It’s always the darkest just before dawn

After hearing about the impending redemption at the Burning Bush, Moses learns that the process of the Israelite’s redemption will begin with a great decline and difficulty – immense darkness that precedes the light of redemption. Pharaoh refuses Moses' request to let the nation go, the decrees become harsher, the overseers of the Israelites turn in desperation to Pharaoh, and Moses turns to G-d – “O my lord, why did You bring harm upon this people? Why did You send me?”

Story
Relato
Histoire
3
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| Unidad
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1

Embarking on the Mission

Exodus 5

In this unit we will learn about the first stage in carrying out the mission. Moses and Aaron come to Pharaoh demanding him to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt, but in fact, this step fails, and Pharaoh tightens his decrees. In studying the story, we will discuss Moses and Aaron's appeal to Pharaoh, the meaning of his decree on the straw, and the reaction of the Israelites, the overseers, and Moses to the situation, which is clearly deteriorating. In the unit, we will discuss the challenges facing the leader, who must deal with difficulty and opposition, and continue to fulfill his mission according to his belief. We will also deal with the idea that change involves processes and stages, which are meaningful in themselves, but do not necessarily bring about the desired change immediately.

El éxodo de Egipto. Mapa con explicaciones

Unit Knowledge Goals

Objetivos de conocimiento en la enseñanza de la unidad

Objectifs pédagogiques de cette unité

- Learning the phrase “Let my people go” and understanding its meaning in relation to Moses and its use in different periods.

- Understanding the process of the worsening slavery by the decree of gathering the straw.

- Identifying the deterioration in the Israelites’ condition, following Moses and Aaron's appeal to Pharaoh.

Understanding the complex situation of Israelite overseers as a characteristic of the slavery.

Pédagogie

Pedagogy

Pedagogía

Teaching Practices
Pratiques pédagogiques
Aconsejamos enseñar esta unidad a través de la siguiente práctica pedagógica
Havruta
Peer Discussion
SEL
Aprendizaje social y emocional
ASE

Identifying social and emotional motives for human choices

Background for Teaching the Unit

Contexto de la unidad didáctica

Résumé de l’unité et valeurs centrales

The underlying theme of this story is the tension between Moses' courageous and powerful call – “Let my People go” and the deterioration of the Israelites’ slavery.

Moses turns to Pharaoh and asks him to send the people out into the desert, where they can sacrifice to their God. This is a request for Pharaoh to recognize the Israelites as a people with religious freedom, and to allow them to perform their sacrifices to God, according to their will, outside the land of Egypt. The offer to leave Egypt implies that the Israelites can stand on their own and live independently according to their faith.

Abarbanel claims that there is a message to Pharaoh here – that God can be worshiped only outside of Egypt. The purpose of the offer to sacrifice in the desert is to make it clear to Pharaoh that this is God's religious service:

It is also possible to understand this according to the approach of Rabbi David Zvi Hoffmann who suggests that Moses made clear that the Israelites were to be set free.

Pharaoh objects to this of course, worsens the conditions of slavery, but does not harm their bodies! His decree against the straw (dry and crushed or compressed grain stalks) puts extra burden on the Israelites, and they are forced to collect the straw themselves. Rashbam says – "to give straw – straw would be mixed with the clay and made into bricks." 

The worsening of the conditions of slavery is also reflected in the complicated situation in which the Israelite overseers found themselves, when having to stand between Pharaoh and the (Egyptian) officers who were supervising over them, and the Israelites. They are the ones who imposed the new decrees on the people, and the ones who took responsibility for the people's progress in work. 

The taskmaster was in charge of several overseers, and the overseers were in charge of oppressing the slaves. Rashi, in his commentary on Leviticus 11:16, describes the heroic behavior of Israel's overseers, and the right they had been given to be part of the Sanhedrin – the supreme judges of the people. 

We can compare the role of the Israelite overseers in Egypt, and the role of the Jewish 'kapo', appointed by the Germans during the Holocaust of European Jews. (Attached is a teacher’s study page on this subject). 

