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April 14, 2011 - Image 78

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2011-04-14

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arts & entertainment

Book relates
the themes of
Passover to our
own modern-day
struggles — from
the climate crisis
and environmental
destruction to
corporate greed and
personal arrogance.

Rabbi Arthur 0. Waskow and
Rabbi Phyllis 0. Berman
Special to the Jewish News


f a pharaoh fell in the Red Sea but
nobody told the story, did it actually
happen? No.
If no pharaoh fell in the Red Sea, but we
told the story for 3,000 years, did it actu-
ally happen? Yes.
Is it still happening? Yes.
To people brought up in the modern
mode of focusing on cold, hard facts, these
responses may seem ridiculous. Either
something happened, or it didn't.
But suppose we can find no evidence
beyond the Bible that our ancient stories
of Exodus and wandering in the wilder-
ness actually happened the way we have
learned them?


April 14 • 2011


Shall we throw them out? Or is there
also to the nature of tyranny and popular
some profound value for our generation in resistance.
retelling the story of Exodus, of Sinai and
And the issues are not only macro-
of Wilderness?
political, but apply also to the spiritual
The two of us concluded that there is
and psychological struggles of individual
indeed deep wisdom in reframing and
human beings confronting their own
retelling the story, and that is why we wrote
"internal pharaohs," when one aspect of
Freedom Journeys: The Tale of Exodus and
the self takes over the whole person, twist-
Wilderness Across Millenia (Jewish Lights;
ing and perverting a person's humanity by
$24.99), paying especially close attention to
turning other facets of the self into slaves
the transformative roles of women and of
that yearn for freedom and full integra-
ecological upheavals that have often been
downplayed in previous
As T. S. Eliot wrote, "April
tellings of the story.
is the cruelest month, mixing
Modern historians and
memory with desire, stir-
archeologists have so far
ring dull roots with spring
found little evidence out-
rain." Mixing memory with
side the biblical text that
desire — weaving together
the Exodus ever happened,
our memory of the past with
yet the story lives, more
our hope for the future, a
powerful than its factuality,
profound description of the
because it speaks to deep
intertwining of Exodus with
strands of arrogance, fear,
Passover, Passover with Palm
despair and courage in the
Sunday, Moses with Martin
human process.
Luther King, Jr.
Far beyond the Jewish
"Mixing memory with
community, it has influ-
desire" is what the biblical
The Exodus story is one
enced not only the religious from which people of all
account of Exodus does
traditions of Christianity
by weaving together the
faith traditions can learn,
and Islam, but also the life say the authors.
description of the Exodus
of black America and many
itself as a moment in the
modern secular liberation
utter present — hope and
movements rooted in class, nation, culture desire turned into action — with detailed
and gender. It has even influenced efforts
instructions of how to celebrate that
to free and heal the Earth from destructive transformative moment, remembering it
through festivals far into the future.
The pharaoh motif invoked in news cov-
Looking at the world today, we see the
erage of the recent Egyptian upheaval that whole human race, the whole planet in a
overthrew Hosni Mubarak was certainly
crisis that reminds us of the archetypal
due not only to geographic accident, but
tale of Pharaoh and the Ten Plagues,


which were ecological disasters brought
on by Pharaoh's arrogance, stubbornness
and brutality.
Today it is the arrogance of some power-
ful human institutions that, according to
an overwhelming majority of the world's
climatologists, oceanographers and epide-
miologists, is leading to the Earth's oceans
and atmosphere heating up in a way that
is already disrupting climate patterns and
is likely to bring about radical changes in
polar and high-mountain ice, ocean levels,
droughts, crops and distribution of disease.
These predictions warn of huge move-
ments of new kinds of refugees, deepening
the gulf between the extremely rich and
the desperately poor, and could lead to
the widespread collapse of many govern-
In short, to what the Torah calls
But the echo of the Exodus story does
not stop there. The ancient story sows the
seeds of hope as well.
A new community was born at Sinai
and tested in many experiments dur-
ing the trek in Wilderness. Today, we are
seeing the seeds sown for new forms of
grass-roots community that curve across
our globe.
So we believe that whether the story of
Pharaoh, the Exodus and the Wilderness
"actually happened" or not, our present
situation calls us to relearn and rethink
the story. It calls upon us to learn in order
to act. Li

Rabbis Arthur Waskow and Phyllis Berman

are the authors of Freedom Journeys (Jewish

Lights Publishing).

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