The timeless story of Exodus: Beyond the Passover haggadah


The story of Exodus is one of the most significant pieces of history that is still relevant to this day. Join Mijal and Noam as they dive deep into the story of Passover, exploring the themes of liberation as told through the Haggadah and contrasting it with the narrative of human struggle and divine intervention found in the Torah.

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Noam: Hey everyone, welcome to Wondering Jews with Mijal and Noam.

Mijal: I’m Mijal.

Noam: And I’m Noam and this podcast is our way of trying to understand the Jewish world. We don’t have it all figured out. And speaking for myself, I very little figured out. And we’re going to try to figure out some things together. That’s what we do.

Mijal: Our absolute favorite part is hearing from you and huge news. Now we have two ways to make that happen. You can keep emailing us at And we love that. But even more exciting, finally, we have a phone number where you can call and leave us voicemails. Our number is 833-WON-JEWS. That’s spelled W O N J E W S 833-WON-JEWS.

A few things when you call, please remember to say your name, your number and or your email address and share your thoughts, questions, anything and just try to keep it under 30 seconds.

Noam: super psyched about this. That number one more time is 833 W-O-N-J-E-W-S. And now Mijal, a question from a listener, Jeremy. Here’s what Jeremy wants to know, you ready for this?

Mijal: Go for it.

Noam: Okay, Jeremy wants to know what your favorite Passover Seder memory is.

Mijal: Ooh, good question. So as you might know, I am one of seven kids. And we’re all very, we’re pretty competitive. I am, I’m the least competitive of them all.

Noam: You? You’re competitive?

Mijal: But the rest of them are. So you could imagine, as kids looking for the Afikoman. Like we would literally have like coalitions between us and our cousins. And one year I found the Afikoman and it was incredibly amazing because it was very, very hard fought. And yeah, that’s probably one of my happiest memories. What about you?

Noam: That’s a win. That’s a real win by you.

Mijal: Yes, especially if you know my siblings, you know what I mean, how we all looked for it. It was pretty good. What’s your favorite? What’s your favorite Pesach memory?

Noam: Mine doesn’t have to do with winning, I think it’s just, it’s less about me and more about what I’m… And I’m feeling nostalgia this year for this. But…my children interacting with my parents. I think that just seeing the interaction of those generations and the closeness and just the anniversary of education that takes place every single Passover, every single Seder, that’s what this is. It’s the anniversary of education and it’s amazing. That’s what I think about when I think of Passover. Even if I don’t celebrate it with them every year, that’s what I think about.

Mijal: Right. That’s nice. Yeah. Pesach is awesome. So talking about Pesach, I want to, I know that last time that we were together, we spoke about the Seder, the practice, what it looks like. I actually want to shift gears today and talk about ideas. What are the ideas that are animating us, that animate the story of Pesach, that animate the celebration. You know, I often say, Noam, that we don’t want to just go through the Jewish calendar. We want the Jewish calendar to like move us and shape us. And to do that, we have to think a little bit about what things mean to us.

Noam: Yeah, I love that. Let’s do it. I’m ready.

Mijal: Yeah. Okay. So let’s start with the story of the Exodus. And the first thing I’ll just say, Noam, is that I always find it really intriguing. When we read the Haggadah in the Seder, we are not actually saying the same story that we read at the beginning of the book of Exodus about when the Israelites were in Egypt and when they left.

The Parting of the Red Sea (Painting: Lidia Kozenitzky via Wikipedia Commons)

Noam: I don’t know what you’re talking about. You have to teach this to me. I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Mijal: Well, we have several, like three Torah portions that really focus a lot on the experiences of the Jews in slavery and coming out. And the Haggadah is almost like paraphrasing or a retelling of that. So we are not necessarily reading the same verses that we read with the story of the Jews in Egypt. We are kind of like telling over a story of what happened in Egypt.

Noam: Yeah, it’s very interesting. We don’t spend a lot of time in the seder night, when we do the Haggadah, we don’t talk a lot about the suffering and the slavery. Right?

Mijal: Well, but I do think we touch on it.

Noam: We touch on it, we touch on it, but there’s not a lot on it.

Mijal: No, but there’s some key differences. One key difference is Moses, Moshe is pretty much absent from the Haggadah. Right?

