Why Moses Left at Midnight
BY DAVID SCHWARTZ
(Copyright, 1965, JTA, Inc.)
There is the story of the Israeli
radio announcer who said, "When
you hear the signal, the time will
be exactly eight o'clock—or 10 or
15 minutes later."
It's just a story, I suppose. At
any rate on the historic night,
which we recall at the Seder, time
was of the essence "It Happened
at Midnight" is on6 of the Seder
hymns. It was at the inconvenient
hour of midnight that the Israelites
bade adieu to the country which
had been their home for hundreds
Moses had -insisted on it. I can
well imagine that some of our an-
cestors were not foo happy about
it. It is easy to reconstruct what
must have been said.
Some said, "We have been slaves
in Egypt for some 200 years. Will
it hurt, if we are slaves for one or
two days more? What's the hurry !
The restaurants in the wilderness
are not the best, there are no night
clubs. So let's get together, have a
nice banquet and then we can leave
Some protested that to leave
so quickly at midnight was to
defeat their purpose! If instead
of going at midnight, we, have a
good night's sleep, then we can
start feeling fit and fresh and
make greater headway.
When some complained that
their wives would be unable to
bake the bread to take along, that
it took time for leavening, Moses
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So Moses was no speech mak-
er. What asset did he have?
I think his great quality was a
tremendous passion for justice.
The sight of the strong tyranniz-
ing over the weak aroused him.
Several incidents in the biblical
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story point to this. He sees the
Egyptian mauling the Israelite and
he strikes at the Egyptian. He sees
one Israelite attacking another and
he intervenes. This time he fears
he will be reported and flees to
Midian and what happens there?
He is hardly there, when he sees
the daughters of Jethro trying to
water their father's cattle and
roughnecks try to stop them and
Moses intervenes in their behalf.
He had a passion for justice.
"Zedek, zedek tirdof." "Justice,
justice, shalt thou pursue." The
Hebrew word "Zedek" is a little
more inclusive than justice. Right-
eousness is a better translation. It
is justice plus humanity.
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told them to bake unleavened
bread, matzo. There was a great
outcry, matzo gets in their teeth,
some protested and others said,
they didn't see how they could get
along without pumpernickel.
But Moses was adamant.
Perhaps Moses might have
thought the people must realize at
the beginning of their freedom that
freedom required its sacrifices,
that it is very easy to sleep away
But I do not think this is the
We must remember that Moses
had achieved . emancipation by
gaining the acquiescence of Phar-
oh. Today, it would be called a
diplomatic coup. Ten plagues had
been visited on Pharoah before
he could get the Egyptian king to
agree and there was no guaran-
tee now that Pharoah would not
change his mind. He must take
advantage of the present favor-
able mood, for they were ever
a minority. As the Bible story
later recounts, Pharoah did in-
deed change his mind and start-
ed pursuing, but fortunately the
Israelites had left in time.
There are those who gain eman-
cipation by arms. There are those
who win freedom for a people by
the influence of great powers com-
ing to their assistance. There are
some leaders of liberty, who are
able by their oratory to galvanize
their own people to an irresistible
pitch, but Moses had no arms to
command,- no great powers came
to his aid and he had no eloquence.
He suffered from an impediment
of speech, the Bible tells us, and he
pleaded with God, "Send another,
I am slow of speech and slow of
The Midrash tells us how this
impediment came about. The
daughter of Pharoah had rescued
Moses and brought the child to the
palace where he was raised. The
infant one time began playing with
the King's crown. The King's
priests were greatly alarmed. Per-
haps this was a portent that the
little Jewish boy would one day
seize the crown from the head of
A test was decided on. Before
the child was placed a jewel and a
coal. If the child picked the coal,
it would prove that no esoteric sig-
nificance was to be read into his
actions, but if he reached out for
the jewel it was a portent not to
Little Moses was about to take
the jewel, when the angel Gabriel,
seeing it, pushed him away with
such a force as to permanently im-
pair his organs of speech.
"What more is necessary to make
us a happy and prosperous people?
Still one thing more, my fellow
citizens, a wise and frugal govern-
ment, which shall restrain men
from injuring one another, which
shall leave them otherwise alone
to regulate their own pursuit of
industry and shall not take from
the mouth of labor, the bread it
has earned."—Thomas Jefferson.
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
46—Friday, April 16, 1965
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