On being kicked out of Egypt

The story of Pesach always struck me as a bit weird. Especially from a Jewish perspective. Why are we supposed to celebrate being kicked out of a country again? Jews have been banished and expelled from many places. But we never celebrate it. Hurray, kicked out of Spain.

And then there are the plagues. Egypt was struck by all kinds of them and according the Bible it was all because of the Jews. But instead of being outraged that the media once again blamed us for natural phenomena we get together to sing Dayenu and pour ourselves full of wine.

Wasn’t there a history of 2000 years of Jews being blamed for stuff they didn’t do? Getting marked and then expelled or killed as a result? If that’s reason for a party we should be having five cups of wine every day. Really, there is no excuse to both be Jewish and sober.

Seems to me the Exodus was an antisemitic incident in reverse. Bad things happened to Egypt and Jews got the blame. But instead of it being a story of persecution and expulsion. It’s a story of liberation. Yet it follows the same path: Jews blamed, Jews marked, Jews expelled and then an attempt at mass murder. Pharaoh sent his army after the escaping Israelites to murder them. Then something happens and the Jews wind up in Israel. We know this story and not just from last year’s telling.

It’s the same story but completely different. Confronted with the plagues Moses could have gone into hasbara mode and said: “These are false accusations, the God of Israel would never do such things.” Instead he told the Egyptians that we were the cause of their suffering and they better let us go if they wanted it all to end.

It’s a remarkable thing to say especially considering how weak and defenseless the Israelites were. Just a generation earlier the Egyptians had killed all of their baby boys. Imagine Jews in medieval Europe being accused of all kinds of crazy stuff, turning to their accusers and saying: “YepThat’s what we do and you better leave us alone if you don’t want it to happen again“. It’s almost unthinkable.

So what explains the difference? Well, God obviously but God represents power in this story. A power greater than Pharaoh’s and totally on the Jewish side. It was this power that allowed Moses to get over his fears, turn to Pharaoh and say “Yes, the Zionists took your shoe.” Remember that one? It’s funny for us because our lives no longer depend on people like that and for the same reason: Because we are no longer powerless. But when you are as defenseless as our ancestors used to be, paranoid idiots are the people you need to fear most.

Sure, but it’s just a made up story you might think. Maybe, maybe not, but it most certainly is a story that predates the diaspora. We know from the Haggada Jews were celebrating Passover during Roman times. There is also plenty of archaeological evidence to back up the Exodus story, but as far as I understood it’s all dismissed because according to the timeline the evidence is too old. I never really got this, as far as archaeological evidence and the Bible is concern older is always better.

Anyway if it was a made up tale it would have made perfect sense had the story been created later, in the 1200’s or so, to cope with the constant accusations, persecutions and expulsions. Because essentially it’s the same story. But it wasn’t made up later, instead it’s much older. Which is weird, but hey we’re used to that.

The Exodus is a story of a people who stopped being afraid and embraced their freedom. First of all Moses of course, it started with him. But as the story shows us, and in many cases history as well, sometimes you only need one guy. From there it snowballed and led to the liberation of a people. But the story of liberation is the exact same story as the one of persecution. The only true difference is the meaning people gave to the events. After all, it’s not like they immediately went to the promised land. They were expelled into the desert where they wandered around for forty years and then they had to fight a war to reconquer their homeland. Not exactly a pick-nick. But we experience it as such because we decided to give it that meaning.

Chag Pesach Sameach everyone.

 

 

 

About the Author
Born in Switzerland in 1973. Raised in Holland, I lived 10 years in Israel where I experienced the collapse of the peace process. J now reside back in Holland. I've published in Trouw and Volkskrant. My parents were Holocaust survivors. They taught me the ideas on which I base my articles.
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