Ma Nishtana

For I have said, ‘I shall bring you up from the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite, to a land flowing with milk and honey.’ Exodus 3:17

Time is the precious gift we have been given. We must use it wisely. It was Jeremiah who long ago proclaimed, “Thus said the Lord: He who appoints the sun to shine by day and the moon and the stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—the Lord Almighty is His name: “Only if these decrees vanish from My sight,” declares the Lord, “will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before Me.” (Jer. 31:35-36)

“I met a traveler from an antique land who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert. Near them on the sand, half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies. … And on the pedestal these words appear: ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ Nothing beside remains…boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.” Ozymandias is another name for the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem was inspired by the arrival of a statue of Ramses acquired by the British Museum in 1816 after its removal from Thebes by the Italian adventurer Giovanni Belzoni. Ramses is gone. Jews are back in our covenantal homeland, and the sound of joy can again be heard in Jerusalem.

In the Cairo Museum stands a giant slab of black granite known as the Merneptah stele. Originally installed by Pharaoh Amenhotep III in his temple in western Thebes, it was removed by a later ruler of Egypt, Merneptah, who reigned in the 13th century B.C.E. Inscribed with hieroglyphics, it contains a record of Merneptah’s military victories. Its interest might have been confined to students of ancient civilizations, were it not for one fact: the stele contains the first reference outside the Bible to the people of Israel. The inscription lists the various powers crushed by Merneptah and his army. It concludes: All lands together, they are pacified; Everyone who was restless, he has been bound by the King of Upper and Lower Egypt.

Among the “restless” was a small people otherwise not mentioned in early Egyptian texts – a people whom Merneptah or his chroniclers believed to be a mere footnote to history. They had not simply been defeated. He believed they had been obliterated. The stele reads: Israel is laid waste, his seed is [no more]. The first reference to Israel outside the Bible is an obituary notice.

Ironically, so is the second. This is contained in a basalt slab dating from the 9th century B.C.E. which today stands in the Louvre in Paris. Known as the Mesha stele, it records the triumphs of Mesha, king of Moab. The king thanks his deity Chemosh for handing victory to the Moabites in their wars. “As for Omri, King of Israel, he humbled Moab for many years, for Chemosh was angry with his land. … But I have triumphed over him and over his house, while Israel has perished forever.” Not so quick Mr. King.

It was Mark Twain who famously wrote, “The report of my death has been greatly exaggerated.” The mighty empires have come and are now gone.

Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar declared in a recent interview on Al- Manar TV, “In this region we have faced Roman occupation, Persian occupation, Crusader occupation, British occupation – they are all gone. The Israeli enemy does not belong to the region. It does not belong to the region’s history.” And so the Mohammedan delusions and lies continue, perpetuated by its next generation of Mohammedans whose history begins with the lies and hatreds of their last generation. It’s their tradition. Each generation has been the victim of its own delusional indoctrination , preferring fantasy over truth.

Anyone with the least bit of knowledge of Middle East or Near East history knows that there was no country called Palestine during the Roman occupation. Mohammed wouldn’t be around for another 600 years. The land was known as Judea and its people were known as Judeans. Tacitus, Cassius Dio and Josephus, Roman historians during the two major revolts of the Jews in 66-73 C.E. and 133-135 C.E., make no mention of a land called Palestine or its imaginary people called Palestinians.

After the first revolt, Rome minted thousands of commemorative “Judea Capta” coins – not Palestina Capta – to celebrate the capture of Judea, and today there is an arch in the Forum in Rome called the Arch of Titus depicting the Roman army stealing the giant menorah from the Second Temple – and menorahs aren’t known to be an artifact of Mohammedan inspiration. The historian Cassius Dio recorded that some 60 years later, when Hadrian decided to totally destroy the Land, “580,000 men were slain and nearly the whole of Judea was made desolate.” Determined to destroy Jewish identity, Hadrian renamed the land “Syria Palestina” after the Philistines—not Muslim Arabs. Even after the Romans and the Persians, after the Crusaders and the Arab throngs, Jews never left the land. Throughout history, under almost impossible conditions, the Land of Israel and our people were always intertwined.

And it was our patriarch Jacob who, knowing of our people’s wandering in many lands, connected his worship of Hashem to his return to his father’s house (Gen. 28:21). And who else could the land be named for in 1948 – “Your name shall not always be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name…for you have struggled with the Divine. … The land that I gave to Abraham and to Isaac, I will give to you and to your offspring.” (Gen. 35:10-12). We, Jacob’s offspring, have struggled, but never did we forget the Land.

In the introduction to Ma’amar Mordechai, the son of the author wrote that once his father was in Lublin for Parasha Bechukotai and heard from the holy Rabbi of Lublin that the Maggid of Kozienice turned the Admonishment of Bechukotai into blessings, so he set off to arrive in Kozienice by that Sabbath.

During the Torah service he stood directly in front of the Maggid as he read from the Torah. When he reached the Admonishment he raised his voice, louder and louder. And when he came to the verse, “I will lay your cities in ruin and make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not savor your pleasing odors” (Lev. 26:31), he exclaimed these words: “Our Father in Heaven, grant that we have the merit to reach this hour.”

