Monday, April 03, 2006

I was a slave in the Land of Egypt... I think

I vividly recall sitting at the Peasach Seder 4 years ago (when I still lived in NY) where one of my step-father's (non-religious) relatives made the following comment:

Did you see the article from the New York times the other day? The article said that there was absolutely no proof that the Jews were ever slaves in Egypt and that the whole Passover story is basically made up.

At which point I turned to my brother and said, "I guess we don't have to waste our time finishing the rest of the Seder since the New York Times said that the whole thing is made up."

Well, this year, we may not have a New York Times article denying the Exodus from Egypt (yet), but we do have an article in Yediot Achronot (picked up from the Associated Press):

Environmental scientist probes Exodus story

University of Massachusetts professor (Daniel Hillel) says no 'solid' proof to support Torah's claims of national slavery in Egypt and 'miraculous' journey through Red Sea, but admits that story is based on facts of ancient Egypt...

What exactly is the goal of such studies and articles?

Those who believe in G-d and in His teachings will not be swayed by such articles, and those who don't believe that the Bible represents the word of G-d will most likely continue to believe so, regardless of any proof that shows otherwise.

I believe that we might be able to find the answer to this question if we take a closer look at the rest of the article:

Outside the Bible, there’s no hard proof of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt and escape. But Hillel figures if the accounts “were entirely contrived, they could hardly have had such lasting power” and “there appears to be a believable core of authenticity... He considers it unlikely that “a nation would ascribe to itself so humble and humiliating a national beginning as slavery, unless it had some basis in truth...”

Hillel thinks “whoever wrote the story of the Israelites in Egypt must have known the country very well, either must have lived there or must have received the information from others who had. The background is believable, the names seem authentic and the entire atmosphere and sense of place appear genuine...”

The Nile was both a source of drinking water and a waste disposal, raising constant danger of pollution and especially during times of low flow. That could produce massive fish kills, proliferation of frogs that thrive in stagnant water and scourges of insects — just like the Exodus “plagues.”

Then, too, the freak hailstorms and eerie darkness (an eclipse of the sun? a dust storm?) were natural phenomena in Egypt that would have left a lasting impression, he thinks.

Even the parting of the Red Sea — better translated the “reed sea,” which he assumes was a marsh — might have referred to a natural occurrence. Those who escaped could hide in the delta’s reeds while heavily laden troops with chariots got bogged down in the mud and mire. And the pillar of cloud could have been one of the familiar dust devils that reach considerable heights in the region’s deserts.

It seems as if there are two types of people who deny the Biblical account of the Exodus story. One group, like my step-father's relative (and the New York Times) do not believe that the Exodus story ever happened; it's all a fantasy. The 2nd group, made up of individuals like Prof. Hillel do not discount the possibility of the Exodus story being true (at least parts of it), they just deny the possibility of there having been any Divine component to the story.

In reality, there is little difference between the two groups, as both seek to undermine the very principle of the Choseness of the Jewish People.

On the Holiday of Peasach we celebrate the fact that G-d actively took the Jewish People out of Egypt; that He was faithful to the promises made to our Forefathers; that it is He who controls history and nature, rewards and punishes, and that in taking the Jewish People out of Egypt He set us apart from all of the other nations of the world as His Chosen nation - chosen to carry out a divine mission - to perfect the world under the Kingdom of G-d - as set forth in His Torah, which can only be fulfilled in the Land of Israel - the Chosen Land for the Chosen People (as chosen by G-d Himself).

Those who deny the Exodus story are denying choseness of the Jewish People; rejecting the unique mission and destiny bestowed upon the Jewish People by G-d Himself; asserting that the Jewish People are a nation (if that) like all others. Furthermore, they are areguing that there is no such concept as Divine intervention; that G-d does not involve himself in the running of the world and cares not of the actions of His creations (and in particular, His Chosen Nation) - in essence, a belief that everyone is free to live his / her life as he / she sees fit.

It is over this very issue that the fate of the State of Israel is going to be decided.

Is the State of Israel meant to exist as a State like all others, or as a Jewish State?

Should the Jews of Israel aspire to become Israelis whereby they will strive to assimilate foreign values and cultures into every aspect of their lives, and in doing so take their place amongst the nations of the world? Or should the Jews of Israel aspire to create a society built upon our Jewish Heritage, values and teachings; to create an ideal society that will truly serve as a light unto the nations and sanctify the name of G-d in the eyes of the nations of the world?

And, most importantly, does G-d truly care how we answer the above questions?

Either way, you now have something to chew on other than Matza at your Peasach Seder.

3 Comments:

The press does go out of its way to publish any article against G-d. I read Hillel when I was an undergraduate. I remember one item that particularly puzzled Hillel. It was the fact that a nomadic primative people, the Jews, had come up with the advanced concept of monotheism. His explanation for this fact was very weak and displayed his amazement.

I have been reading a blog from a Palestinian woman and Gaza. I have decided to try to add balance to my life by visiting your blog.

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By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Oct 25, 09:31:00 AM GMT+2  

I Like Egypt So Much

By Anonymous Ancient Egypt, at Thu Jul 26, 02:02:00 PM GMT+3  

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