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The Story of Passover


It all starts with Joseph who was Jacob's favorite son. Jacob was the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham.

Joseph and his younger brother, Benjamin, were the only children of Rachel, Jacob's favorite wife. The Torah says she died on the road while giving birth to Benjamin.

Jacob's other 10 sons, were the children of his first wife, Leah, Rachel's older sister, and Bilha and Zilpa, their maidservants. The brothers were all jealous of Jacob's attention to Joseph.

Joseph, as a teenager, unwisely aggravated his brothers, telling them about dreams he had in which he was the sun and the moon, and they were stars, bowing to him. The final straw was the day Joseph appeared in a coat of many colors that Jacob made especially for him. It was then that his brothers decided that Joseph and his ideas threatened the convenient between G-d and Abraham, and they decided to get rid of him.

After agreeing not to kill him, they decided to throw him in a pit. When his brother, Judah, came back that night to rescue him, it was too late. The other brothers had already sold Joseph to a caravan of Midianite traders.

Realizing they had to tell their father something, the brothers dipped Joseph's coat in goat's blood and told their father that Joseph was killed by a wild animal.

Now a slave, Joseph was sold to a wealthy Egyptian household where he soon became a favored and trusted servant. After some time, the wife of his new master, Potifar, attempted to seduce him. Joseph, could have easily succumbed to Potifar's wife and lived in comfort, instead he resisted her advances, explaining that he could not commit adultery.

Potifar's wife was so incensed, she accused Joseph of attacking her. Potifar had Joseph thrown into jail, where he spent the next seven years. While in jail, Joseph gained a reputation as an interpreter of dreams. The Torah describes how Joseph correctly interpreted the dreams of two of Pharaoh's servants, the royal butler and the royal baker. Joseph asked them to remember him if they were released.

As Joseph predicted, the baker was eventually killed and the butler was eventually restored to his former position. However, as punishment for not relying on G-d to save him, Joseph spent another several years in prison until it happened that Pharaoh began experiencing disturbing dreams.

When no one could explain Pharaoh's dreams, the butler told Pharaoh about Joseph's remarkable ability. Joseph was taken before the Pharaoh who described his now famous dream about seven lean cows consumed by seven fat cows, and seven lean stalks of corn consumed by seven fat stalks of corn.

Joseph explained how Egypt would experience seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. He advised Pharaoh to store houses of grain during the years of plenty so Egypt would have enough food when the famine came. Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph's interpretation that he put him in charge of preparing Egypt for the coming famine.

Joseph's prediction came true, and soon Joseph became the second most powerful man in Egypt. Word of Egypt's abundant food supply reached Canaan, where Jacob and his growing family were quickly running out of food. Jacob sent the brothers to go to Egypt to buy supplies. Only Benjamin, Jacob's youngest child, and Joseph's brother, stayed behind.

Joseph, who was now married with two sons of his own, was in charge of all grain distribution in Egypt. When his brothers arrived, Joseph recognized them immediately but decided to keep quiet. Instead, he singled them out, asked them who they were and why they came to Egypt. He made sure they got the best of everything. But Joseph was curious. Did they regret what they did to him, and if given the chance, would they do it again?

To test them, Joseph accused his brothers of being spies. He insisted that they choose one brother to be held in Egypt as hostage until the rest return with the brother they left behind in Canaan.

The brothers had no choice but to do as Joseph said. It was determined that Shimon stay behind in Egypt as the remaining brothers returned to their father Jacob in Canaan.

When Jacob heard all that had occurred in Egypt he was very distraught at the prospect of parting with Benjamin. However, he had no choice. Benjamin returned to Egypt with his brothers.

Once back in Egypt, Joseph had Shimon released and ordered all his brothers brought to his private household. Once there, Joseph had a feast prepared. At the end of the feasting, Joseph ordered their sacks be filled with as much food as they could carry and also instructed that money be placed in every brother's sack. As part of the test, Joseph had his servants place a silver goblet inside Benjamin's sack.

By morning, the brothers, along with Shimon and Benjamin, were on their way back to their father Jacob. When they reached the outskirts of the city, they were stopped and arrested by Egyptian soldiers and brought back before Joseph.

Joseph accused one of the brothers of stealing a silver goblet. Every sack was searched until the goblet was found in Benjamin's sack. As punishment, Joseph decided that the boy should remain in Egypt as his servant.

When the brothers heard this, they ripped their clothing and pleaded with Joseph to spare the boy. Judah offered himself instead of Benjamin, for losing Benjamin would surely kill their father.

Joseph could no longer restrain himself. Overcome with great emotion, he was now convinced that his brothers were sorry for what they had done to him. Weeping, Joseph announced, "I am Joseph: Does my father yet live?"

The brothers could hardly believe it. They were too afraid to speak, too afraid to breathe. Joseph said he had completely forgiven them and told them everything he had suffered was part of a divine plan.

"And now be not grieved, nor be angry with yourselves that you sold me here. Because to preserve life did G-d send me before you." (Genesis 45:3-5)

Joseph asked only that his father Jacob be brought before him. When he concluded his tale of all that had happened to him, he fell upon the neck of his brother Benjamin and wept. And Benjamin wept upon his brother Joseph's neck.

Joseph gave them wagons and provisions for their trip home. But to Benjamin, Joseph gave 300 shekels of silver and five changes of clothing. As they left Egypt, Joseph said to them: "Do not quarrel on the way."

When Jacob heard that Joseph was alive he fainted. When he came to he was overjoyed. He and his family gathered everything they had and proceeded to make the long journey back to Egypt, where they settled in Goshen.

