Tag Archives: Passover

God’s Disproportionate Response to Egypt

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Despite the fact that many consider the Old Testament to be a man-made fabrication, billions of people worldwide do indeed believe it to be an authentic accounting of what took place thousands of years ago.  With so much of the world’s violence revolving around religious belief and doctrine, the lessons learned from the Bible are indeed relevant today, if for no other reason than the fact that people believe it to be true.  As the Jewish holiday of Passover approaches, the story of the enslavement of the Jewish people in Egypt is front and center.  In a time when Israel’s response to violence is once again being challenged by those who either wish her destruction, feel passivity will lead to peace, or look to appease the enemy, the story of Passover has become even more relevant.  When the statement is made that Israel’s retaliation to violence is a Disproportionate Response, the question one has to ask, especially this time of year is, was God’s reaction to Egypt subsequently a Disproportionate Response as well?

To get a better idea of whether or not this is the case one needs to know a little bit about the history as it is appears in the Bible.  The story starts with the Jewish people being seen as a threat to Egypt by the country’s new  King or “Pharoah”. His concern was that the Jews were multiplying too quickly and becoming too strong, therefore posing a threat to Egyptian society.  Despite the fact that they had done nothing to warrant these suspicions, the Jews were felt to be such a growing danger that they were enslaved, forced to do hard labor, and made to build ostentatious and glorious cities for Egypt’s Pharoah. When their number continued to increase, the Pharoah decreed that all newborn Jewish males should be thrown into the Nile River.  Moses, a child that would survive this systematic murder of Jewish male children, would ultimately be the man who would lead the Jews out of slavery. However, not before the Egyptians would go through tremendous suffering of their own.

When Moses ascended to his leadership role of the Jewish people he ultimately stood before the Egyptian leader and in the name of God implored him to “Let my people Go!”  When the Pharoah refused, God decided to punish the Egyptians with a variety of plagues.  The water turned to blood, the land would be infested with swarms of locusts, there would be a debilitating darkness, and the people and cattle would be cursed with boils and lice, just to name a few of the hardships God brought upon the Egyptian people. Was this fair?  Was it right for the Egyptians to suffer so tremendously merely because the Pharoah wanted to maintain his labor force? After all, the Jews who were allowed to live were  given enough food and shelter to survive.  Their social structure was kept in tact enough that men and women were able to get together and multiply to the point where they were deemed a threat.  Was it really fair for God to come down so hard on the Egyptians?  Did they deserve to suffer on such a high level merely because they would not let the Jewish people break out of their generations of bondage and suffering?  By today’s standards certainly not.  Today every level of injustice is measured with some sort of bias, often in favor of those committing the injustice.  But if you believe the story of Passover, the injustices committed by the Egyptians against the Children of Israel were not going to go unpunished by the most powerful being of all, God.

When Pharoah still refused to let the Jewish people go, the suffering would reach it’s pinnacle.  All of Egypts first born sons would be killed unless the Jews were freed. Pharoah in his arrogance and stubbornness refused to capitulate, causing the death of countless numbers of Egyptians sons, the most notable of which would be the son of the Pharoah himself.  Was all this necessary merely because the Jewish people were living as slaves?  Seeing as there was no United Nations back then there was certainly no governing body to condemn what was happening, but even if there had been, what were they going to do, condemn God?  Maybe, you never know.

When the Pharoah finally gave in, for a large part due to his own immense suffering at the loss of his child, he actually had second thoughts and sent his army after the Jews as they fled Egypt.  Up to the last moment, as the Jews were escaping Egypt, God would still cause suffering on the Egyptian people, causing multitudes of soldiers to be engulfed and washed away to their death in the Red Sea.  All this just so the Jews would live as free people.  All this suffering that befell the Egyptians truly must be seen as a Disproportionate Response on the part of the Almighty, should it not?

Of course the truth is a simple one.  If this did indeed happen as it is portrayed in the Old Testament, these harsh “Disproportionate Responses” were actions by God in defense and protection of the Jewish people.  But regardless of whether it was the Jews or anyone else, the message it sends is that taking away the freedom of an entire nation is indeed a crime punishable by great suffering.  If a people are being attacked or enslaved by another group of people, attacks against those that enslave them, persecute them, or murder them are not only acceptable, they are warranted.  Attacks against those who threaten a people’s sovereignty are warranted, regardless of whether or not the United Nations, the European community, or the likes of a Bernie Sanders find it to be acceptable behavior.

If man is truly created in God’s image, then there is no such thing as Disproportionate Response against those that wish to wipe out a nation.  If no other lesson is to be learned from Passover, this is one that should be, especially in the world in which we live today.

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How the Lessons of Passover Still hold true

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As we approach the beginning of the holiday of Passover, I am struck by the fact that that many of the lessons learned from the holiday still hold true today.  It is very possible that the most significant lesson is that hatred towards the Jews is more often than not for the mere fact that we exist, not because of the actions we take.

