Another Passover

By Joshua Resnek

Published April 21, 2016, issue of April 21, 2016.

The Passover Holiday for all of us who call ourselves Jews is made up of the same components every year wherever on this earth we recognize and celebrate the holiday. From year to year, century to century, millennium to millennium, we gather at the seder table. We recite the Four Questions. We eat a great meal with family and friends – and even with a stranger or two, and we think we know our history and that of our people. What do we really know beyond the yearly celebration of our holiday? Did the Exodus of Jews from Egypt really happen? Were we slaves? Did the Egyptians experience plagues as described in the bible? Was Moses a historical figure in the life and times of the Jews in Egypt? Did he even exist for real or was his existence just one of many elements of mystery about our true origins? Whether or not the Exodus happened doesn’t make any difference, according to many learned rabbis. The world’s most gifted Egyptologists can find no mention in Egyptian royal records of an exodus from that nation of the Jews. This is unusual as Egyptian royal records are very complete, somewhat akin to those of the Greeks and the Romans. Our rabbis explain that the Passover celebration above all is an effort to teach the younger generation our story to enable the orderly transfer of history from one generation to the next. Unless you know your story, the rabbis say, you don’t know who you are. The Passover table is the year to year setting for the telling of that story which is about the Jewish people’s journey from idolatry to being with God. It is also about reminding ourselves at the seder table year after year that as a people we see our origins as an oppressed people without civil rights – as the downtrodden – with the intervention of God to bring us justice and the place we occupy in this world. It is impossible to know how, when and where Moses received the law from God. How does a burning bush not burn, for instance. Did the Red Sea part or did it not? Did we wander in the Sinai for 40 years eating unleavened bread after leaving Egypt? And if we did, why again is there no written history in Egyptian royal writings noting the Exodus of the Jews? Passover, it is apparent, is about storytelling – the telling of our story. Whether it is fiction or whether it is truth, it is our story, our holiday, our time to celebrate what might have come before. When we all sit down at the seder table, it is a moment of universal Jewish truth about our origins. Whether or not it really happened the way we’ve come to picture it doesn’t matter. Whether or not it is history or fiction is a question for the ages. On the other hand, there are many of us who believe that fiction is truth. What matters about Passover is knowing who we are, paying homage to where we have risen from. It is one of the great riddles of our lives that it is impossible to know what happened for sure even with the written history of that ancient time. This we do know for sure – we have experienced slavery. We have been held in bondage. We have been brutally subjugated and marginalized but we remain irrevocably who we are. The Jews carry on despite everything that has been heaped upon us. A Happy Passover to you all.

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