed by the snakes and scorpions during their many years stay in the desert, but they were even relieved of the fear of the reptiles, for as soon as the snakes saw the Israelites, they meekly lay down upon the sand. [78] For three days they marched through the desert, uncomplaining, but when their supply of water gave out, the people murmured against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” While crossing through the Red Sea they had provided themselves with water, for, miraculously, the sea flowed sweet for them; and now when the supply was becoming exhausted, they began to give expression to their dissatisfaction. On this occasion they again betrayed their faintheartedness, for instead of seeking advice from their leader Moses, they began to murmur against him and against God, even though at present they had not yet suffered from lack of water. So poorly did they stand the test to which God has put them, for in fact the very ground upon which they trod had running water beneath it, but they were not aware of this. God had desired to see how they would act under these conditions. [79]

The people were all the more exasperated because their joy, when they sighted the springs and hastened to draw from the, turned to keenest disappointment when they tasted of the water and found it bitter. These deluded hopes cast them down spiritually as well as physically, and grieved them, not so much for their own sakes as for those of their young children, to whose pleas for water they could not listen without tears. Some of the thoughtless and fickle of faith among them uttered the accusation that even the former kindness had been granted them so much as a benefit, but rather with a view to the present and much greater privation. These said that death by the hand of the enemy is to be thrice preferred to perishing by thirst; for by the wise man, speedy and painless departure from life is in no way to be distinguished from immortality; the only real death, however, is slow and painful dying, for the dread lies not in being dead, but in dying.

While they indulged in these lamentations, Moses prayed to God to forgive the faint of heart their unseemly words, and, furthermore, to supply the general want. [80] Mindful of the distress of the people, Moses did not pray long, but uttered his request in a few words; and quickly, as he had prayed, was his prayer answered. God bade him take a piece of a laurel tree, write upon it the great and glorious name of God, and throw it into the water, whereupon the water would become drinkable and sweet. [81]

The ways of the Holy One, blessed be He, differ from the ways of man: Man turns bitter to sweet by the agency of some sweet stuff, but God transformed the bitter water through the bitter laurel tree. When Israel beheld this miracle, they asked forgiveness of their heavenly Father, and said: “O Lord of the world! We sinned against Thee when we murmured about the water.” [82] Not through this miracle alone, however, has Marah become a significant spot for Israel, but, especially, because there God gave to Israel important percepts, like the Sabbath rest, marriage and civil laws, and said to the people: “If you will observe these statutes, you will receive many more, the Ten Commandments, the Halakot, and the Haggadot; the Torah, however, will bring you happiness and life. If you will diligently endeavor to walk through life uprightly, so that you will be virtuous in your dealing with men, I will value it as if you had fulfilled all commandments, and will put upon you none of those diseases that I brought Egypt. If, however, you will not be mindful of My laws, and will be visited by diseases, then will I be you physician and will make you well, for as soon as you will observe the laws, shall the diseases vanish.” [83]

The cause for the want of water at Marah had been that for three days the people had neglected the study of the Torah, and it was for this reason that the prophets and elders of Israel instituted the custom of reading from the Torah on Saturday, Monday and Thursday, at the public service, so that three days might never again pass without a reading from the Torah. [84]

From Marah they moved on to Elim. From a distance palm trees made the place look inviting enough, but when the people came close, they were again disappointed; there were not more than three score and ten palm tress, and there were of stunted growth owing to a lack of water, for in spite of the presence of twelve wells of water, the soil was so barren and sandy that the wells were not sufficient to water it. [85] Here again the marvelous intercession of God in favor of the fate of Israel is shown, for the scant supply of water at Elim, which had hardly sufficed for seventy palm trees, satisfied sixty myriads of the wandering people that stayed there for several days. [86]

The men of understanding could at this place see a clear allusion to the fortune of the people; for there are twelve tribes of the people, each of which, if it prove God-fearing, will be a well of water, inasmuch as its piety will constantly and continually bring forth beautiful deeds; the leaders of the people, however, are seventy, and they recall the noble palm tree, for in outward appearance as well as in its fruits, it is the most beautiful of trees, whose seat of life does not lie buried deep in the roots, as with other plants, but soars high, set like the heart in the midst of its branches, by which it is surrounded as a queen under the protection of her bodyguard. The soul of him who has tasted piety possesses a similar spirit; it has learned to look up and ascend, and itself ever busy with spiritual things and the investigation of Divine beauty, disdains earthly things, and considers them only a childish play, whereas that aspiration alone seems serious. [87]

