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In Hebrew, Moshe Rabbenu; literally, Moses our teacher, also known as “Father of the Prophets,” the only prophet who knew God “face to face.” He was the liberator and lawgiver of Israel, the one who turned a mob of slaves into a nation willing to receive the law of the Almighty and capable of conquering the promised land, setting themselves apart as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” to become “a light unto the nations!”

The details of Moses’ career are vividly recorded in the pages of the Bible. Of the five books that bear his name, known as the Pentateuch, four recount the story of his leadership. He was the third child of Amram and Yocheved of the tribe of Levi; his birth in Egypt is surrounded by secrecy as is his death in the wilderness near Mt. Nebo, “no man knowing his burying place.”

To escape the Pharaoh’s cruel decree ordering every Hebrew male child cast into the Nile, Moses was hidden by his mother for three months after his birth, then placed onto an ark of bulrushes by the river’s edge, with his sister Miriam keeping watch at a distance. There, he was discovered by the daughter of the Pharaoh who took pity on the child and, through the clever prompting of Moses’ sister Miriam, engaged the child’s mother to act as nurse. Brought up as an Egyptian prince in the palace of the Pharaoh, Moses never forgot his Hebrew origin, for his mother reared him in the faith and traditions of his people.

Moses’ zeal for justice finds dramatic expression when he kills an Egyptian taskmaster for assaulting a Jew. When the news of this act reaches the Pharaoh, Moses flees for his life to Midian where he joins the household of Jethro the priest, whose daughter Zipporah he takes for a wife. She bears him two sons, Gershom and Eliezer.

While tending his father-in-law’s flocks Moses received his first call from God from a burning bush. He is assigned the task of liberating the people and accepts it, though with some reluctance.

With his brother Aaron who acts as his spokesman (for Moses stammered), he appears before the Pharaoh, whom he orders to free the Children of Israel from bondage. The Pharaoh’s consent comes only after the infliction of ten plagues. The hurried exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt is followed by the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. Free at last, the people of Israel now journey into the desert to receive the Ten Commandments at the foot of Mt. Sinai and to enter into an eternal covenant with God.

But the habits of a long-enslaved people are not easily broken. In Moses’ 40-day absence during his encounter with God in the craggy solitudes of Mt. Sinai, old superstitions and beliefs asserted themselves with the making of a golden calf. The trials of desert life demoralized the people. They lost faith in themselves and their leader Moses, and their constant murmurings soon turned into open rebellion, sealing their fate. They were condemned to wander in the desert for 40 years, by the end of which time a new generation grew up to undertake the conquest of the land of Canaan. Even Moses had to share this fate, dying at the desert’s edge in sight of the promised land. On the seventh of Adar he ascended Mt. Nebo for a last look at the land, then, Jewish tradition has it, he died by “the kiss of God” at the age of 120 in the prime of his powers

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