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?
From Commentaries on Specific Torah Portions
Stop Making Excuses and Step Up to the Plate
Becoming a Leader
What Moses Learned from His Father-In-Law
What Happened to Moses on Mount Sinai
Why Is Moses Kept Out of the Tabernacle?
Why Moses Is an Imperfect Hero
The Search for Moses’ Successor
Pronounced: MISH-nuh, Origin: Hebrew, code of Jewish law compiled in the first centuries of the Common Era. Together with the Gemara, it makes up the Talmud.
Pronounced: moe-SHEH, Origin: Hebrew, Moses, whom God chooses to lead the Jews out of Egypt.
Pronounced: TALL-mud, Origin: Hebrew, the set of teachings and commentaries on the Torah that form the basis for Jewish law. Comprised of the Mishnah and the Gemara, it contains the opinions of thousands of rabbis from different periods in Jewish history.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.