Moses: In the Bible and Beyond

The greatest of Jewish leaders and prophets.

Moses (Moshe in Hebrew) is arguably the greatest figure in Judaism other than God.

He helps bring the Israelites out of slavery and leads them for the next four decades, until his death just before they enter the Land of Israel. In addition to being a major character in the Torah — spanning the beginning of the Book of Exodus to the end of the Book of Deuteronomy — Moses is traditionally regarded as its author, or transcriber at least. Hence the Torah’s alternate name: the Five Books of Moses.

Born in Egypt at a time when the Pharaoh has ordered all newborn Israelite boys to be murdered, Moses is hidden by his mother and then, when that becomes infeasible, sent in a basket down the Nile River. Pharaoh’s daughter finds him and raises him, and he lives happily as an Egyptian until he kills an overseer who he sees abusing an Israelite. He then flees to Midian, where he marries Zipporah and lives as a shepherd until God appears before him in the form of a burning bush, ordering him to return to Egypt to secure the freedom of the Israelites.

Reluctantly, Moses follows God’s command and, teaming up with his brother Aaron, repeatedly approaches the Pharaoh and asks him to free the Israelites. Pharaoh refuses, even as God rains down increasingly horrific plagues, until the 10th plague, the killing of the first born. From then on, Moses (accompanied by Aaron and their sister Miriam) remains the leader of the Israelites until his death, guiding them across the Sea of Reeds,  through the desert, bringing down the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai, staving off challenges to his authority and telling the Israelites what God expects of them. Moses dies before the Israelites enter the Land of Israel, and his hand-appointed successor, Joshua, becomes the new leader.

Moses, referred to in the Talmud as Moshe Rabbenu, “Moses our Teacher,” is the subject of much discussion in Jewish texts, from the Midrash to the Talmud and beyond.

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, there are more legends about Moses than about any other biblical figure. A cycle of legends has been woven around nearly every trait of his character and every event of his life; and groups of different and often contradictory stories have been connected with his career.

A sampling of My Jewish Learning articles and Torah commentaries about Moses are listed below. For more, visit the summaries and commentaries on the Torah portion pages for each portion from Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

About Moses in General

Did Moses Write the Torah?
Why Doesn’t Moses Appear in the Passover Haggadah?

Moses As Abandoned Hero

From Commentaries on Specific Torah Portions

Shemot

Stop Making Excuses and Step Up to the Plate
Becoming a Leader

Vaera

How Aaron Helped Moses

How Moses Overcame Self-Doubt

Bo

Moses vs. Pharaoh

Beshalach

Moses’ First Leadership Tests

Yitro

What Moses Learned from His Father-In-Law

Ki Tisa

What Happened to Moses on Mount Sinai

Pekudei

Why Is Moses Kept Out of the Tabernacle?

Chukat

When Moses Sins

Why Moses Is an Imperfect Hero

Pinchas

The Search for Moses’ Successor

Devarim

Is Moses Telling Fake News? 

Nitzavim Vayeilech

Moses’ Fate

Moses’ Approach to Death

Ha’azinu

Moses’ Last Words

Vezot Haberakhah

Moses’ Final Blessing

The Death of Moses

 

 

 

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Did Moses Write the Torah?

Although modern traditionalist Judaism uniformly affirms the divinity of the Torah, classical sources disagree on what role Moses had in its production.

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