The Talmud: Selections, by H. Polano, , at sacred-texts.com
THREE of the prominent Biblical characters met their wives for the first time by wells of water--namely, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses.
In regard to Isaac we find, "And Isaac came from the road at the well of Chai roi" (Gen. 13), in addition to which Eleazer, his father's messenger, met Rebecca by the well. Jacob met Rachel by the well, and Moses met the daughters of Jithro when they came to water their father's flocks.
The Lord hates idolatry. Why then did Moses seek the house of an idolater?
The Rabbis say that Jithro had seen the error of his ways and resigned his position as priest to the idols of Midian before Moses came to him. For this reason the people held aloof from him and his family, holding no intercourse with them, and for this reason the shepherds refused to work for him, and his daughters were obliged to water and attend to his flocks.
"His eyes see, His eyebrow searches the sons of man," says the Psalmist.
"Although His divinity is of heaven," said Rabbi Janaai, "His eyes look upon earth. Even as the king who built high tower in his orchard and dwelt therein. To his labourers he said, 'Look to my orchard that you keep it in good condition, the walks clean, and the trees carefully attended that they may bring forth good fruit. He among ye who is faithful shall receive a just reward, and he who neglects my charge shall meet the punishment he deserves!' The world, vast and immense, is the orchard of the great King of kings, and he has placed man therein to keep his laws and statutes, and to preserve the sweet savour of obedience. They who are faithful will be rewarded, while they who neglect their trust will be dealt with according to their deeds. Therefore the Psalmist says, 'His eyes see, His eyebrow searches the sons of man."
He searches the righteous. How? By judging of the manner in which they attend to the flocks entrusted to their charge.
David, the son of Jesse, He tried in this manner. Before the lambs David set tender grass for food; to the old sheep he gave soft herbs and tender grass, while to the young sheep, able to chew well, he gave the old grass; feeding each according to its wants and strength. Therefore the Lord said, "David, who is able to care for the wants of the flocks entrusted to him, will be able to rule properly over my flock, the people of Israel," even as it is written, "After the young flock He brought Him to rule over Jacob His people."
So did the Lord try Moses. While keeping the flock of his father-in-law in the wilderness a lamb left the flock and
ran away. The merciful shepherd pursued it, and found it quenching its thirst at a spring by the roadside. "Poor lamb," said Moses, "I did not know that thou vast thirsty;" and after the lamb had finished drinking, he took it up tenderly in his arms and carried it back to the flock. Then said God, "Moses, merciful Moses, if thy love and care is so great for an animal, how much greater will it be, exerted for thy fellow-being! thou shalt lead my people Israel."
Why did the Lord appear to Moses in a thorn bush? Because the thorn bush is lowly among trees, and Israel was then lowly among the nations of the earth. Roses, the most beautiful of the flowers, grow with thorns, so among Israel both righteous and unrighteous men were numbered. He who thrusts his hand into thorns may do so without hurt, but he cannot draw it forth again without being torn by the brambles. So was it with Israel. When Jacob entered Egypt it was with peace, none noticed, to disturb him; but when his children went out from the land, it was with signs, miracles, and war. And lest Moses might chance to think that the rigour of the Egyptians had already destroyed Israel, God appeared in a burning bush that was not consumed, to typify the state and future of Israel, complete and perfect, despite the fire of persecution.
"And God said, I have greatly seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt."
When Hagar was dismissed by Abraham, and when her son cried to her for water in the wilderness, she appealed to Heaven, saying, "Merciful Father, thou didst promise me, 'I will multiply thy seed;' and now, behold my son must die of thirst!"
Upon this the angels asked, "What ails thee, Hagar?" &c.
According to Rabbi Simon, the angels opposed the assistance rendered Ishmael, saying, "If he is saved today he will bring evil upon thy children Israel in the future." Then said God, "How has his conduct been to-day?" And when the angels answered, "Innocent and correct," God continued, "He shall be judged to-day only in relation to his actions of to-day."
So was it with the Israelites in Egypt. The Lord knew what their future conduct would be. He said, "I have seen greatly;" not simply "I have seen," but "I have seen greatly;" which means more than limited view or mere observation.