It was at Elim, where, at the creation of the world, God had made the twelve wells of water, and the seventy palm trees, to correspond to the twelve tribes and the seventy elders of Israel, that Israel first took up the study of the law, for there they studied the laws given them at Marah. [88]


The bread which Israel had taken along out of Egypt sufficed for thirty-one days, and when they had consumed it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against their leader Moses. It was not only immediate want that oppressed them, but despair of a food supply for the future; for when they saw the vast, extensive, utterly barren wilderness before them, their courage gave way, and they said: “We migrated, expecting freedom, and now we are not even free from the cares of subsistence; we are not, as out leader promised, the happiest, but in truth the most unfortunate of men. After our leader’s words had keyed us to the highest pitch of expectation, and had filled out ears with vain hopes, he tortures us with famine and does not provide even the necessary food. With the name of a new settlement he has deceived this great multitude; after he had succeeded in leading us from a well-known to an uninhabited land, he now plans to send us to the underworld, the last road of life. [89] ‘Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord during the three days of darkness in the land of Egypt when we sat by the flesh-pots, and when we did eat bread to the full.'” In their exasperation they spoke untruths, for in reality they had suffered from want of food in Egypt, too, as the Egyptians had not given them enough to eat. [90]

In spite of the railings against him, Moses was not so much indignant about their words as about the fickleness of the people. After those many quite extraordinary experiences they had no right to expect merely the natural and the probable, but should cheerfully have trusted him; for, truly, in the sight of all, they had been shown the most tangible proofs of his reliability. When, on the other hand, Moses considered their distress, he forgave them; for he told himself that a multitude is by nature fickle, and allows itself to be easily influenced by impressions of the moment, which cast the past into oblivion, and engender despair of the future. [91]

God also forgave the unworthy conduct of Israel, and instead of being angry with them because they murmured against Him, when it should have been their duty to pray to Him, He was ready to grant them aid, saying to Moses, “They act according to their lights, and I will act according to Mine; not later than to-morrow morning manna will descend from heaven.”

As a reward for Abraham’s readiness, in answer to the summons to sacrifice Isaac, when he said, “Here am I,” God promised manna to the descendants of Abraham with the same words, “Here I am.” In the same way, during their wanderings through the wilderness, God repaid the descendants of Abraham for what their ancestor had done by the angels who visited him. He himself had fetched bread for them, and likewise God Himself caused bread to rain from heaven; he himself ran before them on their way, and likewise God moved before Israel; he had water fetched for them, and likewise God, through Moses, caused water to flow from the rock; he bade them seek shade under the tree, and likewise God had a cloud spread over Israel. [92] Then God spoke to Moses: “I will immediately reveal Myself without Jacob, ‘I will rain bread from My treasure in heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day.'”

There were good reasons for not exceeding a day’s ration in the daily downpour of manna. First, that they might be spared the need of carrying it on their wanderings; secondly, that they might daily receive it hot; and, lastly, that they might day by day depend upon God’s aid, and in this way exercise themselves in faith. [93]

While the people were still abed, God fulfilled their desire, and rained down manna for them. For this food had been created on the second day of creation, [94] and ground by the angels, it later descended for the wanderers in the wilderness. [95] The mills are stationed in the third heaven, where manna is constantly being ground for the future use of the pious; [96] for in the future world manna will be set before them. [97] Manna deserves its name, “bread of the angels,” not only because it is prepared by them, but because those who partake of it become equal to the angels in strength, and, furthermore, like them, have no need of easing themselves, as manna is entirely dissolved in the body. Not until they sinned, did they have to ease themselves like ordinary mortals. [98]

Manna also showed its heavenly origin in the miraculous flavor it possessed. There was no need of cooking or baking it, nor did it require any other preparation, and still it contained the flavor of every conceivable dish. One had only to desire a certain dish, and no sooner had he thought of it, than manna had the flavor of the dish desire. The same food had a different taste to every one who partook of it, according to his age; to the little children it tasted like milk, to the strong youths like bread, to the old men like honey, to the sick like barley steeped in oil and honey. [99]

As miraculous as the taste of manna was it descent from heaven. First came a north wind to sweep the floor of the desert; then a rain to wash it quite clean; then dew descended upon it, which was congealed into a solid substance by the wind, that it might serve as a table for the heaven-descending gold. [100] But, that no insects or vermin might settle on the manna, the frozen dew formed not only a tablecloth, but also a cover for the manna, so that it lay enclosed there as in a casket, protected from soiling or pollution above and below.


