Re-up from a couple years back, but every word (down to “tonight is the start of the second holiday” and “writing about Passover on Easter Sunday”) is true again, so here ye be! This is the kind of stuff I like to think about. I hope you enjoy it, too.
It really does seem that every year, Passover goes by faster. One minute I’m hyperventilating over the inhuman amount of cleaning, the next minute I’m all “what, it’s over?” But here we are. Tonight is the start of the second holiday, the one that closes the week, and then boom – it’s back to bread*. What this means for you, dear reader, is that I won’t be posting on Monday (it being a holiday and all) – so instead, here I am on Easter Sunday, writing one more time about Passover.
On the whole Passover dealio, let’s be honest.
Anyone who knows anything about Passover (and is over the age of 10) already knows the main message: Let my people go, freedom from slavery, big-ass crackers instead of fluffy bread for a week, etc and so on. (And by the way, if you’re under the age of 10, you really shouldn’t be reading this blog).
However! There are other messages that emerge from the story, if you poke around and look a little, messages that are also powerful and necessary.
Like the fact that people can change. That even the worst dregs of humanity can turn their lives around — can, perhaps, become heroes.
Do you know who Moses was before he became the dude who stared Pharaoh down, the great prophet, the redeemer of the Israelites, the fella who got to go up to the mountain and chat with The Holy One Blessed Be He?
He was a confused princeling with anger issues — and a murderer, to boot!
Moses was ultimately raised in Pharaoh’s family, but he was cared for early in life by his biological mother, and he knew he wasn’t really Egyptian. One fine day, he “went out to his kinsfolk and witnessed their labors” — which is to say, there he was, all dressed up in his royal finery, watching the slaves go about their business (survivor’s guilt, anyone?). Seeing an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, Moses did what any of us would do: He turned to his adoptive father and asked that reforms be instituted.
No, no! I kid!
He killed the dude. And hid the body. (Exodus, chapter 2, if you’re wondering).
Discovering the next day that there were witnesses (and I have to ask: How was this a surprise, exactly? Dude was a prince. How exactly did he think he would not be noticed in the act of killing someone?), he runs away to the land of Midian, where he becomes a shepherd, a husband, a father, and a prophet (in that order).
So, to recap: Moses is a murderer. And then he becomes the savior of his people.
We don’t really know what happened to Moses in the intervening years, up until the point where “a long time after that, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites were groaning under the bondage and cried out; and their cry for help from the bondage rose up to God” — but I’m guessing quite a lot. One doesn’t move from life as a prince to life as a shepherd, or abandon murderous anger for hesitant, self-effacing leadership, without undergoing an internal change or two.
But no matter who you are, or who your enemy is, or what that annoying asshole at work or in elective office did or said — there is always room for change. As long as there is life, there remains the possibility for genuine, even earth-shattering redemption.
And I’ll go one further: Sometimes our heroes are the people we most despise.
Sure, Moses is the prophet. Sure, he was the one who turned his life around and saved his people.
But he would never have gotten the chance if it weren’t for Pharaoh’s daughter — the actual child of the evil emperor.
When you read the story of Moses-in-the-bullrushes (Exodus 1), it emerges that five women (I’ll just repeat that: FIVE WOMEN) are the real heroes here:
- The two Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who refused to kill the baby boys despite Pharaoh’s decree
- Moses’s biological mother, who hides him at home and then hides him where he might be found and kept alive
- Moses’s sister Miriam, who stands watch over him and has the courage to offer her help to Pharaoh’s daughter
- Pharaoh’s daughter, who plucks Moses out of his basket, agrees that Miriam should find him a wet-nurse, and then pays Moses’s mother to care for him.
Reading the story, it becomes blindingly obvious that the daughter of Pharaoh — who, let’s just recall, was heinous enough to order the mass murder of infants — knew exactly what she was doing. And that without her, the efforts of the other four women would have been for naught.
She says, straight up: “This must be a Hebrew child.” Then another child, who could only have been equally recognizably Hebrew, pops up out of the bullrushes and offers to find a wet-nurse — and then a wet-nurse is instantly found.
Pharaoh’s daughter had to know — and she went with it. She saved the baby, gave him back to his mother for as long as she could get away with it, and then raised the child as her own.
So on top of the freedom-from-slavery thing (which is, don’t get me wrong, a very, very good message), here’s another message that I get out of Passover:
No one’s life is predetermined. We cannot know what people are capable of, we cannot know who will save us. We cannot even know about ourselves.
We can only open the basket in the reeds. We can only listen to whatever voice of goodness and grace we hear, whether by water’s edge, or while moving sheep from point A to point B. We can only make ourselves available.
And believe that redemption is real.
* Though we live in America, we’re Israelis-in-exile, so we observe the holidays in keeping with the customs of Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), which means a seven-day Passover. Most observant Diaspora Jews keep eight days — that is, through Tuesday.