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THE EXODUS

Pharaoh and the Egyptians let their dead lie unburied, while they hastened to help the Israelites load their possessions on wagons, to get them out of the land with as little delay as possible. When they left, they took with them, beside their own cattle, the sheep and the oxen that Pharaoh had ordered his nobles to give them as presents. The king also forced his magnates to beg pardon of the Israelites for all they had suffered, knowing as he did that God forgives an injury done by man to his fellow only after the wrong- doer has recovered the good-will of his victim by confessing and regretting his fault.[230] "Now, depart!" said Pharaoh to the Israelites, "I want nothing from you but that you should pray to God for me, that I may be saved from death."[231]

The hatred of the Egyptians toward the Israelites changed now into its opposite. They conceived affection and friendship for them, and fairly forced raiment upon them, and jewels of silver and jewels of gold, to take along with them on their journey, although the children of Israel had not yet returned the articles they had borrowed from their neighbors at an earlier time. This action is in part to be explained by the vanity of Pharaoh and his people. They desired to pretend before the world that they were vastly rich, as everybody would conclude when this wealth of their mere slaves was displayed to observers. Indeed, the Israelites bore so much away from Egypt that one of them alone might have defrayed the expense of building and furnishing the Tabernacle.

On their leaving the land only the private wealth of the Egyptians was in their hands, but when they arrived at the Red Sea they came into possession of the public treasure, too, for Pharaoh, like all kings, carried the moneys of the state with him on his campaigns, in order to be prepared to hire a relay of mercenaries in case of defeat. Great as the other treasure was, the booty captured at the sea far exceeded it.[232]

But if the Israelites loaded themselves down with goods and jewels and money, it was not to gratify love of riches, or, as any usurer might say, because they coveted their neighbors' possessions. In the first place they could look upon their plunder as wages due to them from those they had long served, and, secondly, they were entitled to retaliate on those at whose hands they had suffered wrong. Even then they were requiting them with an affliction far slighter than any one of all they had endured themselves.[233]

The plagues did not stay the cruelty of the Egyptian oppressors toward the Hebrews. It continued unabated until the very end of their sojourn in the land. On the day of the exodus, Rachel the daughter of Shuthelah gave birth to a child, while she and her husband together were treading the clay for bricks. The babe dropped from her womb into the clay and sank out of sight. Gabriel appeared, moulded a brick out of the clay containing the child, and carried it to the highest of the heavens, where he made it a footstool before the Divine throne. In that night it was that God looked upon the suffering of Israel, and smote the first-born of the Egyptians,[234] and it is one of the four nights that God has inscribed in the Book of Memorial. The first of the four is that in which God appeared to create the world; all was waste and void, and darkness brooded over the abyss, until the Lord came and spread light round about by His word. The second night is that in which God appeared unto Abraham at the covenant of the pieces. In the third night He appeared in Egypt, slaying the first-born of the Egyptians with His right hand, and protecting the first-born of the Israelites with His left. The fourth night recorded will be that in which the end of the redemption will be accomplished, when the iron yoke of the wicked kingdom will be broken, and the evil-doers will be destroyed. Then will Moses come from the desert, and the Messiah from Rome, each at the head of his flock, and the word of God will mediate between them, causing both to walk with one accord in the same direction.

Israel's redemption in future days will happen on the fifteenth of Nisan, the night of Israel's redemption from Egypt, for thus did Moses say, "In this night God protected Israel against the Angels of Destruction, and in this night He will also redeem the generations of the future."[235]

Though the actual deliverance from Egypt took place in that night, the Hebrews did not leave the land until the following day.[236]

During the same night God requited the Egyptians for their evil deeds in the sight of all the people, the night being as bright as day at the time of the summer solstice. Not one could escape the general chastisement, for by Divine dispensation none was absent from home at the time, so that none could fail to see the chastisement.[237]

The angels in heaven learnt what was happening on earth. When they were about to begin their song of praise to God, He silenced them with the words, "My children on earth are singing now," and the celestial hosts had to stop and listen to the song of Israel.[238]

Great as the joy of the Hebrews was at their deliverance from the Egyptian bondage, it was exceeded by that of Pharaoh's people at seeing their slaves depart, for with them went the dread of death that had obsessed them. They were like the portly gentleman riding an ass. The rider feels uncomfortable and longs for the moment of alighting, but his longing cannot compare in intensity with that of the ass groaning under the corpulent burden, and when their journey's end is reached, the ass rejoices more than his master. So the Egyptians were happier to be rid of the Hebrews than these were to be free.[239]

In general, the Israelites were not in a joyous mood. The strength of men is readily exhausted, mentally and physically, by the strain of a sudden change from slavery to freedom. They did not recover vigor and force until they heard the angel hosts sing songs of praise and joy over the redemption of Israel and the redemption of the Shekinah, for so long as the chosen people is in exile, the Shekinah, who dwells among Israel, is also, as it were, in exile. At the same time, God caused the earth to exhale and send aloft a healing fragrance, which cured them of all their diseases.[240]

The exodus of the Israelites began at Raamses, and although the distance from there to the city of Mizraim, where Moses abode, was a forty days' journey, yet they heard the voice of their leader urging them to leave the land. They covered the distance from Raamses to Succoth, a three days' march, in an instant. In Succoth God enveloped them in seven clouds of glory, four hovering in front, behind, and at the two sides of them, one suspended above them, to keep off rain, hail, and the rays of the sun, and one under them to protect them against thorns and snakes. The seventh cloud preceded them, and prepared the way for them, exalting the valleys and making low every mountain and hill.[241] Thus they wandered through the wilderness for forty years. In all that time no artificial lighting was needed; a beam from the celestial cloud followed them into the darkest of chambers, and if one of the people had to go outside of the camp, even thither he was accompanied by a fold of the cloud, covering and protecting him.[242] Only, that a difference might be made between day and night, a pillar of fire took the place of the cloud in the evening.[243] Never for an instant were the people without the one or the other to guide them: the pillar of fire glowed in front of them before the pillar of cloud retired, and in the morning the cloud was there before the fire vanished.[244] The clouds of glory and the pillar of fire were sent for the protection of Israel alone, for none beside, not for the heathen and not for the mixed multitude that went up with them; these had to walk outside of the cloud enclosure.[245]

The cavalcade consisted of six hundred thousand heads of families afoot, each accompanied by five children on horseback, and to these must be added the mixed multitude, exceeding the Hebrews vastly in number.[246]

So profound was Israel's trust in the Lord, that they followed Moses unmurmuringly into the wilderness, without supplying themselves with provisions.[247] The only edibles they took were the remains of the unleavened bread and the bitter herbs, and these not to satisfy their hunger, but because they were unwilling to separate themselves from what they had prepared lovingly at the command of God. These possessions were so dear to them that they would not entrust them to the beasts of burden, they carried them on their own shoulders.[248]


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