Noam: Totally. Outside of like the one proof text where he’s brought in to prove a point, he’s not mentioned. I think it’s, and they, Vaya Aminu Vashem Moshe Avdo, is that what it is? And they believed in God and Moshe. But they don’t, it doesn’t mention him in the Haggadah outside of a specific text that proves something.

Mijal: Right. So Moshe’s absent. As you said, there is not so much discussion about, there’s a little bit about the slavery, like we were slaves, we were oppressed, and a lot of commentary. I think most of the Seder, most of the Haggadah is commentary on the Passover story and commentary on how we’re supposed to remember and transmit as opposed to the actual Passover story itself.

Noam: Yes, that’s right.

Mijal: Okay. The other big difference that I always think about Noam is, I’m going to try to say this succinctly, but I might fail. So I’m just being honest here.

Noam: I have time. I’m sitting here wondering with you. What else do I need to do?

Mijal: Okay. Well, I love the Exodus, like the Shmot, the Exodus narrative. It’s like probably my, we’re not supposed to have favorites, but it’s like my favorite Torah portions in the whole Torah, kind of obsessed with it. I even wrote like a book proposal if I were to one day write a book on Exodus. I don’t know if I’m ever going to do it, but I basically would want it to reread Exodus using writings from more modern liberation authors, whether from like Latin America, liberation theology, or actually like black Americans and liberation in America, whatever. I really wanted to work on that. You would find that.

Noam: You should do that. I would help fund that. I’d give you your, I would help, I would give you the first $180 towards that. Is that helpful?

Mijal: That is so generous. That’s so generous, Noam. But okay. I’ll tell you something. When I read the Haggadah, I’m reminded that this is like the way that across the ages, we’ve wanted to tell the story and that we often told the story living as vulnerable minorities in the diaspora.

Noam: Mm-hmm.

Mijal: So the focus of the Haggadah to me seems to be very much on God saving the Jewish people from Egypt. So basically it’s all about we suffered, God took us out, God saved us. And it’s beautiful. There’s a religious meaning behind it.

Noam: And then appreciation for that. Like we talk a lot about appreciation for that. Yep.

Mijal: Yeah, gratitude to God and also asking God to save us again and all those things.

When I compare the Haggadah to the Exodus story, so the verses in the book of Shmot, in the actual Exodus narrative, the Exodus story, to me, inserts much, much more human agency into the story. The Exodus narrative, the way that I read it, God does not come to liberate the Israelites and make the plagues before there is real show of agency, and I would even say resistance, by the Jewish people. There’s agency and resistance by the Jewish people at the beginning and at the end, all throughout the Exodus narrative. And to me, that’s actually when I think about what moves me about Pesach, about the Passover story the most. Yes. I love really thinking about God’s salvation from like a religious perspective. I want to add that to the way that I read Shmot as really having to do with individual and collective agency to resist slavery, resist oppression.

Noam: That to me sounds like a great thesis. I wonder why it is the case then that the Haggadah totally took out Moses and took out the human agency from the story. Do you have any hypotheses as to why that’s the case?

Mijal: Yeah, but I think you’re letting me off the hook too quickly. Let’s think together. I think part of it I implied that the rabbis often… And the Haggadah was compiled throughout the years, right? But it was compiled in post-exilic times. The Jews were vulnerable. And I think when you’re vulnerable on a minority and you cannot even dream of taking up arms against whatever empire you find yourself in, then you have a certain amount of comfort and hope, in thinking about God as the main actor of the story.

Noam: That’s what I was getting to. And in terms of the hypothesis, I think you’re right. Doesn’t that change post-1948? Doesn’t the story of the Haggadah feel different in a world in which the Jewish world started saying, we’re no longer going to live a passive existence in which we are worshipping one God exclusively, but now we’re actually going to live in existence in which maybe we’ll worship that one God, but what we’re really gonna do is we’re gonna say, we’re gonna take matters into our own hands. We’re gonna move from passive to active. We’re gonna move from object to subject. We’re gonna be the redeemers ourselves. Like there’s a song from Chanukah that we sing. Mi yim halag v’rot yisrael ota mi yim nehen b’chador ya kum hagebor goel ha’am.

Mijal: Wrong holiday, Noam. Wrong holiday. Yes.

