Judaism: A Passover Lesson: Ugliness and Redemption
Dr. Phlip BrodieThe author worked at the University of Pittsburgh where he received his doctorate. He made aliya recently with his wife and lives in Maaleh Adumim.
Can you feel the joy—we’re free! Can you see the exhilaration on people’s faces? Everyone smiles!
This is Pesach(Passover). The G-d of Israel has fulfilled His Promise: for generations, Jews had whispered that G-d would take us out of Egypt. He has done it! We are no longer slaves to a mighty Pharaoh. On Pesach night 3,324 years ago, G-d rescued His nation and led us to the Sea of Reeds; there, He engineered yet another miracle, in addition to all He had already done: He split the waters of this Sea so that our ancestors could pass to safety—and freedom.
Each year we celebrate the joy of this moment. At every Pesach Seder, we say the prayer of praise that our nation will always say whenever our people experience a great national miracle—the Hallel. We repeat this song of praise as a way to re-experience the total joy of that Exodus moment. When we recite this praise at the Seder table, we are to feel as if we ourselves individually experience—rightnow-- that awesome moment of G-d’s incredible Power: G-d redeems me!
Our celebration lasts for hours, long into the night. We recall our national story—how we began, how we became slaves, how we suffered, how G-d rescued usand how our Redemption unfolded with astounding miracles. It is indeed a story of joy. But this wondrous story also has a less glorious side, because once the Jews left Egypt, the Exodus story became ugly.
It is an ugliness that teaches us about our future.
From the day G-d brought the Jews out of Egypt, the Jews appeared to have nothing good to say to Him. In Egypt, he had tormented the slave-masters with horrid plagues.He had performed miracles. He freed an entire people in a single day.
How did the Jews respond to this? As soon as they were free, they complained. At theSea of Reeds—they complained; at a place called, Marah—they complained; in the wilderness of Tzin—they complained. G-d continued to perform miracles for them. It didn’t seem to matter-- they still complained. They didn’t even vary their complaint; it was always the same: G-d was taking them into the desert to die; they’d have been better off staying in Egypt!
As you read this Torah story of escape from the slavery of Egypt, you notice two points of interest: first, few turned back; and second, the Jews couldn’t stop complaining that they should go back.
Once, they did stop complaining.
In this incident, they had been waiting for Moshe their leader to return after spending forty days and nights with G-d. But when these Jews saw that Moshe didn’t return at exactly the moment they thought he should, they took offense. Remember now, we are talking about a people who can never start a wedding or a funeral on time, and who have no problem waiting patiently for hours for a ceremony to begin; but as soon as Moshe was late, they decided immediately that he was never coming back. Therefore, they replaced him—with an idol.
During their journeys after Redemption, some Jews just didn’t ‘get it’. They couldn’t change. They couldn’t believe redemption was better than Egypt. They couldn’t adjust. They couldn’t see their destiny. They were still enslaved. Their behaviour seems an ugly addendum to an otherwise joyous story.
Some argue that we have the same ugliness today. They say we have a lot of good happening in Israel—but it’s all tainted by an idol modern Jewshave created. The idol is called, ‘we must be like everyone else’. For this idol, the argument goes, we cannot be different because then we cannot be safe.We must become like everyone else: we must reject Judaism because everyone else rejects Judaism. We cannot be Jewish because no one else is. We must have Auschwitz borders for Israel because that’s what everyone else wants. If everyone else sneers at G-d, so must we.
Of course, this isn’t real idol worship. But the belief seems similar and the result is the same: a complete rejection of everything Jewish.
At least, that’s the argument.
Complaining against G-d and rejecting G-d might be ugly, but the Pesach story reminds us that Redemption occured despite this ugliness. The idolatry and the anti-G-d behaviour we see in the Exodus story is not an ugly addendum—it’s part of the Redemption. For reasons known primarily to G-d, ugliness is part of the beauty of our Redemption—past and future.
We should remember that. We should also remember that our past exists only to prepare us for our future. Think about Passover. Think about our world. Then take another look at the Passover story.
You might have missed something.