With an easy mind every individual might perform his morning prayer in his house and recite the Shema’, then betake himself to the entrance of his tent, and gather manna for himself and all his family. [101] The gathering of manna caused little trouble, and those among the people who were too lazy to perform even the slightest work, went out while manna fell, so that it fell straight into their hands. [102] The manna lasted until the fourth hour of the day, when it melted; but even the melted manna was not wasted, for out of it formed the rivers, from which the pious will drink in the hereafter. The heathen even then attempted to drink out of these streams, but the manna that tasted so deliciously to the Jews, had a quite bitter taste in the mouth of the heathen. Only indirectly could they partake of the enjoyment of manna: They used to catch the animals that drank the melted manna, and even it this form it was so delicious that the heathen cried, “Happy is the people that is in such a case.” [103] For the descent of manna was not a secret to the heathen, as it settled at such enormous heights that the kings of the East and of the West could see how Israel received its miraculous food. [104]

The mass of the manna was in proportion to its height, for as much descended day by day, as might have satisfied the wants of sixty myriads of people, through two thousand years. [105] Such profusion of manna fell over the body of Joshua alone, as might have sufficed for the maintenance of the whole congregation. [106] Manna, indeed, had the peculiarity of falling to every individual in the same measure; and when, after gathering, they measured it, they found that there was an omer for every man.

Many lawsuits were amicably decided through the fall of manna. If a married couple came before Moses, each accusing the other of inconstancy, Moses would say to them, “To-morrow morning judgement will be given.” If, then, manna descended for the wife before the house of her husband, it was known that he was in the right; but if her share descended before the house of her own parents, she was in the right. [107]

The only days on which manna did not descend were the Sabbaths and the holy days, but then a double portion fell on the preceding day. These days had the further distinction that, while they lasted, the color of the manna sparkled more than usual, and it tasted better than usual. The people, however, were fainthearted, and on the very first Sabbath, they wanted to go out as usual to gather manna in the morning, although announcement had been made that God would send them no food on that day. Moses, however, restrained them. They attempted to do it again toward evening, and again Moses restrained them with the words, “To-day ye shall not find it in the field.” At these words they were greatly alarmed, for they feared that they might not receive it any more at all, but their leader quieted them with the words, “To-day ye shall not find any of it, but assuredly to-morrow; in this world ye shall not receive manna on the Sabbath, but assuredly in the future world.”

The unbelieving among them did not hearken to the words of God, and went out on the Sabbath to find manna. Here-upon God said to Moses: “Announce these words to Israel: I have led you out of Egypt, have cleft the sea for you, have sent you manna, have caused the well of water to spring up for you, have sent the quails to come up to you, have battled for you against Amalek, and wrought other miracles for you, and still you do not obey My statutes and commandments. You have not even the excuse that I imposed full many commandments upon you, for all that I bade you do at Marah, was to observe the Sabbath, but you have violated it.” “If,” continues Moses, “you will observe the Sabbath, God will give you three festivals in the months of Nisan, Siwan, and Tishri; and as a reward for the observance of the Sabbath, you will receive six gifts from God: the land of Israel, the future world, the new world, the sovereignty of the dynasty of David, the institution of the priests and the Levites; and, furthermore, as a reward for the observance of the Sabbath, you shall be freed from the three great afflictions: from the sufferings of the times of Gog and Magog, from the travails of the Messianic time, and from the day of the great Judgement.”

When Israel heard these exhortations and promises, they determined to observe the Sabbath, and did so. [108] They did not know, to be sure, what they had lost through their violation of the first Sabbath. Had Israel then observed the Sabbath, no nation would ever have been able to exercise any authority over them. [109]

This, moreover, was not the only sin that Israel committed during this time, for some among them also broke the other commandment in regard to manna, that it, not to store it away from day to day. These sinners were none other than the infamous pair, Dathan and Abiram, who did not hearken to the word of God, but saved the manna for the following day. But if they fancied they could conceal their sinful deed, they were mistaken, for great swarms of worms bred from the manna, and these moved in a long train from their tents to the other tents, so that everyone perceived what these two had done. [110]

