“And the LORD hardened the heart of the Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had spoken unto Moses.” Exodus 9:12
It had been long, countless years of arduous wanderings through the desert. Many people had passed on. Aaron had died. Miriam had died. Almost every one of Moses’ generation was gone, for they were forbidden to enter the promised land because they had brought the wrath of God upon them as they had worshiped the golden calf. But the younger generation was strong. The old one, the ones who still remembered the Exodus, made space for new leaders, new thinkers. The Israelites were ready to be delivered to their promised land.
One Morning, the sun shone golden over the dunes of the desert, bathing the tents of the Hebrews in a soft, gleaming light, an old man kneeled beside his dying wife’s bed.
Tzipporah had aged gracefully, even though her skin had become wrinkly and her hair white, she still held beauty in her movements and expressions. Her eyes were vivid, and her spirit strong. But she had to die. She knew it. Moses knew it. Her time had come. She’d been ill for some weeks now, and they knew the end was near. God was calling her to him.
Moses regarded his beloved wife’s face. He held so much love for this woman in his heart. But he would have to let her go. His last confident. His one true love. He reached out a hand and gently caressed the side of her face. He remembered the time he’d met her, so many years ago, when he’d still been a prince in Egypt. Moses never regretted leaving the pomp and glory of a prince’s life. He’d found himself, truly found himself, as he found his people. The Hebrews. He was a Hebrew, and he couldn’t and wouldn’t change it. For nothing in the world. He loved his people. And he loved his God.
But one thing had always been missing. He’d loved Aaron and Miriam, with all his heart, for they were his siblings, but they could never replace Rameses. His brother. He remembered the last time Rameses had called his name after the waters had closed over the Egyptian soldiers and buried them at the bottom of the sea. The last ting he’d heard was his brother desperately calling his name from the other side. It had haunted him ever since.
Moses looked down at his dying wife. He felt tears shooting in his eyes. He didn’t know what he should do without her. The impending loneliness and despair that would engulf him after her death already hung threateningly over him. He knew it. He would be alone.
Sure, there were his sons. Eliezer and Gershom had become great men. Strong leaders. Moses was proud of them. And he knew they didn’t need his guidance any longer. They were ready to be on their own. They had their own families. Their own responsibilities. But they weren’t the shoulders he could lean on. Because when did children ever really know their parents? Even though they grew older, he still was their father and couldn’t be as open with them as he was with Tzipporah.
Tzipporah had always been there for him during hard times. And Miriam, and Aaron. Now, he’d soon be all alone. Tzipporah stirred. Worried, Moses gently stroked over her white, still full, long hair. Slowly, she opened her eyes. Blinked a few times, and then settled in a loving gaze on Moses hunched figure.Moses gently stroked over her white, still full, long hair. Slowly, she opened her eyes. Blinked a few times, and then settled in a loving gaze on Moses hunched figure.
“Moses, beloved. You look tired.” Tzipporah said, slowly raising her hand up to Moses' chin, stroking his long, white beard tenderly.
Moses chuckled softly. That was just like Tzipporah to worry about everybody else except herself.“My love, don’t you worry about me. How are you today?” He asked in a low voice.
“My love, don’t you worry about me. How are you today?” He asked in a low voice.
Tzipporah smiled. So typical for Moses. Always forgetting his own needs over the needs of others. She could see the deep bags her husband had under his eyes, most likely from staying up all night watching over her and standing by her bedside.
“I’m fine, Moses. But Moses, of course I worry. What is bothering you? I can see it all written over your face.” Her voice was low and a little strained.
Moses grimaced. He’d never been able to hide anything from her. “You are my life, my love, my everything. What shall I do without you by my side? Tzipporah…” His voice was wavering. “I don’t want you to leave.” The last part was whispered, barely audible. Moses bent down and hid his face in Tzipporah’s shoulder. He felt his tears running down her neck and soaking her long hair.
“Oh Moses, my dear Moses. I’ll never leave you. I’ll always be with you. But you need to let my body go.” She said softly.
