The book of Exodus begins by describing the gradually increasing enslavement of the Jewish people in Egypt. Pharaoh, fearing the population explosion of the Jews, initially hopes that backbreaking labor would stunt their rapid physical growth. When their birth rate continues to increase he orders the Jewish midwives to kill all baby boys. Moses is born, and when his mother is unable to keep him hidden from the Egyptian authorities any longer she places him in a basket and sends him down the Nile River. He is found by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in the royal palace, even though she realizes he is a Hebrew. She names him Moshe (Moses) meaning “drawn from the water.” Years later as a grown man, Moses kills an Egyptian who he witnessed beating a Jew.
Moses flees to the land of Midian and marries Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro, and they have two sons. When Moses is shepherding his father-in-law’s flock, he witnesses the “burning bush” on Chorev (Mt. Sinai) where G-d commands him to lead the Jewish people from Egypt to the land of Israel, which G-d promised to their ancestors.
Initially reluctant, Moses is shown three miracles to perform before the Jewish people to prove he was sent by G-d: Changing his staff into a snake, his healthy hand into a leprous one, and water into blood. Moses, accompanied by his brother Aaron, encounters an obstinate Pharaoh. The Egyptian king not only refuses their request for a three-day respite to worship G-d, but declares that the Jews must produce the same quota of bricks as before but without being given straw. The people complain to Moses and Aaron for making their situation worse, but G-d assures Moses that He will force Pharaoh to let the Hebrews leave.