To serve future generations as a tangible proof of the infinite power of God, the Lord bade Moses lay an earthen vessel full of manna before the Holy Ark, and this command was carried out by Aaron in the second year of the wanderings through the desert. When, many centuries later, the prophet Jeremiah exhorted his contemporaries to study the Torah, and they answered his exhortations, saying, “How shall we then maintain ourselves?” the prophet brought forth the vessel with manna, and spoke to them, saying: “O generation, see ye the word of the Lord; see what it was that served your fathers as food when they applied themselves to the study of the Torah. You, too, will God support in the same way, if you will but devote yourselves to the study of the Torah. [111]

When the imminent destruction of the Temple was announced to King Josiah, he concealed the Holy Ark, and with it also the vessel with manna, as well as the jug filled with sacred oil, which was used by Moses for anointing the sacred implements, and other sacred objects. In the Messianic time the prophet Elijah will restore all these concealed objects. [112]

Israel received three gifts during their wanderings through the desert: the well, the clouds of glory, and the manna; the first for the merits of Miriam, the second for those of Aaron, and the third for those of Moses. When Miriam died, the well disappeared for a time, but it reappeared as a reward for the merits of Aaron and Moses; when Aaron dies, the clouds of glory disappeared for a time, but reappeared owing to the merits of Moses. But when the last-named died, the well, the clouds of glory, and the manna disappeared forever. [113] Throughout forty years, however, manna served them not only as food, but also as provender for their cattle, for the dew that preceded the fall of manna during the night brought grain for their cattle. [114] Manna also replaced perfume for them, for it shed and excellent fragrance upon those who ate of it. [115]

In spite of all the excellent qualities of manna, they were not satisfied with it, and demanded that Moses and Aaron give them flesh to eat. These replied: “We might put up with you if you murmured only against us, but you murmur against the Eternal. Come forward, that you may hear the judgment of God.” At once God appeared to Moses, and said to him: “It is revealed to Me what the congregation of Israel have said, and what they will say, but tell them this: You have demanded two things; you have desired bread, and I gave it to you, because man cannot exist without it; but now, filled to satiety, you demand flesh; this also will I give you, so that you might not say if your wish were denied. ‘God cannot grant it,’ but at some future time you shall make atonement for it; I am a judge and shall assign punishment for this.”

In the meantime, however, God granted their wish, and toward evening thick swarms of quails came up from the sea, and covered the whole camp, taking their flight quite low, not two ells above the ground, so that they might be easily caught. Contrary to the manna, which fell in the morning, the quails did not come before evenfall; with a radiant countenance God gave them the former, as their desire for bread was justified, but with a darkened mien, under cover of night, He sent quails. [116] Now, because the one food came in the morning and the second in the evening, Moses instituted the custom among his people of taking two meals a day, one in the morning and one in the evening; and he set the meal with the use of meat for the evening. [117] At the same time he taught them the prayer in which they were to offer thanks after eating manna, which read: “Blessed be Thou, O God our Lord, King of the world, who in Thy bounty, dost provide for all the world; who, in Thy grace, goodwill, and mercy, dost grant food to every creature, for Thy grace is everlasting. Thanks to Thy bounty we have never lacked food, nor ever shall lack it, for Thy great name’s sake. For Thou suppliest and providest for all; Thou are bountiful, and nourishest all Thy creatures which Thou has made. Blessed be Thou, O God, that dost provide for all.” [118]


Relieved as they were of all the cares of subsistence through the gift of manna, it was plainly the duty of the Israelites to devote themselves exclusively to the study of the Torah. [119] When, therefore, they slackened in the performance of this duty, punishment in the form of lack of water immediately overtook them. This was the first time that they actually experienced this want, for at Marah nothing more than alarm that this need might come upon them, had caused them to murmur and complain. In their distress they once more unreasonably cast reproaches upon their leader, and disputed with him, saying: “Wherefore is this, children, that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us, and our children, and our cattle with thirst?” Moses replied: “As often as you quarrel with me, you tempt God, but God performeth wonders and excellent deeds for you, as often as you dispute with me, that His name may sound in glory throughout the world.”