Following the worsening of the Israelites’ situation, they turn to Moses and Aaron in desperation and cry out: "... May G-d look upon you and punish you for making us loathsome to Pharaoh and his courtiers—putting a sword in their hands to slay us.” (Exodus 5:21)

Moses turns to God – “Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has dealt worse with this people; and still You have not delivered Your people.” (Exodus 5:23)

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וְאַחַר בָּאוּ מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֶל פַּרְעֹה
כֹּה אָמַר ה' אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל שַׁלַּח אֶת עַמִּי וְיָחֹגּוּ לִי בַּמִּדְבָּר.

Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh,
“Thus says Hashem, the G-d of Israel: Let My people go
that they may celebrate a festival for Me in the wilderness”

Activité d’introduction
Actividad de apertura
Opening Activity

Let My People Go

Exercise in Pairs – The story of the Exodus through history

In Chapter 5 we meet the phrase "Let my people go" for the first time. As we will see later, this phrase is repeated on other occasions when Moses comes to Pharaoh requesting to release the Israelites.

Let’s ask:

1. When Moses says, “my people,” what does he mean?

2. What can we learn from the fact that Moses calls the Israelites “my people?” 

Note to the teacher: You can draw the students' attention to the fact that already at the time of the Burning Bush, when Moses receives the mission, G-d calls the Israelites “my people”:

“Come, therefore, I will send you to Pharaoh, and you shall free My people, the Israelites, from Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10) 

In verse 7, G-d also talks about the Israelites as “my people”: “And G-d continued, “I have marked well the plight of My people in Egypt and have heeded their outcry because of their taskmasters; yes, I am mindful of their sufferings” (Exodus 3:7) and Moses treats the Israelites as his own people, expressing his sense of connection and responsibility towards them. This also teaches us about Moses' identification with his role to carry out the mission, when he uses the same concept that he heard from G-d.

By saying “Let my people go,” he is actually saying that the Israelites are also G-d's people.

In the opening activity we will find out the meaning of “Let my people go,” and the meaning of Moses’ demand from Pharaoh.

During the opening activity we will think about what we can learn from the use of this phrase about Moses as a leader going out to carry out his mission.

The proposed activity revolves around the study of a postage stamp issued in Israel in the 1970s, in support of the struggle for Jewish immigration from the former Soviet Union, and the use of the expression “Let my people go.” 

The activities attached in the following folders:

“Let my people go” from the former Soviet Union

“Let my people go” equal rights in the USA

Another option for an opening activity - students' self-research on the use of the term “Let my people go.”

In Verse 1, we read about Moses and Aaron coming to Pharaoh with the demand to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt: “Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says G-d, the G-d of Israel: “Let My people go that they may celebrate a festival for Me in the wilderness” (Exodus 5:1).

In Chapter 5 the phrase “Let my people go" is mentioned. As we will see later, this phrase is repeated several times, when Moses comes to Pharaoh requesting to release the Israelites. 

Over the years, this phrase has been used in other contexts and periods: 

* Do a web search and present information about the use of this phrase.

* You can word a prompt for chatGPT to find out in what context it has been used.

Check and explain why these words were chosen.

Summary:

Suggest answers to the question – what can be learned from Moses’ request, that the phrase he used became famous and was used as a slogan for other events?

The students will share their findings in a presentation or create a poster centering on the phrase "Let my people go,” which combines the content they learned and their insights in regard to the question that came up for discussion in class. 

We will discuss the following questions in the plenary:

1. Why did the phrase "Let my people go" become universal?

2. Why was the phrase used in events, such as the freeing of Soviet Jews or the struggle of African Americans in the USA?

3. What does this phrase teach us about the Israelites’ situation in Egypt? And about Moses’ status at that time? 

We will emphasize the fact that Moses bravely stood alone before Pharaoh, while the examples we have given involve protests shared by many people.