“I’ve lost so many already. I’ll be all alone.” Moses whispered brokenly.
“Are you talking about your brother, Moses?” Tzipporah asked, gently patting Moses’ head. “Look at me, beloved. Are you talking about Rameses?”
Moses looked up. Tears still in his lashes, he met his wife’s knowing eyes. She was the only person who knew about the deep hole in his heart that could never be filled. The hole his brother had left behind. Rameses.
“You know me too well, Tzipporah. That’s why I can’t have you leave me.”
“My dear husband, but you won’t be alone. Your brother loved you, Moses. He still does, if he’s alive, just as you love him. Reconcile with him, Moses, and find your peace. After my death, I want you to return to Egypt. Find him. He’ll give you what you’ve always searched for.”
At a distance, Moses could make out the silhouette of Egypt's capital next to the Nile. The grand buildings stood out from the deserted landscape, sublime and majestic. The roofs gleamed golden in the evening sunlight. His home. As the caravan approached the city, the familiar feeling of home soared up in Moses’ heart. This was Egypt.
The caravan stopped at the city’s gate and Moses asked who was pharaoh in Egypt. Though the travelers had afore assured him Rameses was still alive, Moses had to hear it for himself, with his own ears.
“Rameses the Great is our pharaoh, Sire.” The guard said firmly, eyeing the stranger curiously who pretended not to know who the great pharaoh was. Moses closed his eyes.
Rameses. So near.
After his beloved wife had died, Moses had transferred the leadership of the Israelites to the capable hands of Joshua, who had promised to lead them safely to the land their Lord and God had promised them. Moses stayed behind because God wouldn’t permit him to enter the Promised Land for he had disobeyed him at the waters of Meribah Kadesh. But God had permitted him to see his people crossing the river and entering the land of milk and honey, and he watched them disappear on the horizon of the green, fruitful landscape that unfolded itself in front of him. It had filled his heart with joy to see his people finally reach their destination.
For Moses though, salvation was somewhere else to find. Though he was old and gray, his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone, for God had truly blessed him. So he’d decided to follow his heart and joined a trade caravan of Hebrew travelers that traveled to Egypt.
Moses rode on his donkey through the familiar streets, past the sun-baked mud-brick houses of the common people, the sandstone residences of richer ones and the impressive temples painted in brilliant colors and covered with golden ornaments and hieroglyphic and pictorial frescoes and carvings. Some of them he remembered though many were different than they used to be, bigger and more pompous.
Joy overwhelmed Moses as he listened to words spoken in the beautiful Egyptian language, the language his mother, Tuya, had taught him. He hadn’t heard it since he’d left Egypt with the Israelites. He smelled the familiar scents of his childhood, every corner, a memory. And then he suddenly saw the royal palace not far away from him. The palace of the pharaoh. His home. Different, yet still the same. The statues of Seti were overshadowed by greater, larger statues carrying Rameses’ face.
Anxiety wormed it’s way into Moses’ heart. How would Rameses react? Would he even recognize him? Would he… welcome him? Punish him for his son’s death? But Moses quickly cast all those worries aside. He’d thought about this so often, and before he embarked on the journey, he knew that Rameses would probably kill him. But he’d made his peace with whatever his fate may be. He knew that God was with him, and that was enough for Moses. He’d made bigger wonders happen, hadn’t he? So why shouldn’t he be optimistic. He just wanted to see his brother once more before he died.
Determined, Moses walked towards the palace, past luxuriant mansions, and noble arcades. The people he met on the street eyed him curiously, for he was an old wrinkly man, dressed in his Canaanite robes, dusty with sand from the desert, holding an old wooden staff in his right hand, leading a donkey on the other. The alabaster walls and columns reflected the warm orange sunlight as Moses slowly climbed up the stairs after he’d left his donkey with a traveler from the caravan. In the great entrance hall, there was a great bustle, many people were busily carrying goods around, dressed in simple Egyptian robes. Moses smiled as he saw two high priests of Rah standing next to a column, deeply involved in a religious discussion. He remembered Hotep and Huy, the high priests he and Rameses had loved to play pranks upon when they’d been young. And how they’d always gotten in trouble together.