The Lord said to Moses, "Thou seest one thing, but I see two. That the children of Israel will receive the Decalogue upon Mount Sinai is known to thee; but I foresee the event which will follow, the making of the molten calf. Yet still I judge them but by their present conduct. I have heard their cry, and though I know that they will murmur against me in the wilderness, nevertheless will I redeem them. I said to Jacob their progenitor, 'I will go down with thee to Egypt, and I will also surely bring thee up again.' Now I am going to bring my children up as I have promised them, and lead them to the land which I gave unto their fathers. Their cry has reached me, and the last days of their bondage are drawing nigh. Go therefore . . . that thou mayest bring forth my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt. Thou art the one appointed co redeem them."
And Moses answered:
"When Jacob went down into Egypt didst Thou not say to him, 'I will go down with thee to Egypt, and I myself will surely bring thee up again?' And now Thou sayest, 'Go thou.' How can I bring them up? How protect
them from the summer's heat and the cold of winter? How can I support an army of six hundred thousand men, with many women and little ones, and some among them who are invalids and crippled, requiring extra care and special food?"
"The unleavened bread which they will carry with them will be sufficient for them all for thirty days," replied the Lord.
Then Moses said:
"When they shall say to me, 'What is His name?' how shall I answer them?"
And God replied:
"I have many names. I am called 'God Almighty' (El-Shaddai), 'The Lord of Hosts' (Adonai Zebaoth), 'God' (Elohimn). When I judge the wicked I am called 'The Lord of Hosts,' and when I rebuke the sinner I am called 'God Almighty.' When I show mercy to my people I am called 'Eternal' (Jehovah)."
Then God said to Moses, "I will be that I will be; this is my name for ever."
God meant by this, "I will be with them in this bondage, and I will be with them in their future captivity."
Then said Moses:
"Why should I mention future captivity to them while they are suffering under their present bondage?"
And God replied:
"Thou hast spoken well; say naught of their future troubles."
"And Moses answered and said, 'But behold they will not believe me.'"
Moses was wrong in making this response, for God had already said, "They will hearken to thy voice."
So God said
"What hast thou in thy hand?"
This was a rebuke, meaning that by the staff which he carried in his hand he deserved punishment for doubting. Why did Moses's staff become a serpent? Because he implied falsehood to the Lord, even as did the serpent in Eden.
A heathen chief said to Rabbi Josah, "My gods are greater than thy gods."
"Why?" asked the sage.
"Because," replied the heathen, "when your God appeared in the thorn bush Moses hid his face, but when he saw the serpent, which is my god, he fled before it."
And Rabbi Josah answered:
"When our God appears we cannot flee from him; He is in the heaven and on earth, on sea and dry land; but if a man flies from thy god, the serpent, a few steps deliver him."
What significance has the serpent in respect to the redemption of Israel? Pharaoh is compared to the serpent, as it is written (Ezekiel 28), "The great serpent." Even as the bite of a serpent to man was the bondage of Pharaoh to Israel.
The Lord said to Moses, "Pharaoh is now as a serpent; thou shalt smite him with thy staff and he shall become powerless as wood. Even as a staff is useless for aggression without man's assistance, motive power, so shall Pharaoh cease to be aggressive." Therefore He said, "Put forth thy hand and grasp it by the tail."
Why was Moses commanded to put his hand into his bosom when it was made white with leprosy? Because slander and falsehood are generally spoken in secret, even as the bosom is hidden.
How did this change to leprosy illustrate the redemption of Israel?
Even as a leper defiles the clean, so did the Egyptian contact defile the Israelites, and as the leprous hand was restored to its purity, so did God design to purify His people.
In the first two miracles which the Lord displayed to Moses the objects regained their original appearance; but in the third, the change from water to blood, the former did not recover its original qualities. So God fore-shadowed that Moses would not be pardoned for his sin at Meribah.
Each time when Moses's death is mentioned in the Scriptures, the cause of his death before entering the holy land, his disobedience at Meribah is mentioned. Why is this?