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Learning the Story
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The meaning of Moses’ request

3:1:EN:2:1

In the plenary we will read Chapter 5, Verse 1:

“Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says G-d, the G-d of Israel: Let My people go that they may celebrate a festival for Me in the wilderness” and ask:

1. What is special about Moses' wording? Explain why you think this slogan became so popular? What's new about it?

- We will explain the meaning of the request – recognizing the Israelites as a people with independent beliefs, which is not compatible with their status as slaves. 

2. We can argue that Moses is asking for something that is against all odds. He is asking for something that logically Pharaoh will not permit him to do. If so, why does he ask this anyway? And what can we learn about Moses from this? 

We will end with a question concerning the world of students -

Have you ever asked/demanded something that seems to be against all odds? Is this true? 

At this point Moses' request and demand seem illogical and hopeless. But we must remember that he acts out of faith and by virtue of God's divine command and mission and, as happens many times, the vision of change does not occur immediately.

We will emphasize that there is value in every step along the way. Every step is part of the process, and sometimes the process does not progress as expected. It includes ups and downs. 

Even if Moses does not succeed at this stage, it is important that he has approached Pharaoh and presented his brave request – both for Moses himself, and as a message of faith for future generations.

Carrying out the Mission

We ended the previous lesson on an optimistic note. We will read the last verses in chapter 4 (29-30) and ask the students to choose an appropriate icon, according to the verses, which reflects the situation Moses, Aaron and the Israelites find themselves in.

Then, we will read Chapter 5, Verses 1-9, and clarify the feelings of Moses, Aaron, the Israelites, and the overseers, after their first appeal to Pharaoh.

The activity on the worksheet – Carrying out the Mission

It seems that Moses and Aaron did not succeed in their mission, and even caused the Israelites’ situation to deteriorate.

1. Summary discussion in the plenary

We will repeat the meaning of the decree on the straw – which intended to make it more difficult for the Israelites, both practically and mentally, by creating an atmosphere of selfishness that led to feelings of despair and frustration. 

We will conclude with the following questions -

- Why did Pharaoh want to make the Israelites work harder?

- What do you think that Moses will do at this difficult point? 

We can find parallels to the overseers’ conflict. 

2. In the plenary, we will read Verses 10-21, which describe the overseers coming to the Israelites to give the decree to gather their own straw.

We will present the following titles on the board, and ask the students to describe what happened in each of the encounters:

What was said, possible feelings, and thoughts.

● The overseers vs. the Israelites

● The taskmasters vs. the overseers

● The overseers vs. Pharaoh (note that there is a dialog here)

● The overseers vs. Moses and Aaron 

We will ask – the overseers appear in each of the pairs. Did you find similarities in the way they reacted in the different situations? 

In the following discussion, we will focus on the complexity of the role of the overseers, who were from the Israelites. 

1. Discussion on the status of the Israelite overseers – peer discussion.

We will conduct the discussion according to the practice – peer discussion. The goal is to hold a structured discussion on this complex topic and allow as many students as possible to think about the issue and express their opinion.

In the first stage, we will write the following questions on the board and ask each student to write his/her own answers and comments:

● What difficulties did the overseers face?

● What do you think about the behavior of overseers? 

In the second stage – the students will answer the survey question:

Which of the characters we met in the story do you mostly identify with?

Moses and Aaron

The slaves

The overseers

The taskmasters

* You can also present the question in digital tools. 

In the third stage, we will discuss the survey results:

We will present the survey results and discuss the meaning of the overseers’ claim to Moses and Aaron.

We saw that each of the characters faces a challenge or difficulty.

You can raise the questions below, and guide the students to find answers while studying the verses:

 - Do the overseers pay the price of approaching Pharaoh? Do they see their role as a mission?

- When the overseers say to Moses and Aaron: 

“And they said to them, “May G-d look upon you and punish you for making us loathsome to Pharaoh and his courtiers—putting a sword in their hands to slay us.”

What is their underlying claim (choose the most appropriate option) 

"It's hard for us to complete the task" or "We expect you to fight for us" or "We feel bad about the Israelites who work harder" or "We have a responsibility for a greater task, and where are you in the story?"  

