The main story of the Passover holiday is the Exodus from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. As Jews, this is a seminal event that is incorporated not just into this holiday time of Passover, but into every Shabbat and holiday. Our remembrance of the Exodus of Egypt, and God’s role in the event and Moses’ serving as God’s hand in the world are crucial.
Understanding this importance, it is curious to look at the Biblical text outside of the Pentateuch/Torah to see where Moses is mentioned in reference to the Exodus. Does the Jewish people and Jewish leaders throughout the ages lean on this narrative? To make it clear, I am discounting any references to Moses’ law – Torat Moshe – and am focusing on the historical aspects: the Exodus narrative, the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai, and the general desert experience.
Moses dies and then Joshua takes over. Moses is mentioned in the book of Joshua more than in any other book outside of the Torah, and that makes sense since it is the closest chronologically to the time of his life. Joshua rides Moses’ coattails in the transfer of power from Moses to Joshua and the non-standard allocation of lands to the east of the Jordan and of cities to the Levites. But then, before admonishing the people to go and settle, Joshua gives the people a complete historical narrative, stretching back from Terach and Abraham to Joshua’s time, including Moses’ role in the Exodus (see Joshua 24).
The book of Judges, despite being a historical prophetic book, does not include any references to historical Moses. Moses’ name is only mentioned 4 times and none of them are in a historical context. As we move to the I Samuel, there are 2 mentions of Moses name in the same chapter I Samuel 12. Similar to Joshua 24 we have here a recitation of a historical narrative, albeit much more condensed. During the inauguration of King Saul, Samuel mentions Jacob who went down to Egypt, and Moses and Aaron who brought the people out of Egypt and settled them in the Land of Israel.
And then we get to a really strange phenomenon. From this point, through the reigns of Saul and David, there is not a single reference to Moses – not to historical Moses, and not even to Moses’ law.
Moses’ memory comes back to a limited degree with King Solomon who builds the Temple in Jerusalem. Solomon connects himself with the aspect of the narrative of Moses concerning the building of the Tabernacle/Mishkan in the desert.
Moses in the historical narrative returns in the post-exilic period, appearing extensively in Psalms 105 and 106. These two psalms taken together form one history from the time of Abraham to the decrees of Cyrus, ending with a plea for the in-gathering of the exiles and the praise of God forever. Moses’ role as God’s faithful servant in Egypt, acting in order to save the Jewish people and lead them through the desert makes up the bulk of the chapters and leans heavily on the historical sections of Moses’ story as presented in the Pentateuch/Torah.
The Passover Seder is a time when we focus on the story, on the narrative. I don’t have any easy answers for the appearance (and disappearance) of the Exodus story throughout the Biblical text. Every person is commanded to see themselves as going through the Exodus from Egypt. Especially in these times, when we are shut in our houses waiting for the plague to pass, how we connect to that story is up to us.
Happy and healthy Passover for all!