The Exodus Is Not a Story – Truth Matters
This week, Jews around the world will retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt, from slavery to freedom. Some will experience the seder night as a largely cultural ingathering of family and friends. Others will be convinced of the truth of the event and convey that message to their children. Many are not sure. The question is, does it matter if the exodus really happened or not?
Twenty-two years ago, David Wolpe, leader of a very large conservative congregation in Los Angeles, declared that the Exodus did not happen. He based his sermons on the minimalist opinions of Tel Aviv University archaeologists. His sermons shook the Jewish world. He said it didn’t matter and that the Torah was a book to teach not a book of history.
If Judaism is just a cultural bond absent a search for truth, does it transcend generations? I went to Duke University. Duke Alumni have wonderful events. I have wonderful friends from Duke. I can tell my children and grandchildren, if you go to Duke, you’ll have a wonderful life, great friends, wonderful traditions, but will the Duke culture transcend to the next generation?
We are fortunate to live in a time when we can see truth being uncovered. Adam Zertal discovered the sacrificial site we used when we entered the land as described in the Bible. Letters from every major city in Canaan have been discovered that are asking Egypt to come to their rescue as the “Habiru” (Hebrew) people are conquering the land. We can clearly see the well-developed site where the Mishkan stood for 369 years at Shiloh shortly after we entered the land. We can look over at the plains of Moav and Mt Nevo on a casual drive to the Dead Sea. No, we do not have conclusive proof (yet) of our time in Egypt (though plenty of strong indications) nor do we have footprints in the sand and iron chariot wheels – they melt over time exposed to water. Still one has to ask the obvious question which Wolpe is implying – do we think a bunch of guys wrote a pretend history and an unbelievable rule book and then convinced a nation that this myth with their history?
Archaeology is part science, part art and conjecture. Sometimes we just need to wait. Thirty years ago, did anyone have evidence of King David or knew where King David’s palace stood?
Truth matters. The Hebrew word Emet used to have a nun in it – Ement – as in the root word Amen. When we say Amen this Pesach – we are saying – “that is true.” When we are told to relive the story as if we were there – it matters whether this is a Disney story or those experiencing slavery and wandering were actually Our ancestors.
In a world of falsehood and uncertainty– a world of your truth and my truth – this year at our seders, it is especially important to remind each other that there is absolute truth – our amazing history. It wasn’t a story – it happened. The God who brought us out of Egypt and into Israel, who exiled us and now is bringing us back is the God of truth – so we should teach our children.