Noam: Wrong holiday. But that song is all about this one redeemer, very coming to save the Jewish people. And it’s a very proto-Zionist, new Zionist, an early Zionist song that’s all about the activation of the individual to create the story. The story of the Haggadah, like you’re saying, is a story that actually is very little about the agency of the Jewish people and much more about the reliance, and the need, for our one God to save us.

Mijal: Yeah, I’m not saying that the Haggadah’s telling a bad story. I’m saying it tells one part of the story. And I think we can add more to other parts. So for example, if we were to go right now to the first chapter of Exodus, which is really beginning to tell us the story. So it begins, and I’m going to paraphrase, but it begins by telling us that you have this family, the children of Jacob, who came from the land of Canaan, we call it the land of Israel, who came to Egypt, and they are established there. And then that early generation of Joseph and his brothers dies, and the Israelites, they grow, they multiply all over the land. Now by the way, I’ll say something here. This also can be read as the first story of like…I’ll use a term in an anachronistic way, as like the emergence of antisemitism. Because you have a minority that becomes very visible because they’re still a minority. But they become visible. They are like all over the place in the same way that people, when you ask them, How many Jews do you think live in the world people will often say like 20%, 30%, and it’s like, okay. No Exactly exactly and right and then you have um

Noam: It’s the best. 300 million people, it’s like, no, no. The answer for the nerds out there, 15.7 million.

Mijal: Okay, then we have a Pharaoh who basically says, begins to have like the first modern propaganda campaign, I would say, against the Jewish people. He’s the first, by the way, I think we mentioned it once before, to call the Israelites a people. Until now they’re a family, then they become a people because he identifies them as such. And he accuses them of wanting to basically destroy Egypt from within. And then he convinces the Egyptians to basically enslave the Israelites and oppress them and to embitter their lives with all of these things.

Okay, so we have this massive propaganda campaign from Far-O against Far-O. Am I saying Far-O, Par-O? Can I just say Far-O?

Noam: You can say Paro, you can say Pharaoh. I sometimes make a mistake and say Paro or Pharaoh, and then I combine the two, it’s a mistake. It’s Pharaoh or Paro for the record. Are you basically saying that Paro, Pharaoh, was like Goering before Goering? Meaning the propaganda machine for Nazi Germany?

Mijal: Yeah, one idea that I always like to share during the seder table is we read some verses and we like read the rabbinic interpretations of them, and one of the ones that we read is Vayarehu Otanu HaMitzrim, which literally means like the Egyptians made us bad. And I think the simplistic reading of that in the Haggadah is that they hurt us, they made things bad for us. My dad told me that Vayarehu Otanu HaMitzrim is that it really has to do with like a propaganda attempt to depict us as evil. So I do think we can see here almost like the first historical moment in which we have enemies of the Jewish people.

Noam: That’s great. Shout out, that’s a great insight.

Mijal: Yeah, I think it’s a brilliant idea. And even today, there’s like an attempt to showcase us as like evil. So Pharaoh manages to do that. Pharaoh manages to basically convince his people that there’s something dangerous about the Israelites and that they have to thus enslave them and remove from them the comfortable position they had as the family of Joseph, who some generations before was helping rule over Egypt.

Noam: This to me sounds like the first conspiracy theory that’s ever been promulgated. I don’t know how to say that word.

Mijal: Yeah, against the Jewish people. Yeah, so let’s just pause for a second here. So what I think is really important to remember here right now, first of all, is that, so the Israelites are enslaved. When we think about slavery today, we think of it almost as like a unique evil. And it is. But back then, it was actually incredibly common. So I remember like last year or two, my husband and I, we did a tour with a friend of ours at the Met. We can put it in the show notes. He has a beautiful tours of the Met around the Bible and different museums, but the way that Egypt is described is bet avadim, is a house of enslavement and slaves. So it’s not just the Jews and the Israelites who are basically enslaved, you have this entire empire that is built upon the backs of slaves. And the Jews are now part of that.

Noam: If you’re the Jewish people, you don’t want to be in the place that slavery is the de rigueur way to behave. Like that’s like that is the identity of Egypt.

Mijal: Okay. Well, what do you mean? Okay. What do you mean by situation? Why bad situation?

Mijal: Why is it so bad?

Noam: Because people want agency, people want to be human beings. People don’t want to just be cattle and sheep and be at the whim of another people. I think.

