The Missing Years
By Rabbi Aron Tendler
"Go to Pharoah and take My nation, the Bnai Yisroel, out of Egypt."
What did G-d expect Moshe to do, and what abilities and experiences did he
have in order to accomplish the task?
The Torah records that Moshe was first raised in the house of Pharaoh
under the joint influences of Basya (Pharaoh's daughter) and Yocheved
(Moshe's birth mother). According to the Medresh, Moshe remained in the
palace until the age of 20 (or 40) when he was forced to flee for his life.
>From 20 (or 40) to 60, Moshe had a variety of experiences, including ruling
the nation of Kush (Ethiopia). At 60 he met the daughters of Yisro, married
Tziporah, and settled down as a member of Yisro's family to become a
shepherd. Moshe's first recorded encounter with prophecy took place at the
"Burning Bush, " when he was 80 years old.
Why did Moshe have to be raised in the palace of Pharaoh by the daughter of
Pharaoh? Why did Moshe have to become ruler of Kush? Why did he have to
spend 20 years at the home of Yisro? During his long years of forced exile,
what were Moshe's thoughts and feelings about his family and nation? Did he
yearn to see them? Did he ever attempt to see them? Did he pray for their
salvation? Had he accepted that the fate of the Jews was to be enslaved and
persecuted? What were his thoughts about the Covenant Between the Halves
that promised an end to the slavery and the nation's triumphant return to the
Promised Land? What about his early years as a prince of Egypt and having
"gone out to his brethren and observed their burdens?" (2:11). What had
happened to his concern, hard work, and desire to right the injustices
perpetrated against his nation? What had happened to the one time crowned
prince of Egypt who had zealously defended the life of a lowly Jewish slave
and had paid for the privilege with his future throne? Had he retained his
youthful idealism, or had he retired from battling windmills and dreams?
The Rambam at the end of the Laws of Kings 11:4 details the prerequisites for
being the Mashiach, the anointed Redeemer. 1. He must be a descendent of
the house of David. 2. He must conduct himself according Torah laws and
principles. 3. He must motivate all the Jews to follow the laws of both the
Written and the Oral Torah. 4. He must wage the wars of G-d. 5. He must
build the Bais Hamikdash. 6. He must gather the exiled and bring them to
The Rambam writes that the man who will do all these things is certainly the
Mashiach and he will be the one to accomplish "Tikun Olam", teaching all the
nations to serve G-d and fixing the wrongs of the world. (Note that the
Rambam does not include Tikun Olam as one of the prerequisites. He presents
Tikun Olam as a divine consequence of the Mashiach's reign).
I would like to suggest that except for being a descendent of the house of
David/Yehudah, the basic goals for being the Mashiach were accomplished by
Moshe in his capacity as the Redeemer. If so, the prerequisites for becoming
the Redeemer must have also been similar. Therefore, Moshe's behavior during
his 60 years of forced exile away from his family and nation must have been
consistent with belief in G-d's promises to the Forefathers and trusting in
the eventual redemption of the Jews from Egypt.
Moshe's upbringing involved elements of divine intervention as well as human
initiative. It is clear from the Torah that Moshe's birth and early years
were divinely ordained. However, it also involved the initiatives of Amram,
Yocheved, Miriam, and Basya to bring G-d's plan into fruition. Moshe's own
initiative when saving the Jewish slave also had a profound affect on the
direction of G-d's plan for freeing the Jews. Therefore, Moshe knew from his
mentors and from experience that beliefs alone do not guarantee success. The
Avos, Yoseph, and the brothers acted on their convictions to accomplish the
first stages of the Covenant Between The Pieces. Moshe would also have to
act on his beliefs and convictions to facilitate the concluding stages of the
Covenant-freedom from Egypt and return to Eretz Yisroel.
Once Moshe was forced to flee from Pharaoh's wrath, he had two issues to
confront. 1. His disappointment and hurt in having been "turned in" by a
fellow Jew, the very same person whom he had risked everything to save! 2.
What to do about the impossible situation in Egypt.
I would like to suggest that the first concern would not be dealt with until
the scene of the Burning Bush. The later concern became the passion of his
life and the focus of everything he did.
After Moshe fled from Egypt, the next recorded scene took place at the well
with Yisro's daughters. According to the Medresh, this took place between 20
and 40 years after leaving Egypt. Yet, Yisro's daughters describe the man
who had courageously come to their rescue as, "An Egyptian man." Why was
Moshe still dressed as an Egyptian? At the very least, he had been away from
Egypt for 20 years. What advantage was there in being dressed as an Egyptian
and standing out from the crowd? As a traveler and a fugitive, Moshe should
have wanted to blend in and remain incognito.
I would like to suggest that Moshe had been traveling from country to country
seeking allies in his bid to save the Jews. That would explain the time he
spent in Kush, why he was dressed as an Egyptian, and why he was searching
Moshe's passion was to save his brethren. Nowhere in the Torah does it
suggest that Moshe had lost interest, become despondent, or forgotten about
the Jews in Egypt. In fact, he named his son Gershom to commemorate the fact
that he had not assimilated into Midianite society. He had not become
settled and comfortable away from his family. "I was stranger in a strange
land." As my Father Shlit'a explained, Moshe praised G-d for having given
him the strength not to forget that he was a stranger in Midian, Kush, or
anywhere else. He was a Jew, and he belonged with his people.
For 40 years, Moshe presented himself to neighboring countries as the exiled
crowned prince of Egypt. He attempted to find political allies who would
join him in attacking Egypt or threatening Egypt. Moshe wanted to be
recognized as an Egyptian. He did not want to be viewed as a runaway slave,
a Jew. He understood that other nations would also buy into Pharaoh's
anti-Semitism and hatred. He hoped to win support for a confrontation with
Pharaoh and capitalize on the inevitable envy that the surrounding nations
had for Egypt. However, it was not to be so. The redemption of the Jews
would not happen through political intrigue or international conflicts. The
redemption would happen through indisputable miracles and the revelation of
G-d's power. "I shall strike Egypt with all My wonders that I shall perform
in its midst" (3:19).
Once Moshe had exhausted his petitions for help from the surrounding
countries, Moshe went looking for Yisro. According to the Medresh, Yisro had
been among Pharaoh's closest advisors. However, when Pharaoh embarked on his
campaign of enslavement and persecution, Yisro challenged Pharaoh and was
forced to flee. Yisro's reputation for having defied Pharaoh as well as all
conventional theologies and philosophies drew Moshe like a magnet.
The "coincidence" at the well was far more intended than the Torah writes.
It was Yisro who then taught Moshe to be patient and wait for justice to
happen. It was Yisro who shared Moshe's passion for knowledge and the desire
to unlock the secrets of divine justice. It was Yisro who helped Moshe to
find patience and acceptance, regardless of public pressure or opinion. It
was with Yisro's encouragement that Moshe learned to wait for events to
happen when human intervention would clearly not succeed.
During the years of his personal exile, Moshe never forgot the plight of his
family and nation. In fact, he explored every possible plan to effect change
and redemption. In retrospect, that was all part of the divine plan. By
exhausting all avenues of natural escape, the ultimate redemption was
Whether or not Moshe ever returned during those long years to visit his
family or if he was in communication with them during that time is not
important. Clearly, his every waking moment was filled with thoughts, plans,
and preparation for their redemption. The personal hurt that he suffered
because his own people had turned him in to Pharaoh would be confronted and
put to rest at the Burning Bush. (See Rash 3:11).
Copyright © 2001 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.