What is so remarkable about the phenomenom of anti-Semitism is that when you look at it closely, it is rarely about the things Jews do wrong.  This is an important point. I do not claim that the Jewish people are perfect by any means.  Like any group we have some character traits that are appealing, some that are not.  We have produced criminals like any other group of people. Yet the rampant growth of anti-Semitism is not generated by a reaction to a Bernie Madoff, someone who actually caused harm to many people, it is more likely because of the religious Jew living in Brooklyn or the West Bank. The reason for this has nothing to do with behavior.  It has to do with growth.

When slavery began in Egypt the Pharoah rallied his people with the following words: ‘Behold the Children of Israel are more and mightier than we. Come, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply.'” But the Jewish people were not violent, they were not aggressive or ambitious, they were merely members of the Egyptian community that were growing and developing.  They were actually more beneficial to Egypt than they were harmful. But despite the lack of reasoning behind this thinking, they were considered a threat.  How were they more and mightier?  They were a minority in Egypt.  But in their structure and cohesiveness they were strong and productive.  This was threatening to the Pharoah.

When we hear of Iran preaching the destruction of Israel, I always wonder how any reasonable person doesn’t ask themselves why Iran would care? Why would anyone care? Israel is a speck of land compared to the land surrounding it. Yet in its hard work and productivity, but most of all in its growth, it is considered a tremendous threat.  The truth be told, most of those calling for Israel’s destruction won’t say, destroy Israel unless Israel gives the Palestinians anything they want, they clearly call for Israel’s demise regardless of what actions Israel does or doesn’t take.  Ultimately it is for one simple and very sad reason.  It is a Jewish nation.

On paper a two-state solution might work if Israel was at war with the United Nations.  However, Israel’s enemies do not merely call on their departure from what they refer to as the “occupied territories”, Israel’s enemies call for its complete and total destruction.  The Palestinian people, the people the world seems to want to believe is persecuted by Israel, are actually the pawns in a much more devious and cynical game.  They are being used to create one of the most disgusting public relations farces in history.

For Israel, a prosperous and peaceful Palestine would be wonderful. But it’s not Israel that doesn’t want to see this happen, it’s those wishing to see the region rid of the Jewish people.  The Muslims and Arabs in the region don’t need Israel’s land.  They control over 99% of the territory in the Middle East. Yet somehow Israel is the cause of all the regions problems. Why?  Just as it was in Egypt at the start of all the troubles, it is merely because it exists.  “Come, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply.”  In the end, that is what is really about.  Not an occupation, not settlements, and not Benjamin Netanyahu. What it is really about is that not only are the Jews not going away, they are actually having the audacity to multiply. Something which was not acceptable to Pharoah, and not acceptable to the anti-Semite of today.  One can only hope and pray that today’s anti-Semitic leaders see the same fate as the Egyptian ruler did so many years ago and that  the Jewish people and all decent civilized people are allowed to live in the freedom so many have sacrificed so much to achieve.

 

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What We Don’t do when Children Die

kids-three-fingers (1)Unlike the festivities that took place in the Arab world when the 3 Yeshiva Students were reported as kidnapped and subsequently murdered, there is no joy in the Jewish world over the deaths of 4 Palestinian children.  There are no Jewish children being put in front of a camera and told to hold up 4 fingers.  There is no social media blitz with a 4 fingered salute celebrating their deaths.  In fact, the Jewish way of thinking can be summed up with one finger, the pinky finger.

At the Passover Seder, the dinner celebrating the freeing of Jews from slavery in Egypt, when we recount the 10 plagues we dip out pinky finger into the wine and acknowledge the suffering of innocent Egyptians during each of the plagues.  Our respect is so great that we dip twice when we get to the last plague, the killing of the first-born.  The Egyptians were our oppressors and we were freed from this oppression.  We celebrate our freedom.  We thank God.  But at no time do we celebrate the death and suffering of Egyptians.  Next time you see a 3 fingered salute celebrating the death of innocent Jewish children take a moment to acknowledge a people who value life and despise murder, instead of the other way around.


The Last Seder?

mealDespite my own personal ideological struggles, I am a Jew who believes in the philosophies of Judaism before I believe in those of any other religion.  However, I do feel that now maybe more than any time in history the alliance between Christians and Jews has never been more important.  The rise of Islam, a rise that in many places preaches only Islam, has put the concept of freedom of religion in more danger than any time in modern history.  With that in mind I am making a short post to discuss, and hopefully create a discussion regarding the connection between Passover and Easter.

I often say, only partially tongue in cheek, that there are 2 major differences between Christianity and Judaism.  One is that while Christians are awaiting the 2nd coming, us Jews are still awaiting the 1st.  Either way we are still awaiting the supposed Messiah or Messianic era.  The second difference would be the disagreement over who is the best Jew of all time.  There would be some discussion on the matter, but as a Jew I would put in my vote for Moses, and I would be surprised if I didn’t end up backing the winner.  Christians however, even if they have a fondness for Moses, clearly would pick Jesus.