Rameses. His brother. He was here, somewhere in this building. Had he gotten other children? Most likely thought Moses. He hoped it. Deep in thought Moses wandered through the palace. Saw the familiar paintings on the walls. Saw some new ones. They told stories about Rameses long, powerful reign. How he’d secured the Egyptian kingdom, defeated its enemies and brought it fortune, peace and wealth. Moses felt pride rise up inside him. He’d always known his brother had it in him. He’d known his brother could be a good regent. If there hadn’t been the slavery… But Moses had forgiven Rameses long ago for that. At first, he hadn’t been able to understand how his brother couldn’t see what he saw. Rameses didn’t see the pain, the sufferings, and the injustice he, as the pharaoh, inflicted upon the Hebrews. But then Moses had remembered the time when he’d still been the prince of Egypt. When he’d had nothing to do with the slaves at all, had had no connection to them. He hadn’t seen it then, either.
Moses didn’t want to justify Rameses crimes upon the Hebrews. But he knew God had hardened the Pharaoh’s heart, and he loved his brother. That was all that was needed on Moses’ behalf to be able to forgive Rameses.
After wandering around for some time, Moses found himself at their old hiding place. The place either of them had always sought if they needed some time to think. It was still exactly the same. Off the beaten track, they had always been able to be alone and think here.
Moses leaned against the balustrade and looked over the city. The view was fantastic. The sun had already set, and the moon risen. The lights of the city made him feel cozy, and the sweet familiar fumes of incense engulfed him. Moses sat down in a niche between the big statues and leaned his back against the cool, smooth stone. He smiled and closed his eyes, enjoying the familiar atmosphere of the home he’d longed for such a long time.
After a few hours, it was almost midnight by then, Moses awoke from the sound of a low voice. Moses blinked, leaned forward and listened. It was just a murmur, barely audible. As if somebody talked to himself. An old voice. At the columns, someone had lightened torches, and the light flickered and let shadows dance on the walls. The frescos on the walls still told the story of the pharaoh killing the newborns of the Hebrews, when Moses had been a baby.
Moses heard soft footsteps, someone was pacing around, talking to himself. Could it be…?
With a soft grunt, Moses got up, leaning on his old, wooden staff for support. Slowly, he walked towards the origin of the murmurs. Then, as he rounded the big statue of Seti, he saw him. An old man, wearing the crown of the pharaoh, golden bracelets on his arms and around his hips a shendyt of fine fabric. It was Rameses. Even after all those years, Moses would’ve recognized him even without the crown. His strong jawline, his shoulders, the way how he moved, how his forehead creased in deep thought. It was still the same.
Moses stood still, staring at his brother, eyes wide open. Rameses didn’t seem to notice him and kept pacing around, talking in a low voice.
“Rameses” Moses called softly.
Rameses stopped pacing and straightened up. Then, abruptly, he turned around. He stared at Moses, mouth open. He took in the bedouin-dressed stranger, an old bearded man, yet so unbelievably familiar. He furrowed his brow, then, suddenly, his eyes widened. He looked at Moses incredulously.
“M-Moses?” Rameses stuttered, blanching as if he’d seen a ghost. “No! It can’t be!” He said, shaking his head slightly.
“Yes, it’s me, Rameses.” Moses said in a low voice.
“No! You went – you… Moses?” Rameses was still stunned, he came a few steps nearer to get a better look at Moses, then, suddenly, stopped.
His expression changed. Fear crept into his face.
“Why are you here? What do you want?” He said, louder this time. Moses' heart constricted as he saw his brother flinch and take a step back. He could only imagine how difficult it would be for Rameses to see him again. After everything that happened so long ago.