In spite of the injury they had done him, Moses prayed to God that He might aid them in their distress and also stand by him. “O Lord of the world!” said he, “I am surely doomed to die. Thou biddest me not to be offended with them, but if I obey Thy words, I shall certainly be killed by them.” God, however, replied: “Try thou to act like Me; as I return good for evil, so do thou return to them good for evil, and forgive their trespass; go on before the people, and We shall see who dares touch thee.” [120] Hardly had Moses shown himself to the people, when all of them rose reverently from their seats, whereupon God said to Moses: “How often have I told thee not to be angry with them, but to lead them, as a shepherd leads his flock; it is for their sake that I have set thee on this height, and only for their sake wilt thou find grace, goodwill, and mercy in My sight.” [121]

Then God bade him go with some elders to the rock on Horeb, and fetch water out of it. The elders were to accompany him there, that they might be convinced that he was not bringing water from a well, but smiting it from a rock. To accomplish this miracle, God bade him smite the rock with his rod, as the people labored under the impression that this rod could only bring destruction, for through its agency Moses had brought the ten plagues upon the Egyptians in Egypt, and at the Red Sea; now they were to see that it could work good also. [122] Upon God’s bidding, Moses told the people to choose from which rock they wished water to flow, [123] and hardly had Moses touched with his sapphire rod the rock which they had chosen, when plenteous water flowed from it. The spot where this occurred, God called Massah, and Meribah, because Israel had there tried their God, saying, “If God is Lord over all, as over us; if He satisfies our needs, and will further show us that He knows our thoughts, then will we serve Him, but not otherwise.” [124]

The water that flowed for them on this spot served not only as a relief for their present need, but on this occasion there was revealed to them a well of water, which did not abandon them in all their forty years’ wandering, but accompanied them on all their marches. [125] God wrought this great miracle for the merits of the prophetess Miriam, wherefore also it was called “Miriam’s Well.” [126] But his well dates back to the beginning of the world, for God created it on the second day of the creation, [127] and at one time it was in the possession of Abraham. It was this same well that Abraham demanded back from Abimelech, king of the Philistines, after the king’s servants had violently taken it away. But when Abimelech pretended not to know anything about it, saying, “I wot not who hath done this thing,” Abraham said: “Thou and I will send sheep to the well, and he shall be declared the rightful owner of the well, for whose sheep the water will spout forth to water them. And,” continued Abraham, “from that same well shall the seventh generation after me, the wanderers in the desert, draw their supply.” [128]

This well was in the shape of a sieve-like rock, out of which water gushes forth as from a spout. It followed them on all their wanderings, up hill and down dale, and wherever they halted, it halted, too, and it settled opposite the Tabernacle. Thereupon the leaders of the twelve tribes would appear, each with his staff and chant these words to the well, “Spring up, O well, sing ye unto it; nobles of the people digged it by the direction of the lawgiver with their staves.” Then the water would gush forth from the depths of the well, and shoot up high as pillars, then discharge itself into great streams that were navigable, and on these rivers the Jews sailed to the ocean, and hauled all the treasures of the world therefrom. [129]

The different parts of the camp were separated by these rivers, so that women, visiting each other, were obliged to make use of ships. Then the water discharged itself beyond the encampment, where it surrounded a great plain, in which grew every conceivable kind of plant and tree; [130] and these trees, owing to the miraculous water, daily bore fresh fruits. [131] This well brought fragrant herbs with it, so that the women had no need of perfumes on the march, for the herbs they gathered served this purpose. [132] This well furthermore threw down soft, fragrant kinds of grass that served as pleasant couches for the poor, who had no pillows or bedclothes. [133] Upon the entrance to the Holy Land this well disappeared and was hidden in a certain spot of the Sea of Tiberias. Standing upon Carmel, and looking over the sea, one can notice there a sieve-like rock, and that is the well of Miriam. [134] Once upon a time it happened that a leper bathed at this place of the Sea of Tiberias, and hardly had he come in contact with the waters of Miriam’s well when he was instantly healed. [135]


As a punishment because they had not had sufficient faith in God, and had doubted whether He could fulfill all their wishes, and had grown negligent in the study of the Torah and in the observance of the laws, God turned Amalek against them during their sojourn in Rephidim, where they had committed these sins. God dealt with them as did that man with his son, whom he bore through the river on his shoulders. Whenever the child saw something desirable, he said, “Father, buy it for me,” and he fulfilled the child’s wish. After the son had in this way received many beautiful things from his father, he called to a passing stranger with these words, “Hast thou perhaps seen my father?” Then, indignantly, the father said to his son: “O thou fool, that sittest on my shoulder! All that thou didst desire, did I procure for thee, and now dost thou ask of that man, ‘Hast thou seen my father?'” Thereupon the father threw the child off his shoulder, and a dog came and bit him. So did Israel fare. When they moved out of Egypt, God enveloped them in seven clouds of glory; they wished for bread, and He gave them manna; they wished for flesh, and He gave them quails. After all their wishes had been granted, they began to doubt, saying, “Is the Lord among us, or not?” Then God answered, “You doubt My power; so surely as you live shall you discover it; the dog will soon bite you.” Then came Amalek. [136]