The Maggid of Kozienice did not explain his words, but the blessing embedded in this verse was in the spirit of remarks made by the Admor of Sedov: “Your land shall become desolate and your cities a ruin (Lev. 26:33), so that the other nations shall not come and settle in your land and prevent you from returning; rather, the land will remain a desolation, waiting for you to return from your wanderings.” Indeed, we have witnessed for 2000 years the Land of Israel passed from one nation to the next, and from one ruler to another; yet not one of them settled the Land, making it their own. The Land waited patiently…as Rachel wept.

And it was Nachmanides (1194-1270 C.E.), after arriving in the Land, who described its devastation such that “your enemies will be appalled by it, and it shall be that our land will not accept our enemies. Ever since we left the land, it would not accept any other nation or tongue.” For the Land was a covenantal blessing with only our Jewish people exclusively. The Land waited for our people’s return to redeem its eternal covenantal pledge.

Yet there follows a passage of remembrance and love: “But when the time finally comes that their stubborn spirit is humbled, I will forgive their sin. I will remember my covenant with Jacob, as well as my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the Land. … Thus, even when they are in their enemy’s land, I will not reject them or spurn them, bringing them to an end and breaking My covenant with them, because I am the Lord their G-d.” (Lev. 26:41-44)

And it was the historian John Gunther who observed in 1938, “Zionism could not be installed anywhere else. How can they sing the Lord’s Prayer in a strange land? The concrete achievements of Zionism have been considerable. I have watched the immigrants come in at Jaffa…from the ghettos of Lemburg and Czernovitz and Prague. No, they were not handsome, vigorous young men. No, they were not lit by any apparent inward fire. Instead they were wretchedly dressed and miserably poor, huddled in compartments where brisk British officers shuffled and distributed them; they looked like refugees from the slums. But a few years later I saw these same people tilling the soil, carving livelihoods out of the dusty rock of the Jordan hills – upright, alert, self-sufficient, with pride in their work and pride in themselves. The transformation was all but unbelievable. They had begun to transform the Land, but the reality was that the Land had begun to transform them.” (John Gunther, Inside Asia)

But as we approach this Passover night, I want to focus on an interesting document that I had never heard of before, and that I happened upon just this year. It was in 2010, that an Egyptologist by the name of Galit Dayan, PhD. from Hebrew University, presented research that she had discovered linguistic evidence that revealed an ancient and deeply involved Jewish presence in Egypt…”she drew a remarkable parallel between the language of an Egyptian papyrus and… the Bible, all of which contain references to the Exodus story. In piecing together these manuscripts Dayan framed an Exodus narrative based on facts of Egyptian history…to prove that the Exodus did occur and it happened during the reign of Ramses II.”( Jewish Journal/passover/77833/3-24-2010)

“In one manuscript known as the Ipuwer Papyrus there is an eerie description of chaos in Egypt: Plague is throughout the land…blood is everywhere—the river is blood…and the hail smote every herd of the field…there is a thick darkness throughout the land…”(Danielle Berrin, Passover Proof Lies in Egyptian Hieroglyphs, Jewish Journal).

“It was in the early 19th century a papyrus, dating from the end of the Middle Kingdom, was found in Egypt. It was taken to the Dutch National Museum known as the Leiden Museum in Holland and interpreted by A.H. Gardiner in 1909. The complete papyrus can be found in the book Admonitions of Ipuwer an Egyptian…the papyrus describes violent upheavals in Egypt, starvation, drought, escape of slaves, with the wealth of the Egyptians, and death throughout the land. The papyrus was written by an Egyptian named Ipuwer and it appears to be an eyewitness account of the effects of the Exodus plagues from the perspective of an average Egyptian.

“The hieratic script of the manuscript is the form of writing used by the ancient Egyptian scribes on papyrus…Hieratic has been described as a sort of cursive form of hieroglyphics. Both forms of writing were used concurrently over many years.” (Ibid.)

Logic and the laws of nature have often seemed not to hold when it comes to our people. And yet the story is told of an archeologist who was digging in the Negev and came upon a grave containing a petrified body. After examining it, he called the curator of a prestigious natural history museum and announced that he had just discovered the 3000-year-old body of a man who died of a heart attack. The curator replied, “Bring him in and we’ll check him out.” A week later, the amazed curator called the archeologist, “You were right about the corpse’s age and cause of death. But how did you know?” So the archeologist explained, “When I found the body, there was a piece of paper in his hand that read, Ten thousand shekels on Goliath. How I would like to take Titus for a drive along Highway 1 in Israel. I think even he would be impressed. “The nations of the world have not and will not forgive the miracles, or the love of our G-d. But do have a thoughtful Pesach!

Shabbat Shalom, 04/19/19                                    Jack “Yehoshua” Berger*

About the Author
Educated as an architect with a Masters in Architectural History, Jack Yehoshua Berger became a practicing architect and real estate developer. In his late 30's he met a Rabbi who turned him on to the miracle of Israel and he began learning how the amazing country, against all odds, came to be the miracle of the modern world.