Two men were once punished by the civil authorities; one had committed a crime, the other but a slight misdemeanour. The latter requested that the cause of his punishment might be made public, that people might not confound his misdemeanour with the greater crime.
So was it with Moses. God decreed that he should die in the wilderness, and He also decreed that all that generation (save Joshua and Caleb) should also perish. Therefore that Moses might not be classed with hem, as rebellious against the Lord, the special cause for his punishment s mentioned in connexion with his death.
"Moses said to the Lord, Pardon, O Lord! I am not a man of words."
Seven days did the Lord repeat His command to Moses, and still Moses hesitated to obey. "I am not a man of words to-day"--that is one day--"yesterday"--two days
"also"--three--"the day before"--four--"also''--five--"nor since"--six. "Thou hast spoken"--seven.
Then God said:
"Even if thou be not a man of words, fear not; have I not created all the mouths which speak? can I not make those who speak dumb, and put words into the mouths of those who are dumb at my pleasure? It is my pleasure that thou shouldst speak to Pharaoh."
And Moses made answer, saying:
"They are the descendants of Abraham those whom thou wouldst redeem. Which is the nearer to a man, his brother's son, or his son's son? To redeem Lot, his brother's son, Thou didst send angels; and now to redeem his own children, six hundred thousand strong, besides the women and the young, Thou wouldst send me. To Hagar Thou didst send five angels when she fled from Sarah, her mistress; but to sixty thousand of the children of Sarah Thou wouldst send but me."
The Rabbis tell us that Moses was not reluctant to accept this mission through fear or a dread of labour, or a disinclination to obey God, but because he thought it should rightly belong to Aaron, his elder brother. Yet God was displeased with Moses, and, therefore, He gave the priesthood which He had designed for him, to Aaron, in saying:
"Is there not Aaron thy brother, the Levite?"
When God said "thy brother," the word "Levite" was implied, because Moses being a Levite, his brother must necessarily have been the same; but this was God's meaning:
"I thought to make thee my priest, and continue thy brother, the Levite; but for thy reluctance in obeying my wishes, he shall be the priest and thou the Levite."
"And the lord said to Aaron, 'Go to meet Moses.'"
"Oh that some one would make thee as my brother," is one of the beautiful expressions of Solomon's song.
What kind of a brother? Not as was Cain to Abel, for "Cain rose up against his brother Abel and slew him." Not as Ishmael to Isaac, for Ishmael hated Isaac; neither as Esau, for "Esau hated Jacob." Not as the brothers of Joseph, for "they could not speak peaceably to him;" but even such a brother as Aaron to Moses, as it is written, "And he (Aaron) went and met him (Moses) by the mount of God, and kissed him" (Ex. 4: 27).
"And after that Moses and Aaron went in."
Where were the elders? We find it written, "Thou and the elders of Israel shall come."
The elders started out, but dropped off gradually, through fear; therefore, after this, it is always written simply, "Moses and Aaron went in."
"Thus hath said the Everlasting One," &c.
According to Rabbi Chiyah, it happened at this time that all the neighbouring kings were calling upon Pharaoh to pay their homage to him and bring him presents; and each of the princes brought with him his god. Moses and Aaron stood at the palace gates, and the guard thinking they too were tributaries, bade them enter. Pharaoh looked at them, and seeing them to be strangers he imagined that they also brought him presents, and he wondered why they did not salute him as the others did. He spoke and asked them, "What is your desire?" And they answered, "Thus saith the Lord, let my people go," &c.
And Pharaoh said in angry pride:
"Who is this Lord that I am to obey,--at whose voice I am to let Israel go? He has never made me an offering or appeared before me; I know him not, nor will I let Israel go."
Then he continued:
"Lo, I will consult my records and see if I find there the name of your God. Here I find the names of all the gods; the gods of Amon, the gods of Moab, the gods of Zedin, but the name of your God I cannot find."
And Moses answered:
"Our God is a living God."
And Pharaoh said to him:
"Is he young or old? What is his age; how many cities has he captured; how many countries has he conquered; how long has been his reign?"