This enemy of Israel bore the name Amalek to denote the rapidity with which he moved against Israel, for like a swarm of locusts he flew upon them; and the name furthermore designates the purpose of this enemy, who came to suck the blood of Israel. [137] This Amalek was a son of Eliphaz, the first-born son of Esau, and although the descendants of Jacob had been weaker and more insignificant in earlier times, Amalek had left them in peace, for he had excellent reasons to delay his attack. God had revealed to Abraham that his seed would have to serve in the land of the Egyptians, and had put the payment of this debt upon Isaac, and after his death, upon Jacob and his descendants. The wicked Amalek now said to himself, “If I destroy Jacob and his descendants, God will impose the Egyptians bondage upon, me, grandson of Esau, descendant of Abraham.” Therefore he kept himself in restraint as long as Israel dwelt in Egypt, but only after the bondage predicted to the seed of Abraham had been served in full, did he set out to accomplish the war of annihilation against Israel, which his grandfather Esau had enjoined upon him. [138]

No sooner had he heard of Israel’s departure from Egypt, then he set out against them and met them by the Red Sea. There, indeed, he could work them no ill, for Moses uttered against him the Ineffable Name; and so great was his confusion, that he was forced to retreat without having effected his object. [139] Then, for some time, he tried lying hidden in ambush, and in this wise molesting Israel, but as length he gave up this game of hide-and-seek, and with a bold front revealed himself as the open enemy of Israel. Not alone, however, did he himself declare war upon Israel, but he also seduced all the heathen nations to assist him in his enterprise against Israel. Although these declined to war upon Israel, fearing that they might have to fare like the Egyptians, they agreed to the following plan of Amalek. He said: “Follow my expedition. Should Israel conquer me, there will still be plenty of time for you to flee, but should success crown my attempt, join your fate to mine, in my undertaking against Israel.” So Amalek now marched from his settlement in Seir, which was no less than four hundred parasangs away from the encampment of the Jews; and although five nations, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Jebusites, the Amorites, and the Canaanites, had their dwellings between his home and the camp of the Jews, he insisted upon being the first to declare war upon Israel.

God punished Israel, who had shown themselves an ungrateful people, by sending against them an enemy that was ungrateful, too, never recalling that he owed his life to the sons of Jacob, who had had him in their power after their brilliant victory over Esau and his followers. [140]

In his expedition against Israel he made use of his kinsman. Before going over to open attack, he lured many unsuspecting Jews to death by his kindly words. He had fetched from Egypt the table of descent of the Jews; for every Jew had there to mark his name on the bricks produced by him, and these lists lay in the Egyptian archives. Familiar with the names of the different Jewish families, Amalek appeared before the Jewish camp, and calling the people by name, he invited them to leave the camp, and come out to him. “Reuben! Simeon! Levi! etc.,” he would call, “come out to me, your brother, and transact business with me.”

Those who answered the enticing call, found certain death at his hands; and not only did Amalek kill them, but he also mutilated their corpses, following the example of his grandsire Esau, by cutting off a certain part of the body, and throwing it toward heaven with the mocking words, “Here shalt Thou have what Thou desirest.” In this way did he jeer at the token of the Abrahamic covenant.

So long as the Jews remained within the encampment, he could, of course, do them no harm, for the cloud enveloped them, and under its shelter they were as well fortified as a city that is surrounded by a solid wall. The cloud, however, covered those only who were pure, but the unclean had to stay beyond it, until they were cleansed by a ritual bath, and these Amalek caught and killed. The sinners, too, particularly the tribe of Dan, who were all worshippers of idols, were not protected by the cloud, and therefore exposed to the attacks of Amalek. [141]