It is widely believed that “The last supper” was actually a Passover Seder.  Seeing the apparent time of year and the fact that a group got together around the table for discussion, there is much credence to this belief.  Ultimately, those who believe in the Messiah coming in a mystical, ultra spiritual way would see the events celebrated by Christians as a realistic method for the savior to be revealed.  Us Jews however do not believe that has actually taken place.  However, if either belief causes people to behave in ways of peace, love and tolerance, they help the world far more than hurt the world.

What are your thoughts?


Freedom: Not a Religious Concept

mosesEvery year as Passover approaches I find myself intrigued by how many Jewish people, even those relatively uninvolved in religious observance, put importance on some form of celebration of the holiday.  Seeing as it is a holiday that begins with sitting around a table with friends and family, telling a story and eating, naturally it is partially due to how uncomplicated and potentially enjoyable this form of observance can actually be.  However, when thinking about it this year I came to an entirely different and much deeper explanation.  The attraction to Passover is that it has very little to do with religion.  Passover transcends religion, inasmuch as it about something not provided by religion.  That would be the basic theme of Passover, the importance of freedom.

We live in an increasingly complex society.  People consider freedom to manifest itself in issues once not even considered important to humankind.  In the United States, freedom now has become connected to lifestyle choices, possession of weapons, and how to treat your body.  In Muslim populations, as well as ultra-religious communities everywhere, levels of freedom are often gender based, men are often provided with freedoms women are not provided with, and when not are based on first accepting the basic rules of the community.    In more progressive, liberal environments, freedom is expressed by the decriminalization of things like drugs and prostitution.  And in some parts of the world, freedom is still about the basic right to survive and live as the person you were born to be, without restriction from governments or dictators.

Freedom has always been the ultimate weapon.  Take away someone’s freedom and the belief is that you have the ultimate control over what they do.  It is the primary and justified complaint against religious leadership.  The belief that impacting someone’s freedom because your belief system considers their personal choices to be wrong for society and the individual, sets up a scenario where people do exactly what is expected of them.  Ironically it takes away from the freedom given by God that is very possibly the most important freedom that exists. The freedom of choice.

The truth is that no one can take that freedom away from any man or woman ever.   The consequences may be dire, but the freedom remains.  My grandparents, when presented with the option to accept Baptismal papers in 1943 Amsterdam, refused to accept them.  Everyone, including them, knew their chances survival would be greater had they accepted them, but they made the ultimate sacrifice in choosing the freedom to live as Jews and subsequently die as Jews by refusing the papers.  They let no man take away their freedom to be Jews, even though it resulted in them being murdered in Auschwitz.

The lesson to be learned is that what makes Passover so attractive is that it is truly about freedom.  A freedom that no government, religious institution, or random individual can ever take from any of us.  That freedom is the freedom of choice.    And the reason no man can ever take it away from us is because it is a freedom given to us by God.  Where religions and governments have failed all over the world is in their unwillingness to take second place to man’s freedom to decide for how he wishes to live his life. A freedom no one can ever take away and a freedom and a concept far greater than religious observance, for it is a freedom given directly to man by God.  That is a freedom all men and women share equally, and the expression of that is part of what makes the celebration of Passover so attractive to so many.

Happy Passover to all who celebrate, and to those who do not, in the theme of the day I wish you a life filled with true freedom.


A message of freedom and remembrance

Passover begins tonight at sundown, and as Jewish people all over the world prepare to celebrate being freed from slavery and oppression, I can’t help but feel an added responsibility to use this forum to draw a connection to what took place in Europe between 1933-1945.

It is difficult to get a clear understanding of what took place in Egypt since it happened so long ago, but what is clear was that the goal was to deprive all Jews of their freedom and ultimately destroy the very existence of the Jewish people.

Passover is a time of celebration.  As a people we sit around the Seder and celebrate our freedom and our liberation from the oppressor whose sole purpose was to wipe us off the face of the earth.  The similarity between the purpose of the Pharaoh and that of Hitler is almost eerily similar.  Yet when we discuss the story of Passover we do so with a levity and comfort we do not have when discussing the Holocaust.  The reasons are fairly obvious.  The magnitude of the destruction done by Nazi Germany is clearly greater.  Six million is a staggering, incomprehensible number.  And the visual evidence and personal testimonials make it so real to all of us that it becomes more abhorrent and more painful to acknowledge.  Even with this being so, the suffering of one person being forced to do slave labor, or the significance of the murder of one individual is just as important and meaningful when they are one of tens or hundreds of thousands as when they are one of six million.  The value of their life is the same.  Subsequently the value of a people being freed from either oppressor is just as significant and liberating.

It has always been my personal feeling that regardless of what part of history inspires us on a day we celebrate freedom, we must use this day to not only celebrate it, but appreciate it as well.  For if there is one thing we must learn from the more recent suffering, is that we should never take our freedom and even survival for granted.  And the lesson we learn from sitting down and having a Seder where we tell the story of Passover is that we must never forget what happened, and that the best way to accomplish this is to tell the story.

I wish all of my fellow Jews a Happy Passover, and a Happy Easter to all of you who will be celebrating  this Sunday.


Passover, slavery, and freedom