by Rabbi David Hartley Mark
The Israelites were groaning because of the heavy labor of their slavery, and they cried out. And their cries ascended unto the LORD, because of their labor. And God heard their cries, and God remembered His Covenant with Abraham, with Sarah and with Hagar, with Isaac and with Rebekah, and with Jacob, Rachel, and Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah.
And God looked upon the struggles of the Israelites, and God marked it in His observations of the World.
--Exodus 2:23-25 (paraphrase mine)
And one day, the Angels came to attend upon the LORD, and among them came Satan, the Prosecuting Attorney, to attend upon the Lord.
And the Lord asked Satan, “What have you been doing, and where have you been walking?”
Satan said, “I have been walking about the earth, and observing the ways of Humanity."
The Lord asked, “Have you seen my People Israel, whom I deem upright and honest among the peoples of the earth?”
Satan asked, “If that is the case, then why have You permitted me to thrust them into slavery to Pharaoh Ramesses II, who deems himself the Light of the Earth?”
The Lord said, “We will consider their sufferings as Yisurei shel Ahavah, 'Afflictions of the Righteous,' also known as 'Chastisements of Love,' which will function in Jewish Theology as painful, mysterious, and intended to save the sufferer from greater ill. This will be cold comfort to the sufferer, however.”
Satan replied, “I can’t see that that will cause any great improvement to their character.”
God: And that is where you are wrong. I am testing them with mighty burdens and great suffering, so that they may merit My eventual redemption.
Satan: Suit Yourself, Almighty One. And who will be the instrument of this redemption?
God: One Moses, a Levite.
Satan: What distinguishes this fellow from other mortals?
God: There will be midrashim-legends to the contrary attesting to his inherent wisdom and other redeeming qualities, but, for now, trust My unknowable Wisdom.
Satan: Again, You’re the Boss. You understand my position in this entire affair: I will be on Pharaoh’s side, as You created me to act throughout human history, but only on Your say-so. How about I burden Moses with a speech defect, and cause him to commit homicide, albeit in the cause of boldly striking out for freedom?
God: You have My Divine Permission. Only, do not have him jailed.
Satan: That is a small thing, My Lord.
And Satan carried out the Pharaoh’s edict to throw all male Israelite babies in the Nile River, but God countered by sending Shifrah and Puah (who may or may not have been Yocheved and Miriam; I hold for their being different people) to save their lives.
And the Israelites flourished amid persecution, and became larger and mightier. And Pharaoh feared them, and took steps to persecute them further.
Then came the incident of the Egyptian taskmaster beating the Hebrew slave. And Moses killed the Egyptian, who was Satan in disguise, and fled to Midian to avoid arrest. God saw to it that he met Jethro and Zipporah and their family Moses might have stayed with them, in peace, for his entire life, but this is not the fate of the God-ordained prophet.
One day, Moses was watching the cattle of his father-in-law, who, in typical Jewish fashion, had taken his daughter’s husband, a dreamer and star-gazer, into the family business. There were already two small mouths to feed—Gershom and Elazar—and Moses had no profession, save being an ex-Egyptian princeling.
And a lamb went running off in escape. Moses ran to pursue it. And he met Satan.
Satan: Where are you going in such a rush, Hebrew?
Moses (ignoring how this Stranger knew he was a Hebrew): I must go to fetch my father-in-law’s sheep, since I am responsible.
Satan: Turn aside, Hebrew; turn aside, and see the mighty vision which my Employer has prepared for you.
And Moses looked, and he beheld something he had never seen before: a Burning Bush, which was not consumed.
Satan: Have you seen the like before?
Moses: Well, bushes burn all the time. Never mind. I will carry the sheep back to the flock.
Satan: Are you not impressed by the Bush, and wish to behold it more closely?
Moses: Not really. I have a nice, quiet life, out here. Who are you, and why don’t you leave me alone?
God: Moses, Moses.
Satan: Your God is calling to you.
Moses: What’s that? I can’t hear you. This lamb is baa-ing in my ear.
God: MOSES, MOSES!
Moses: Oh, darn….
And God informed Moses of his responsibilities, but Moses did his best to dodge them:
God: I want you to go down to free My people from Egyptian bondage.
Moses: I can’t.
God: You CAN’T? Understand, I am the Maker of Heaven and Earth, here. Not Ra or Osiris.
Moses: I can’t make big speeches of the sort I believe You would require.
God: Aaron will be your spokesman.
Moses: I’m an escaped murderer.
God: Well, it was manslaughter in self-defense, but the ones who were persecuting you are all dead.
Moses: Really? That’s a relief.
God: Well, not entirely: there are still Dathan and Abiram, but we have some lead time before dealing with them.
Moses: Who are You, anyway?
God: I AM THAT WHICH I AM.
Moses: What does that mean?
God: It means that I exist.
Moses: That doesn’t really seem relevant to the Situation, and would help me not at all. Have You any idea how militarily powerful the Egyptians are? I still don’t want to go—
Satan (interrupting): Moses, I think you better. After all, the God of your ancestors is on your side. And I have plagues in store….
Moses: Oh. Gee, thanks. I’m still dubious.
And Moses collected his wife Zipporah, but we have no record as to his sons’ fate, except for the Chatan Damim—"Bridegroom of Blood” incident (Ex. 4:24-26) which was probably protection against demons, and fascinating in its own right.
And Moses confronted Pharaoh (either Ramesses II or his son, Merneptah), and the Passover drama began. God will eventually cause His people to depart Egypt with great spoil, and Israel will enter into the World.