Long ago in the land of Egypt, a Hebrew slave named Yocheved was expecting a child. In her native tongue, Egypt was called mitzrayim which meant a "narrow, confining place." That must have been how that place and time felt to her; Pharaoh had just ordered that all baby boys born to Hebrew women be put to death. In her desperation, she hid him in a cradle and set it afloat on the River Nile, hoping someone kind would claim him.
There he not only lost the mother who bore him, but lost his extended family, his people, his culture and his holidays as well. But he did not lose his life.
Instead, the daughter of Pharaoh saved him and she became his adoptive mother. There is no record of her ever giving birth to biological children. Perhaps it was a struggle with infertility that gave her the resolve to flout her father's decree of death in order to save the baby in the bulrushes.
Because she did not know his birth name, she named the baby Moses, which means "to draw out," as in her drawing him out of the waters of the Nile. Because the men of the Talmud did not know her royal Egyptian name, they gave her the Hebrew name Batyah. Batyah means "daughter of God." They say that because she adopted Moses, God adopted her, too.
One day many years later, Moses the Adoptee witnessed strife between one of his biological Hebrew kin and one of his adoptive Egyptian kin. Moses killed an Egyptian whom he saw hurting a Hebrew and then he fled from them both. He fled to a new land called Midian where he met a woman who offered him water at a well. He married the woman, Zipporah, and became a shepherd there.
Sometimes we all long for a land like Midian where we can forget strife, the losses and the divided loyalties of adoption. Moses replenished himself in the streams of Midian and in the cycles of the seasons. He lost himself in the exotic tastes and smells of Midian. But this flight did not ultimately bring him peace: when his son was born Moses named him Gershom because it meant "a stranger in a strange land."
This is how it was until the day Moses led his flock to the very edge of the wilderness, and while tending them there, saw a burning bush. From it God called out to him and said: "I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob." Thus Moses learned the names of his Hebrew ancestors and God told Moses to return to the Egyptians and Hebrews once more. (God obviously did not believe in sealed adoption records.)
Why was Moses the one chosen to see this burning vision?
Perhaps because he had just become a father with no legacy to give his own son.
Perhaps because in learning the ways of Midian he had grown curious about his own heritage.
Or, perhaps because in living a pastoral life as a shepherd, healing his flock and attending their lambings, he had finally gained the strength and wisdom to return to the land of his own birth and adoption.
Yet this quest was difficult for Moses to start. Doubt and fear beset him. The tradition explains that Moses was a man of great humility. But perhaps the reason for his hesitancy went beyond that... Although Moses called himself a Hebrew, Moses felt unfamiliar with the Hebrew people and customs. He was not sure other Hebrews would accept him or follow him. Even when it came time for Moses to address the Egyptian court of his childhood, he spoke with the formality of a stranger. There was no one place --among Midianites, among Hebrews, among Egyptians-- where he felt he belonged entirely, and, as the rabbis of the Talmud tell, he stuttered whenever he spoke to his fellow man.
Once Moses returned to the narrow place of his childhood, God afflicted the Egyptians with 10 Plagues. Only then would they let Moses and the Hebrew leave to begin their Search for a place of wholeness. These parallel the 10 Plagues that befall adopters and color their reactions to Search and Reunion.
The rabbis instruct us to fill our cups to the brim at this point, to remember the overflowing joy felt by both Moses the Adoptee and the Hebrews and their new reunion and freedom. But after we recite each plague, we pause to spill a drop of wine, symbolically diminishing our joy, memorializing the suffering of the Egyptians. We pause because crossing the Red Sea is not enough to free us from Egypt, mitzrayim, the narrow confining place. In order to leave and get on with our lives, we must be able to forgive and feel compassion for the people of Mitzrayim.