“I came to see you, Rameses.” Moses said calmly. Although he would’ve loved to go and hug Rameses, he stayed where he was. Now, it was Rameses turn to come to him. Or to send him away.
“What? The Hebrews are gone, what does your blasted God want from me this time? Haven’t I suffered enough?” Rameses voice was fearful, but it also held a tinge of bitterness.
“It’s not God who has sent me. I came on my own volition. I wanted to see you, Rameses.” Moses watched the irritation and emotions flash over Rameses’ face. His brother had never been good at hiding his feelings. Moses smiled slightly.
“I wanted to come home, Rameses.” He said in a soft voice. Now he was fully at Rameses’ mercy. He’d said what he’d come here for. His eyes found Rameses’, and held their expression. Rameses shifted uncomfortably.
“Moses? I don’t understand.” Rameses said, his eyebrows drawn together in confusion. His posture relaxed slightly, although he still seemed wary.
Moses smiled sadly. “I’ve missed you, brother. I’ve missed my home. Never in my life had I wanted to leave you, but God chose me as his servant. It was never my intention to hurt you.” Now, tears found their way into Moses' eyes.
Rameses looked at him, shocked. Then he turned his back to Moses. Moses could see his brother’s back muscles tense up, and although he couldn’t see his face, Moses could feel his Rameses’ emotions flow through the air. Tentatively, he took a step towards Rameses.
“How can you call me that. After everything you’ve done.” Rameses hissed, keeping his back to Moses.
“Serving as your foe on God’s behalf was the last thing that I wanted, Rameses, for, in my heart, you are my brother. Nothing could ever change that.” Moses said.
As Rameses didn’t answer Moses continued. “I’ve always loved you, Rameses. I still do. I’ve missed you so much, ever after I had to leave you. But I had no choice. I was chosen to deliver the Hebrews, Rameses. You have come to know God. No one can defy him.”
He thought he’d heard a dry chuckle. “Yes, you and your God. You chose him, why don’t you stay with him then.” Rameses said bitterly.
“God is with me, always. And I have served my people many years. I was needed, and they relied on me, needed me. But now, my work is done, Rameses. The Hebrews are lead to the promised land by others. It’s not my responsibility, but theirs. Now I am free to go where my heart wants to be.” Moses explained.
“And my heart longs to be here. With you.”
Rameses turned back to face Moses. His eyes held so much grief that Moses' heart constricted painfully. “When you left me, Moses, I was all alone. You were my brother.” Rameses’ voice broke.
“I’m so sorry, Rameses. I wish I could’ve lived my life with you by my side. It was all I ever wanted.” Moses whispered.
Rameses expression softened. “It was all I ever wanted as well, Moses.” He said in a low, constricted voice.
As he heard his brother’s words, Moses couldn’t hold the tears in any longer. He lowered his eyes, tears rolling down his cheeks.
“I have so many regrets, Moses.” Rameses whispered, his eyes full of deep, unadulterated grief. “I lost myself.”
Moses looked up. Rameses seemed so forlorn, so hopeless. At the sight of his brother, Moses reacted instinctively. He put his hands on his brother’s shoulders and drew him into a warm, safe embrace.
“I should have listened to you. I have let you down. I have let my son down. It’s all I could think of during the last decades. Will you forgive me?” Rameses pleaded, sounding so vulnerable.
Moses looked up and into his brother’s eyes. Though they were the eyes of an old man, it was still Rameses, his brother. So much had changed. They had grown. His brother was different, yet the same. He could see honesty in Rameses eyes, more than anything. He could see the same pain he’d been in the last years in his brother’s eyes.
“Yes, Rameses. I forgive you. I’ve forgiven you long ago.”
Rameses made a sound that was half sob half laugh. Then he hugged Moses tighter and held on him as if his life depended on it.
“Thank you, brother.” Rameses sobbed. They stood like this for a long time, seeking comfort in each other’s presence, holding tightly on what they had both thought they had lost forever.
Moses and Rameses finally felt peace settle into their restless hearts, after so many years. They had delivered each other.