Moses did not himself set out to battle against this dangerous foe of Israel, but he sent his servant Joshua, and for good reasons. Moses knew that only a descendant of Rachel, like the Ephraimite Joshua, could conquer the descendant of Esau. All the sons of Jacob had taken part in the unbrotherly act of selling Joseph as a slave, hence none of their descendants might stand up in battle against the descendant of Esau; for they who had themselves acted unnaturally to a brother, could hardly hope for God’s assistance in a struggle with the unbrotherly Edomites. Only the descendants of Joseph, the man who had been generous and good to his brothers, might hope that God would grant them aid against the unbrotherly descendants of Esau. In many other respects, too, Joseph was the opposite of Esau, and his services stood his descendants in good stead in their battles against the descendants of Esau. Esau was the firstborn of his father, but through his evil deeds he lost his birthright; Joseph, on the other hand, was the youngest of his father’s sons, and through his good deeds was he found worthy of enjoying the rights of a firstborn son. Joseph had faith in the resurrection, while Esau denied it; hence God said, “Joseph, the devout, shall be the one to visit merited punishment on Esau, the unbelieving.” Joseph associated with two wicked men, Potiphar and Pharaoh, yet he did not follow their example; Esau associated with two pious men, his father and his brother, yet he did not follow their example. “Hence,” said God, “Joseph, who did not follow example of wicked men, shall visit punishment upon him who did not follow the example of pious men.” Esau soiled his life with lewdness and murder; Joseph was chaste and shunned bloodshed, hence God delivered Esau’s descendants into the hands of Joseph’s descendants. And, as in the course of history only the descendants of Joseph were victorious over the descendants of Esau, so will it be in the future, at the final reckoning between the angel of Esau and the angels of the Jews. The angel of Reuben will be rebuffed by the angel of Esau with these words, “you represent on who had illegal relations with his father’s wife”; the angels of Simeon and Levi will have the listen to this reproof, “You represent people who slew the inhabitants of Shechem”; the angel of Judah will be repulsed with the words, “Judah had illicit relations with his daughter-in-law.” And the angels of the other tribes will be repulsed by Esau’s angel, when he points out to them that they all took part in selling Joseph. The only one whom he will not be able to repulse will be Joseph’s angel, to whom he will be delivered and by whom he will be destroyed; Joseph will b the flame and Esau the straw burned in the flame. [142]


Moses now instructed Joshua in regard to his campaign against Amalek, saying, “Choose us out men and go out, fight with Amalek.” The words “choose us” characterize the modesty of Moses, who treated his disciple Joshua as an equal; in these words he has taught us that the honor of our disciples should stand as high as our own. Joshua did not at first want to expose himself to danger and leave the protection of the cloud, but Moses said to him, “Abandon the cloud and set forth against Amalek, if ever thou dost hope to set the crown upon thy head.” He commanded him to choose his warriors from among the pious and God-fearing, and promised him that he would set a fast day for the following day, and implore God, in behalf of the good deeds of the Patriarchs and the wives of the Patriarchs, to stand by Israel in this war.

Joshua acted in accordance with these commands [143] and set out against Amalek, to conquer whom required not only skillful strategy, but also adeptness in the art of magic. For Amalek was a great magician and knew that propitious and the unpropitious hour of each individual, and in this way regulated his attacks against Israel; he attacked that one at night, whose death had been predicted for a night, and him whose death had been preordained for a day did he attack by day.

But in this art, too, Joshua was his match, for he, too, knew how to time properly the attack upon [144] individuals, and he destroyed Amalek, his sons, the armies he himself commanded, and those under the leadership of his sons. But in the very heat of battle, Joshua treated his enemies humanely, he did not repay like with like. Far was it from him to follow Amalek’s example in mutilating the corpses of the enemy. Instead with a sharp sword he cut off the enemies’ heads, an execution that does not dishonor.

But only through the aid of Moses, did Joshua with his victory. Moses did not go out into battle, but through his prayer and through his influence upon the people in inspiring them with faith, the battle was won. While the battle raged between Israel and Amalek, Moses was stationed on a height, where, supported by the Levite Aaron and the Judean Hur, the representatives of the two noble tribes Levi and Judah, he fervently implored God’s aid. He said: “O Lord of the world! Through me has Thou brought Israel out of Egypt, through me hast Thou cleft the sea, and through me has Thou wrought miracles; so do Thou now work miracles for me, and lend me victory to Israel, for I well know that while all other nations fight only to the sixth hour of the day, this sinful nation stand in battle ranks till sunset.” Moses did not consider it sufficient to pray alone to God, but he raised his hands toward heaven as a signal for the whole nation to follow his example and trust in God. As often as he then raised his hands to heaven and the people prayed with him, trusting that God would lend them victory, they were indeed victorious; as often, however, as Moses let down his hands and the people ceased prayer, weakening in their faith in God, Amalek conquered. But it was hard for Moses constantly to raise his hands. This was God’s way of punishing him for being somewhat negligent in the preparations for the war against Amalek. Hence Aaron and Hur were obliged to hold up his arms and assist him in his prayer. As, furthermore, he was unable to stand all that time, he seated himself on a stone, disdaining a soft and comfortable seat, saying, “So long as Israel is in distress, I shall share it with them.” [145]