Then said Moses:
"His power fills the universe. He was before the world saw light, He will be, when the world exists no more. He formed thee; with His spirit thou breathest."
And Pharaoh further asked, "What are his deeds?" To which the messengers of God replied:
"The voice of the Lord breaketh in pieces the cedars; He stretched out the heavens, He laid the foundation of the earth, rending the mountains and breaking into stones the rocks. His bow is of fire, His arrows are of flame. He formed the mountains and the hills, covered the fields with green, bringing forth fruits and herbs. He removeth kings, and kings He exalteth."
"Ye come to me with falsehoods," returned Pharaoh "ye tell me that your God is the Lord of the world; know then that Egypt is mine, and I have created the great river Nile which floweth in its boundaries."
("Mine is my stream, and I have made it for myself." Ezekiel 19: 3).
Then Pharaoh asked of his magicians, "Have ye ever heard of their God?" And the magicians answered, "We have heard of him. He is the son of wise men, the son of a king of olden time."
"Thou askest now, 'Who is the Lord?' said Moses. "The time will come when thou wilt say, 'The Lord is righteous.' Thou sayest now, 'I know not your Lord.' The time cometh when thou wilt say, 'I have sinned against your Lord.'"
"And they met Moses and Aaron . . . 'to put a sword in their hands to slay us.'"
"Yea," said the overburdened children of Israel to Moses and Aaron, "we are like a lamb which the wolf has carried from its flock, the shepherd strives to take it from him, but between the two the lamb is pulled to pieces; between ye and Pharaoh will we all be killed."
"Then Moses said to the Lord, 'O Lord, wherefore hast Thou let so much evil come upon this people?'"
The Lord had already informed Moses that He would harden Pharaoh's heart, and that he would refuse to let Israel go; therefore God now replied to him, "Thou wilt see now what I am going to do to Pharaoh, but thou wilt not see what I shall do to the three kingdoms of Canaan.''
"And I appeared to Abraham," &c.
The Lord said to Moses:
"Woe, woe, that the righteous are no more; I mourn fop the patriarchs. I revealed myself to Abraham, to Isaac, said to Jacob as God Almighty, but not by the name 'Eternal,' as I have done to thee, yet they never murmured
either at my commands or at my works. I said to Abraham, 'Arise, walk through the land, its length and breadth, for I will give it to thee;' and when his wife died and he wanted but a grave for her, he was obliged to buy it with money, yet he slid not murmur and reproach me, saying, 'Thou didst promise to give me all this land, and now I am obliged to sue for and purchase but a very small portion.' I said to Isaac, 'Sojourn in this land, for unto thee and thy seed will I give all these countries;' and when he wanted a little water he could get none, for the herdsmen of Gerar did strive with his herdsmen to prevent their digging a well; still Isaac raised not his voice against me. I said to Jacob, 'The ground whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it;' and when he wished to pitch there his tent he was obliged to pay a hundred kessitah, yet he did not murmur against the Lord, or even ask of me my name, as thou hast done."
"And the lord spake unto Moses and Aaron, and gave them a charge unto the children of Israel, and unto Pharaoh, the king of Egypt."
A king had a fine and elegant orchard in which he planted trees, both fruitful and unfruitful His servants said to him, "What benefit is there in the planting of barren trees?" And he replied to them, "Fruitful trees and those which bear not, are equally useful; where could we procure wood for our houses, our ships, and our utensils, if we did not have these sturdy trees which bear no fruit?"
Even as the righteous glorify the Lord in their happiness so does the punishment of the wicked glorify the Lord when they proclaim, "Justly have we been punished."
When Aaron performed the miracles with his staff, Pharaoh laughed, and made light of them, saying:
"It is customary for merchants to carry their wares to
places wanting them,--why shouldst thou come with such tricks to a country full of magicians as Egypt is?"
He sent for some small children, and even they changed their rods into serpents.
"But Aaron's staff swallowed up their staves."
The swallowing of their staves was not the only miracle, but that Aaron's staff did not grow larger in size thereafter, added to the wonder.