Passover begins this Friday. For one week I will do my best to uncover where I am a Hebrew and where I am a Pharaoh: where I am enslaved, and where I am enslaving others. It changes each year, which is why Passover never gets “old.”
Personalizing Passover this way allows me to ignore the fact that the story of the Exodus is morally troubling fiction. We Jews often play dumb when it comes to the “history” portrayed in the Haggadah/Passover liturgy. We seem clueless as to why a new Pharaoh turned against us when it was Joseph, our man in Egypt, who enslaved the entire Egyptian population to a previous Pharaoh (Genesis 47:21). Without Joseph Pharaoh would not be Pharaoh.
The new Pharaoh feared the Hebrews with good reason: the only people not enslaved by Joseph were his fellow Hebrews and the Egyptian priesthood; the only people not hampered by the seven years of famine that crippled Egypt and allowed Joseph to enslave the people were the Hebrews and the Egyptian priesthood. The only people with the potential to resist him were the Hebrews, so he did to them what Joseph had done to the rest of Egypt: he reduced them to slaves. So much for us Jews owning the moral high ground in this story.
Then there is the “fact” that God plagues all Egyptians when in fact it was Pharaoh who was responsible for the plight of the Hebrews. Abraham tried to correct God’s penchant for collective punishment in Genesis 18:25, but God seems not have learned from that encounter. And then there is the fact that an all-powerful God could have liberated the Hebrews without torturing the Egyptians, but chose instead to harden Pharaoh’s heart and kill the innocent along with the guilty just to show the world He (sic) was God.
The God of Exodus is a psychopath. Why am I celebrating this story again?
Oh yeah, because it’s “really” about my personal quest for liberation and not the narrative of Exodus.
But honestly it gets harder and harder to maintain this ruse, and to care about this holy day. I’m pretty much done with the threats of the High Holy Days (“Who shall live and who shall die”), the jingoism of Hanukkah, and the silliness and murderous vengeance of Purim. The only holy day I look forward to is Sukkot and its celebration of nature’s bounty in the midst of nature’s impermanence.
I wonder if the only way to salvage Judaism is to reduce it to shallow spiritual self–help. That certainly seems to be what I’m reduced to doing. This may be the last refuge of a nonbeliever who just cannot drop allegiance to the tribe.