In the fourth stage, we will divide the students into groups.

The students will share the thoughts they wrote in the first stage and will study two sources together.

In the fourth stage, we will return to work on the Overseers. Peer Discussion (note - you can distribute the page to the students already in the first stage, and they will answer the questions on this sheet).

*Attached is a proposal to expand the study page, which deals with the comparison between the Israelite overseers and the Jewish kapos during the Holocaust. The study page can be attached. The overseers’ dilemma compared to the Holocaust 

In the fifth stage, after the group discussion, the students will once again answer the survey question:

Which of the characters in the story do you most identify with?

Moses and Aaron

The slaves

The overseers

The taskmasters

 In the sixth and last stage, we will present the results of the second survey.

We will discuss the study that was held in the groups – Rashi’s midrash emphasizes the overseers’ devotion and teaches us that they protected the Israelites, perhaps with the understanding that they were playing a role in the process of redemption. Moses and Aaron first approach Pharaoh, and his harsh response is part of the path that the Israelites must endure in order to get out of slavery to freedom.

A comparison with the existence during the Holocaust emphasizes another aspect of the overseers’ situation and sharpens the fact that they are tools in the hands of their enslavers. When Pharaoh sends the overseers to stand before the people, he weakens the people’s spirit. The fact that the overseers cannot choose to support their people, or to be a part of them, illustrates the reality of a slave, who is subordinate to the enslaver, and is denied the chance to make basic decisions regarding his/her own body and mind. Pharaoh also creates a situation in which the sense of unity among the Israelites may crack, and this also leads to their weakening in body and soul.

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3:1:EN:2:2

In conclusion, we will compare the results of the two surveys, and ask - what influenced the results (whether they are similar or different)?

Moses turns to G-d 

In the plenary, we will read the verses that end this chapter (verses 22-23).

We will explain Moses’ words and ask – what was his purpose in appealing to God? 

Draw the students' attention to the fact that the word “Am” [nation, people] repeats 3 times in these verses: 

(22) Then Moses returned to G-d and said, “O my lord, why did You bring harm upon this people? Why did You send me?

(23) Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has dealt worse with this people; and still You have not delivered Your people.” 

We will ask – the word “Am” is repeated 3 times.

וַיָּשׇׁב מֹשֶׁה אֶל ה' וַיֹּאמַר אֲדֹנָי לָמָה הֲרֵעֹתָה לָעָם הַזֶּה לָמָּה זֶּה שְׁלַחְתָּנִי.

וּמֵאָז בָּאתִי אֶל פַּרְעֹה לְדַבֵּר בִּשְׁמֶךָ הֵרַע לָעָם הַזֶּה וְהַצֵּל לֹא הִצַּלְתָּ אֶת עַמֶּךָ.

What can we learn from this about Moses' claim?

To summarize - Moses sees the people, and it seems that even though he was unsuccessful in his first appeal to Pharaoh (see end of chapter 5), he regards himself as the leader of the people. Ibn Ezra explains: - "Why did you send me” – to harm Israel, and now I have not found any reply to the overseers." This commentary sharpens the sense of disappointment that can be felt at the end of the chapter. The mission to save the people is not progressing easily; there seems to be a letdown, regression. At this stage it also seems difficult to envision any progress towards the exodus from slavery to freedom.

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Résumé
Resumen
Summary

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Summary for the teacher
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Summary activity for students

The students will draw a graph describing the process of the slavery in chapters 1-5.

The assignment appears in file Summary of chapters 1-5. We recommend working on this assignment in a shared presentation (example slide is attached) or share the work in class.

We will look at the produced work, and ask the students to vote on:

- The three most important turning points in chapters 1-5

- A turning point for the better in chapters 1-5

- We will ask: Does the title – “It is always darkest before dawn” fit the graph you created?

 (Let’s explain: in this lesson we saw the situation of the Israelites worsening, despite the beginning of Moses' mission. However, these difficulties are a preparation for the impending redemption).

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Next units in our story

Chapters 14-15
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5:2:EN
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