Hit the Road, Jack: Pesach 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Questions: What are the most effective ways to “teach someone a lesson” when they’ve acted badly? Should we use different methods for different kinds of people?

In the Torah reading for the first day of Passover, we read of the final of the 10 plagues, the death of the Egyptian firstborns. Pharaoh has learned his lesson – or has he?

The Pitch: “[Pharaoh] summoned Moses and Aaron in the night and said, ‘Up, depart from among my people, you and the Israelites with you! Go, worship the Lord as you said! Take also your flocks and your herds, as you said, and begone! And may you bring blessing upon me also!’ The Egyptians urged the people on, impatient to have them leave the country, for the said, ‘We shall all be dead.'” (Exodus 12:31-33)

Swing #1: “And we learn that Pharaoh finally gets it – that death is everywhere. His people fear that the killing will soon go beyond the firstborn and that all will die.” – Carol Meyers, Exodus

Swing #2: “Formally, this interview between Moses and Pharaoh is similar to the others; the difference is in content, in that Pharaoh makes no attempt to get concessions from Moses. Also, he does not promise to release them, he actually does so … Finally, earlier interview accounts described only the negotiations of Pharaoh and Moses, with perhaps the advice of the Egyptian counselors for Pharaoh included as background information. In this text, the voices of the Egyptian people are heard. They were desperate to be rid of the Hebrews.” – Duane A. Garrett, A Commentary on Exodus

Swing #3: “Moses answered [Pharaoh], We were commanded, ‘As for you, not one of you shall cross the threshold of your house till morning.’ Are we thieves that we should leave by night? We shall only leave ‘defiantly, in plain view of all the Egyptians.’ (Numbers 33:3)” – Mechilta

Late-Inning Questions: While Meyers and Garrett indicate that Pharaoh and the Egyptians are decisively convinced that the Israelites must leave as quickly as possible, the Mechilta suggests that Moses still needs to teach Pharaoh a lesson regarding how to treat the people he had enslaved for so long. Moses does not intend to lead the people out quietly (so that Pharaoh can presumably save face), but in broad daylight of their own free will.

Does Moses need to still teach Pharaoh a thing or two about freedom? Or does Pharaoh’s changed tone after the final plague indicate that something has changed within him? How do we know when someone has finally learned something we have been trying to teach him/her?

On Deck at Emanu-El: We hope you find your Passover Seders to be lively and meaningful. And please join us at services throughout the holiday, including our semi-annual Healing Service on Thursday, April 28th, starting at 5:30PM. A Healing Service is similar to a regular service except that it adds extra songs and readings to encourage us to confront our recent struggles and to find moments of comfort and hope. Light refreshments will be offered after the service, which should conclude around 6:15PM.

The Big Inning At The End: In 1987, right after one of my family Seders, I remember turning the television to WGN and watching Jamie Moyer, then a second-year pitcher for the Cubs, take a no-hitter into the ninth inning. Moyer lost the no-no but got the win. So it was a bit of deja vu for me that last night, with Passover on the way, Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta pitched a no-hitter. It’s wonderful how great baseball moments can take us back to important times and places in our lives.

Shabbat Shalom v’Hag Kasher v’Sameah!