At evenfall, the battle was not yet decided, therefore Moses prayed to God that He might stay the setting of the sun and thus enable Israel to draw the battle to a close. God granted this prayer, for the sun did not set until Israel had completely destroyed their enemy. Thereupon Moses blessed Joshua with the words, “Some day the sun shall stand still for thy sake, as it did to-day for mine,” and this blessing was later fulfilled at Gibeon, when the sun stood still to help Joshua in his battle against the Amorites. [146]

Although Amalek had not received the merited punishment from the hands of Joshua, still his enterprise against Israel had not been entirely unavailing. The miraculous exodus of Israel out of Egypt, and especially the cleaving of the sea, had created such alarm among the heathens, that none among them had dared to approach Israel. But this fear vanished as soon as Amalek attempted to compete in battle with Israel. Although he was terrible beaten, still the fear of the inaccessibility of Israel was gone. It was with Amalek as with that foolhardy wight who plunged into a scalding-hot tub. He scalded himself terribly, yet the tub became cold through his plunge into it. Hence God was not content with the punishment Amalek received in the time of Moses, but swore by His throne and by His right hand that He would never forget Amalek’s misdeeds, that in this world as well as in the time of the Messiah He would visit punishment upon him, and would completely exterminate him in the future world. So long as the seed of Amalek exist, the face of God is, as it were, covered, and will only then come to view, when the seed of Amalek shall have been entirely exterminated.

God had at first left the war against Amalek in the hands of His people, therefore He bade Joshua, the future leader of the people, never to forget the war against Amalek; and if Moses had listened intently, he would have perceived from this command of God that Joshua was destined to lead the people into the promised land. But later, when Amalek took part in the destruction of Jerusalem, God Himself took up the war against Amalek, saying, “By My throne I vow not to leave a single descendant of Amalek under the heavens, yea, no one shall even be able to say that this sheep or that wether belonged to an Amalekite.” [147]

God bade Moses impress upon the Jews to repulse no heathen should he desire conversion, but never to accept an Amalekite as a proselyte. It was in consideration of this word of God that David slew the Amalekite, who announced to him the death of Saul and Jonathan; for he saw in him only a heathen, although he appeared in the guise of a Jew. [148]

Part of the blame for the destruction of Amalek falls upon his father, Eliphaz. He used to say to Amalek: “My son, dost thou indeed know who will posses this world and the future world?” Amalek paid no attention to his allusion to the future fortune of Israel, and his father urged it no more strongly upon him, although it would have been his duty to instruct his son clearly and fully. He should have said to him: “My son, Israel will posses this world as well as the future world; dig wells then for their use and build road for them, so that thou mayest be judged worthy to share in the future world.” But as Amalek had not been sufficiently instructed by his father, in his wantonness he undertook to destroy the whole world. God, who tries the reins and the heart, said to him: “O thou fool, I created thee after all the seventy nations, but for thy sins thou shalt be the first to descend into hell.” [149]

To glorify the victory over Amalek, Moses built an altar, which God called “My Miracle,” for the miracle God wrought against Amalek in the war of Israel was, as it were, a miracle for God. For so long as the Israelites dwell in sorrow, God feels with them, and a joy for Israel is a joy for God, hence, too, the miraculous victory over Israel’s foe was a victory for God. [150]


“Smite a scorner, and the simple will beware.” The destruction of Amalek brought Jethro to his senses. Jethro was originally in the same plot with Amalek, both having incited Pharaoh against Israel, but when he saw that Amalek lost this world and the other, he repented of his sinful ways, saying: “There is nothing left to me but to go over to the God of Israel”; [151] and although he dwelt in the greatest wealth and honor, he determined to set out for the desert, to Moses and his God. [152] Arrived at the camp of Israel, he could not enter it, for it was enveloped by a cloud that none could pierce, hence he wrote a letter to Moses and shot it off with an arrow, so that it fell into the camp. [153] The letter read: “I adjure thee, by thy two sons and by thy God, to come to meet me and receive me kindly. If thou wilt not do if for my sake, do it for thy wife’s sake; and if thou wilt not do it for her sake, do it for thy sons’ sake.” For Jethro brought with him his daughter Zipporah, from whom Moses had been divorced, as well as her two sons, her only children, for after her separation from Moses, she had wed no other man.