In preparing his production of The Ten Commandments, Cecil B. DeMille asked his head of research for advice about how the voice of God speaking from the burning bush should sound. The researcher came back to him with an ancient rabbinic commentary stating that God spoke to Moses on that occasion with the voice of Moses’ own father, Amram. Meir Soloveichik comments:
The midrashic passage is a profound reflection of the drama at the center of Moses’ life. According to Exodus, Moses was born a Hebrew, but he was raised in the palace of Pharaoh. He had every incentive to ignore the travails of the people to whom he was bound by blood and yet could not resist making their cause his own. According to this magnificent midrash, it was a sense of connection to his familial past that never left Moses; what called him back was the recollection of a voice from the past, a father that he might never have seen since entering the Egyptian palace. Moses, in other words, embraced his Hebrew heritage because he was drawn by what Lincoln called the “mystic chords of memory.”
DeMille’s movie, and the midrash that it utilized, reminds us that Moses’ story is one of family loyalty and identity, one that speaks to our own age. “Several centuries of Western thought,” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks reflected, “have left us with the idea that when we choose how to live, we are on our own. Nothing in the past binds us. We are whoever we choose to be.” And yet, Sacks adds, it is against this idea that “Jewish life is a sustained countervoice. To be a Jew is to know that this cannot be the full story of who I am. . . . The part has meaning in terms of its place within the whole, so that if history has meaning, then the lives that make it up must in some way be joined to one another as characters in a narrative.”
The Exodus is a tale that changed the world, its impact extending far beyond the Jewish people, but the story of the hero that brought it about is one that speaks particularly to Jews who, in this age of assimilation, still continue to gather every year to retell and re-experience its story.