Passover Celebrates Both “Freedom from” and “Freedom for”

March 27 2023

The story of the exodus told at the Passover seder, in the view of Shalom Carmy, evokes two primary interpretations. According to the first—which is the one known to most American Jews—it is a “social and political” tale of “moving from slavery to freedom.” But according to a rich body of rabbinic commentary, the liberation from Egyptian servitude appears as a “prelude to the revelation at Sinai” and its attendant covenantal obligations. “Freedom,” in this understanding, “is to be cherished because it paves the way to divine law.” Carmy finds that the biblical text supports both attitudes, and seeks to reconcile them:

Having been commissioned to lead the people out of bondage, Moses returns to his brothers in Egypt. He tells them that God knows their sufferings and will fulfill his covenant with the patriarchs. He tells them, and he tells Pharaoh, to let the people go so that they may offer sacrifices in the desert. He does not yet tell the people that in the desert they will be introduced to a radically new religious commitment grounded in faithfulness to the covenant.

In other words, if all we had before us were the words God communicated to the people through Moses, even if these words were supplemented by what God told Abraham [in Genesis 15] about exile, oppression, and salvation, we would have heard much about the oppression and the toil from which God would rescue us, and we would know the promise of being restored to the Land of Israel. We would have heard nothing binding the exodus to the giving of the law.

What the standard social-political reading of the exodus leaves out is not only the transcendent experience of Sinai. The social-political reading also fails to confess that liberation alone, without the transcendent dimension, does not ennoble or sensitize one to the plight of others. The slaves whom Moses encounters at the beginning of his mission are not yet prepared for the heroic, all-encompassing, and commanding voice of Sinai. In the first days and years that follow Sinai, they may be prepared to respond to the divine reminder, in the laws of Exodus, that they were sojourners in Egypt—but they are not yet able to integrate into their moral identity the degradation of having been enslaved. That integration is accomplished 40 years later, when Moses speaks to their children in Deuteronomy.

Read more at First Things

More about: Exodus, Hebrew Bible, Judaism, Passover

In the Aftermath of a Deadly Attack, President Sisi Should Visit Israel

On June 3, an Egyptian policeman crossed the border into Israel and killed three soldiers. Jonathan Schanzer and Natalie Ecanow urge President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to respond by visiting the Jewish state as a show of goodwill:

Such a dramatic gesture is not without precedent: in 1997, a Jordanian soldier opened fire on a group of Israeli schoolgirls visiting the “Isle of Peace,” a parcel of farmland previously under Israeli jurisdiction that Jordan leased back to Israel as part of the Oslo peace process. In a remarkable display of humanity, King Hussein of Jordan, who had only three years earlier signed a peace agreement with Israel, traveled to the Jewish state to mourn with the families of the seven girls who died in the massacre.

That massacre unfolded as a diplomatic cold front descended on Jerusalem and Amman. . . . Yet a week later, Hussein flipped the script. “I feel as if I have lost a child of my own,” Hussein lamented. He told the parents of one of the victims that the tragedy “affects us all as members of one family.”

While security cooperation [between Cairo and Jerusalem] remains strong, the bilateral relationship is still rather frosty outside the military domain. True normalization between the two nations is elusive. A survey in 2021 found that only 8 percent of Egyptians support “business or sports contacts” with Israel. With a visit to Israel, Sisi can move beyond the cold pragmatism that largely defines Egyptian-Israeli relations and recast himself as a world figure ready to embrace his diplomatic partners as human beings. At a personal level, the Egyptian leader can win international acclaim for such a move rather than criticism for his country’s poor human-rights record.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: General Sisi, Israeli Security, Jordan