Although Joseph achieved great stature in Egyptian society he never forgot he was a Jew or where he came from. In fact, even though he was married to an Egyptian priestess, he gave his two sons the Hebrew names Ephraim and Menashe.

Joseph and all his family prospered in Goshen, an area rich in graze land on the edge of Egypt. Life was good until the power structure changed and there rose a new Pharaoh, the one the Torah says, "did not know Joseph."

The Story Continues with Moses.

After the death of Joseph, things took a turn for the worse. The Torah says that the new Pharaoh feared the Israelite's prolific ability to reproduce. Pharaoh's advisers warned they would soon take over Egypt.

To slow them down, the new Pharaoh oppressed the Hebrews, using them as slaves to build the great Egyptian cities, Pittom and Ramses. When this did not work, the new Pharaoh ordered Egyptian midwives to kill the first born males of Jewish slaves. When this too had little effect, the Pharaoh decreed that every Jewish male infant be drowned in the Nile River.

To save his life, one Jewish baby boy was placed in a basket to float down the Nile river. The baby was the son of Amram and Yochebed. His sister Miriam followed close by. The basket with the baby inside was found by Pharaoh's daughter, Batsheva. She called him Moses, an Egyptian name, for she drew him from the Nile.

When Miriam saw who found him, she quickly offered Pharaoh's daughter the services of a nursemaid. The nursemaid she offered, was of course, the baby's own mother, Yocheved.

After Moses was weaned, he grew up as a prince in Pharaoh's palace. The misery of the Hebrew slaves continued. For the most part, Moses remained untouched by their suffering. One day, however, something happened that changed his life forever.

Moses was walking among the slaves and saw an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew. When the Egyptian would not stop, Moses struck him and the Egyptian died.

Two Hebrew informants witnessed the attack and threatened to report Moses. Afraid for his life, Moses ran away. He ran until he came to Mideon, where he found refuge in the house of Jethro, a Midian priest.

Jethro had seven daughters who tended the family flock. Moses fell in love with the eldest, Tziporah. One day, while in the desert herding sheep, Moses saw something burning in the distance. As he drew closer, he saw it was a bush, but to his surprise, it was not consumed. Then Moses heard a voice. The voice said it was the G-d of Abraham, the G-d of Isaac and the G-d of Jacob. Moses was told to take his shoes off for he was on holy ground. G-d then told Moses to go back to Egypt and free his people from bondage.

Moses was reluctant. He said he was a simple shepherd unworthy of such a task. He said his speech was slow and that he would be killed if he went back to Egypt. G-d told him to take his brother, Aaron, and go before Pharaoh. G-d gave Moses two signs of His power to show Pharaoh. The first involved turning his staff into a snake. The second sign involved turning his arm into leprosy.

Moses left his family in Midian to join Aaron in Egypt. The two made their way to Pharaoh's palace. Their first request to free their people was denied. As instructed, they performed G-d's signs for Pharaoh. Pharaoh's magicians tried to mimic the snake trick, but were dumbfounded when Moshe's snake ate their sticks.

This angered Pharaoh, and as punishment, he took away the straw the Hebrews used to make bricks while at the same time increasing their brick making quota.

When Moses and Aaron returned to the palace with their now familiar refrain, "Let my people go," they were again denied. To show G-d's power, Moses stretched his staff across the River Nile and the water slowly turned to blood. In fact, every bit of water, no matter if it was in the river or in a vessel, turned to blood. Only in Goshen, where the Jews lived, was the water clear.

This was the first of 10 plagues G-d brought on Egypt. After each plague, Pharaoh's advisors begged him to send the Hebrews away, but each time the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he refused.

After blood came frogs, lice, wild beasts, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and ended with the slaying of the firstborn.

Before this final plague was unleashed on Egypt, G-d told Moses to instruct the Jews to choose an unblemished lamb, sheep or goat on the tenth of the month, (which was Nisan) keep it until the 14th, and then slaughter it at sundown.

They were then to smear its blood on their doorposts and thresholds, and roast the entire animal. They were to eat the meal in a hurry, with staff in hand and sandals on their feet. The bread they ate was unleavened because they had no time to allow the dough to rise.

While the Jews were eating their last meal in Egypt, G-d passed through the land and killed every first born male - human and animal. Only the Jewish homes, with the blood of the paschal sacrifice on their doors, were passed over - hence, the name Passover.

The last plague finally broke Pharaoh's will. In the middle of the night, with his own son lying dead before him, he called for Moses and Aaron. He told them to pack up their families, their belongings, their cattle and their sheep, and get out of Egypt.

In the middle of the night, after 210 years of slavery, 600,000 men between the ages of 18 and 60, left Egypt. In all, almost three million people marched for three days. However, by the time Hebrews reached the Red Sea, Pharaoh's heart had hardened and the entire Egyptian army was in full pursuit.

There was nowhere for the Hebrew slaves to go. They could either surrender and go back to Egypt, or forge ahead into the sea. The former slaves were frightened and screamed to turn back, not wanting to die in the wilderness.

But Moses and Aaron stood strong. Using a strong east wind against the sea, G-d caused the waters to part so the Jews could march through. The Egyptians with their heavy metal armor and heavy chariots and horses pursued. When the last Jew had crossed the sea, G-d caused the waters to fall back, drowning the Egyptian army. Only Pharaoh was spared. He stood transfixed on the shore. He had no choice but to watch in horror as his entire army vanished beneath the waves.

There was great rejoicing from the other side. Miriam, Moshe's older sister, gathered the women and began singing and dancing in praise of G-d.



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