In Egypt, after the prosperity enjoyed by the Israelites in the hey day of Joseph's influence, there arose a king 'who did not know Joseph' and who was apprehensive about the Hebrew's growing strength. A series of repressive measures was institutes and the Hebrews became slaves to Pharoah. A great deal uncertainty exists as to when this episode took place. If one accepts the Bible's identification of Pithom and Rameses as the two cities that the Hebrew slaves built, the Pharoah involved was Rameses II (c. 1290 - 24 bce).
Among the slaves a liberation movement began to take shape, led by Moses, a Hebrew who had been brought up in the royal household, and who had had to flee Egypt as a result of his activities on behalf of the Hebrew slaves. As a baby Moses' mother had placed him in the River Nile to avoid the decree that all Jewish boys born must be killed. He was found and raised by the Pharoahs daughter and learnt late in life of his true roots. In exile in neighbouring Midian, Moses had received God's call to take the children of Israel out of Egypt. He returned there and confronted Pharoah with God's demand. Pharoah refused. However, after a serious of ten catastrophic plagues had befallen the country, the slaves were allowed to leave. In the Bible, Moses is a monumental charismatic figure whose humanity is clearly apparent. He is the military leader, the legislator, the public administrator and the people's intermediary with God, as well as the devoted shepherd of his people.
After the Exodus, the Bible tells of the major revelation at Mt Sinai - the location of which has been variously identified - at which God himself spoke the Ten Commandments to the assembled people and delivered to them the Torah, or Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. The Tribes of Israel wandered in the wilderness under Moses' leadership for forty years. For various signs of lack of faith, they were punished in that those who had left Egypt were not allowed to enter the Land but died in the desert. Only the new born, who had not known slavery, came into the land. Moses died and the Tribes, led by Joshua, then turned to the conquest of Canaan.
The Exodus and the Revelation constitute the central event in Jewish history. They mark the birth of the Jewish nation and the beginning of its spiritual mission. In the Bible, many of the commandments for ethical and humane behaviour are based on the fact that the Jew knows how it is to be a stranger and a slave. The Exodus is celebrated by the annual feast of Passover (Pesach) in which the story is retold and unleavened bread, the food of affliction, is eaten. For Jews, the Exodus is the supreme symbol of freedom.