Moshe Goodman, Jewish Studies Teacher, on Passover 2021
Recognizing that Kehillah means community we invite everyone to our virtual Passover table!
In this fun, brief interview with Jewish Studies teacher, Moshe Goodman, we get some fun stories, insights and wisdom around this high holiday.
When I think about Passover, I like to think of the many, perhaps unlimited, ways to tell the story. DreamWorks has The Prince of Egypt movie, Rugrats had a Passover episode, the Rabbis gave specific instructions that eventually coalesced into a standard script called the haggadah. And of course The Torah is the original source. In my course titled Slavery to Sinai, students get a chance to compare the Torah to The Prince of Egypt, which helps to highlight some important themes of the Torah by noticing how very different it is from the movie.
The Torah portrays Moses in his confronting Pharaoh and leading the Israelites out of Egypt as 80 years old, hesitant to go on God’s mission, insecure about his ability to speak and ultimately needing a lot of help from his brother Aaron.
When Moses was a baby, his sister Miriam takes responsibility to make sure that his connection to his family is not broken by arranging for their mother to nurse him for Pharaoh’s daughter. The Rabbis tell even more of Miriam in the Midrash, where Miriam is instrumental in Moses being born at all. According to the midrash, as a result of the edict to throw baby boys in the Nile, Israelite couples had separated in order to stop procreating and avoid such a fate. It is Miriam who convinces her parents to get back together and resume procreative activities.
In the Torah, Moses, Miriam, and Aaron are all instrumental in getting the Israelites out of Egypt. In the Prince of Egypt, Moses is a young, strong man who leads the Israelites without hesitation. His mother never nurses him, Miriam does nothing more than give encouragement, and Aaron is actively antagonistic. What is the purpose of these differences? One explanation my students, some of you reading this, have given is that the movie is telling a story about a standard hero. He’s young. He’s strong. He’s good looking. He’s well spoken. He accepts his mission willingly and he fights for his people mostly on his own and against all odds.
The Torah doesn’t want to tell a story like this. The Torah’s story shows us that all humans, including our greatest leaders, are vulnerable. We all have insecurities. We all need help from God. We all need help from each other. Ultimately, having the wisdom to accept that help and overcome our own hesitations and insecurities is how we each do heroic things. As Jews celebrate the story of our redemption, we must think of all the many forms of redemption that are yet to come. For this reason, there are a plethora of contemporary haggadahs that focus on applying the Passover story to social justice concerns, like civil rights, women’s liberation, LGBTQ liberation, and more. Each of us should tell the liberation stories, past, present, and future that are most meaningful to us, in order to empower and inspire ourselves to step up and be the heroes that the world needs.
On the other hand, this talk of heroism makes me think a bit about how stressful preparing for Passover can actually be. There are so many ritual objects to get in order, so much cleaning to do, and for many of us the extra pressure of needing to make it perfect. For many of us, the pressure to make things perfect is an ever-present taskmaster in our lives that prevents us from appreciating the most beautiful things in our lives.
The traditional script of the Haggadah does not talk about Moses at all. There is a lot of discussion about the parameters of storytelling and multiple expressions of gratitude to God, but no mention of Moses…or Aaron or Miriam for that matter. By not including any of the individual heroic humans of the Passover story, the Rabbis present a version of the story that is not about individual human heroism, but rather about what miracles can occur when we step back and let God, The Universe, our deepest truths emerge.
May our step back from individual perfectionism and towards gratitude ultimately lead to a flourishing of a more perfect world full of freedom, peace, love, and acceptance of ourselves and each other.