Passover Guide for the Perplexed, 2019

By Yoram Ettinger

Ettinger Report

April 12, 2019


1. The Early Pilgrims and Founding Fathers of the USA were inspired by Passover's message of optimism while facing severe challenges and threats. Moses and the US leaders catapulted their peoples from the lowest ebb of spiritual and physical servitude (to the Egyptian King Pharaoh and the British King George III) to the highest level of liberty/freedom (in the Land of Israel and the United States of America).

The Passover/Exodus saga is retold annually in order to engrain the sublime value of morally-driven liberty, faith and optimism, while defying pessimism and despair, as a prerequisite to freedom and victory over lethal challenges and threats.   

The annual reciting of the Exodus – during the Passover holiday - enhances personal and national benefits, which are derived from experience – expressing gratitude for the blessing of liberty (which must not be taken for granted), while refraining from past errors.

2. The Exodus is mentioned 50 times in the Five Books of Moses, equal to the 50 years of the Jubilee - the Biblical foundation of liberty – which is featured on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (installed in 1751 – the 50th anniversary of William Penn’s Charter of Privileges): “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof (Leviticus, 25:10).”  Moses received the Torah - which includes 50 gates of wisdom - 50 days after the Exodus, as celebrated by the Shavou'ot/Pentecost holiday, 50 days after Passover. There are 50 States in the United States, whose Hebrew name is ארצות הברית= "The States of the Covenant". And, in the US there are 50 towns named Jerusalem (18) and Salem, the original Biblical name of Jerusalem (32).  

3. The Exodus has been an integral part of the American story since the landing of the Early Pilgrims in the 17th century. They considered themselves “the people of the modern day Exodus,” who departed from “the modern day Egypt” (Britain), rebelled against “the modern day Pharaoh,” (King James I and King Charles I), crossed “the modern day Red Sea” (the Atlantic Ocean), and headed toward “the modern day Promised Land” (the USA).  Hence, the abundance of US towns and sites bearing Biblical names, such as Jerusalem, Salem, Moriah, Bethel, Shiloh, Ephrata’, Tekoa, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho, Zion, Carmel, Sharon, Gilboa, Gilead, Rehoboth, Tabor, Pisgah, etc.   

4. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense – “the cement of the 1776 Revolution” - referred to King George III as “the hardened, sullen-tempered Pharaoh of England.”  John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – the 2nd and 3rd US presidents - and Benjamin Franklin, proposed the Parting of the Sea as the official US seal. The proposal was tabled, but the chosen seal features thirteen stars (colonies), in the shape of a Star of David, above the Eagle. Ezra Stiles, the President of Yale University – which features on its shield “Urim and Thummim,” the power of the High Priest during the Exodus - stated on May 8, 1873: “Moses, the man of God, assembled three million people, the number of people in America in 1776.”

5. Herman Melville (Moby Dick) in his 1849 novel, White Jacket: "We, Americans, are the peculiar chosen people – the Israel of our time."

6. In 1850, Harriet Tubman (who was known as “Mama Moses”) established the “Underground Railroad,” embraced Moses’ “Let my people go,” paving the road to an Exodus of black slaves. Paul Robeson and Louis Armstrong reverberated the liberty theme of Passover through the lyrics: “When Israel was in Egypt’s land, let my people go! Oppressed so hard they could not stand, let my people go! Go down Moses, way down in Egypt’s land; tell old Pharaoh to let my people go….!”  On December 11, 1964, upon accepting the Nobel Prize, Martin Luther King, Jr., “the Moses of his age”, said: “The Bible tells the thrilling story of how Moses stood in Pharaoh’s court centuries ago and cried, ‘Let my people go!’” 

7. Theodore White wrote in The Making of the President 1960: “It is as if Kennedy, a younger Moses, had led an elderly Joshua [LBJ] to the height of Mount Nebo…and there shown him the Promised Land which he himself would never be entering, but which Joshua would make his own.”   

8. Today, the bust of Moses faces the Speaker of the US House of Representatives.  Eight statues and engravings of Moses and the Tablets are featured in the US Supreme Court, one of them above the nine Supreme Court Justices. The floor of the US National Archives features the engraved Ten Commandments. Ten Commandments monuments were erected on the grounds of the Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas state capitols.   

9. According to the late Prof. Yehudah Elitzur, one of Israel’s pioneers of Biblical research, the Exodus took place in the second half of the 15th century BCE, during the reign of Egypt’s Amenhotep II. Accordingly, the 40-year national coalescing of the Jewish people – while wandering in the desert - took place when Egypt was ruled by Thutmose IV. Joshua conquered Canaan when Egypt was ruled by Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV, who were preoccupied with domestic affairs, refraining from expansionist operations. Moreover, letters discovered in Tel el Amarna, the capital city of ancient Egypt, documented that the 14th century BCE Pharaoh, Amenhotep IV, was informed by the rulers of Jerusalem, Samaria and other parts of Canaan, about a military offensive launched by the “Habirus” (Hebrews and other Semitic tribes), which corresponded to the timing of Joshua’s offensive against the same rulers. Amenhotep IV was a determined reformer, who introduced monotheism, possibly influenced by the ground-breaking and game-changing Exodus.  Further documentation of the Exodus is provided by Dr. Joshua Berman of Bar Ilan University.  

10. The message of Passover/Exodus is dominated by the theme of liberty, which guided the Early Pilgrims and the Founding Fathers of the USA.  Liberty was doubly appreciated in the aftermath of 210 years in slavery of the Jewish people in Egypt. The strategic goal of the Passover concept of liberty was not revenge, nor imperialistic, nor subordination of the Egyptian people, but the enshrining of communal/collective liberty throughout humanity.

11. According to Heinrich Heine, the 19th century German poet, “Since the Exodus, freedom has always spoken with a Hebrew accent.”

12. The Hebrew word for “liberty” (Kheroot, חירות) is closely linked to the Hebrew word for “responsibility” (Akhrayoot,אחריות ), aiming to avoid anarchy and dictatorship. The Hebrew spelling of “responsibility” (אחריות) starts with the words “follow me” (אחרי), which behooves responsible individuals to assume leadership in advancing liberty. The Hebrew spelling of “responsibility” starts with the first letter of the alphabet (א), ending with the last letter (ת), attesting to the comprehensive/full – not partial - nature of responsibility.

13. Mosaic liberty (חירות) is also associated with the Hebrew word for “inscribed” (Kharoot, חרות) which refers to the eternal inscription of liberty (Exodus 32:16).

14. Passover highlights the central role of women: Yocheved, Moses’ mother, hid Moses and then breastfed him at the palace of Pharaoh, posing as a nursemaid; Miriam, Moses’ older sister, was her brother’s keeper; Batyah, the daughter of Pharaoh saved and adopted Moses (Numbers 2:1-10); Shifrah and Pou’ah, two Jewish midwives, risked their lives, sparing the lives of Jewish male babies, in violation of Pharaoh’s command (Numbers 1:15-19); Tziporah, Moses’ wife, saved the life of Moses and set him back on the Jewish course (Numbers, 4:24-27). They followed in the footsteps of Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel, the Matriarchs who engineered, in many respects, the roadmap of the Patriarchs.   

15. Passover is the first of the three Jewish pilgrimages to Jerusalem, followed by Shavou’ot (Pentecost), which commemorates the receipt of the Ten Commandments, and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), named after Sukkota - the first stop in the Exodus.

16. The Passover Seder is concluded by the declaration: "Next Year in the rebuilt, unified Jerusalem!"