Or wait, let me guess, you’re gonna make an argument actually, let me guess, you’re gonna make an argument now that actually the… If the typical way to live back then was to be an enslaved people and to live that sort of way, then the revolutionary unique thing is the very desire to have freedom and liberation that the Jewish people had. Am I right?

Mijal: 100%. No, but it’s really, really important though, like to, to understand this for a second.

Noam: Okay, yes, tell me.

Mijal: Actually the person, the, the writer that I read the most when it comes to Exodus is this Marxist theologian called Paulo Freire who wrote a book called Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Noam: It’s one of my favorite books ever.

Mijal: It’s one of my, oh really? Okay. So to me, that book, I read it like 10 years ago and all my markings on the side verses from the Exodus story, when I read that book.

Noam: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, a lot of people find this book incredibly dangerous, incredibly problematic. And I understand why, because the consequences of the book are not necessarily so neutral, right? Like, that’s not what it is. I love the book in terms of education, because what Paulo Freire talks about is the need to pose problems as opposed to deposit information. And I think that educationally, it’s that aspect of what he wrote is sound. What does he, to remind me, I actually don’t remember what he said about Egypt–

Mijal: He doesn’t mention Egypt at all. I read it as teaching me how to read Egypt differently. Because what he basically writes is he writes about freedom and liberation as men and women being able to see the world as being able to change and being able to see themselves as working to change the world.

Noam: Excellent! That’s liberation. Yeah, that’s great. That’s so good, Mijal.

Mijal: That is liberation. Well, thank you. But he writes a lot about how, he’s not writing a million years ago, he’s writing recently, like in the last century, he reminds us that so much of our lives is we don’t think we can change reality, social reality, and we don’t see ourselves as part of being able to do that. And then the brilliant part of the Exodus story, and this is why to me it’s so important to say, yes, I wanna have God at the center, but I actually wanna have human agency together with God, it’s a covenant, is that we have all of these instances of individuals and then the collective actually realizing the world can change and realizing they can be part of that change.

Noam: Excellent. I mean, this is what Professor David Hartman, who was a major scholar and created institutes and schools and the like, what you’re talking about, he described as covenantal morality, which is basically this bilateral relationship between human beings and God in order to construct a morality that exists. So you need God and you need human beings, and you can’t just have one or the other.

Mijal: I think in the Exodus story, God does not appear until human beings have proven themselves. So I’ll tell you what I mean by this. The beginning of the Exodus story, so we have the Jews are enslaved, and then we have a series of stories of individuals. So it could be the midwives who decide to defy Pharaoh’s decree to kill all the Jewish baby boys. You have Bat Paro, the daughter of Pharaoh, who decides to save Moses. You have Moses himself.

Like you have all of these moments of human beings. When you resist tyrants, for anybody to resist tyranny, you need to believe that the way the world is in front of you is not the way the world should be. And you need to believe that your actions can do something about it. That is at the heart of resistance.

So we have all of these stories of individual resistance. And then we have Moses escapes, goes to Midian, and then we have…

Noam: Okay. Well, that’s a big part of the story also. I don’t wanna skip over that because one of the big parts of the story is the selection of Moses, where Moses, he was able to see, right? He sees the affliction of his peoples. I’m just riffing off what you said because now Moses sees what’s going on. There’s a great commentary named Rashi who said, what does it mean to see? He says, that when you see, it’s that you bring your eyes and your heart to feel the compassion for other people. So that’s what he did. That’s part of the Moses story.

Mijal: Right. Yes, but before he goes to Midian, I made a mistake. Before he has the revelation with the burning bush, I want to read to you something that’s really important. It’s chapter 2 verse 23. A long time after that, so Moses already left, went to Midian, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites were groaning under the bondage and cried out, Vayizaku. And their cry for help from the bondage rose up to God. Next verse, God heard their moaning and God remembered the covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. Okay?

That is the moment that basically God, the Exodus story describes God as remembering the covenant, right, and deciding to intervene. Now, this is critical. You have Mitzraim, Egypt, which is Bet avadim. It’s a house of bondage. Being enslaved is the most normal thing in the world. People are born in chains. They die in chains.

They don’t necessarily imagine their children and grandchildren can have any other reality but the one they know. And here you have an entire people who basically cry out to God for deliverance. We are so used to it that we forget to realize how radical this cry is. That after so many years of being enslaved, you cry out to God and pray for deliverance, is literally the beginning of freedom. Because you’re literally saying like, things can change. This is not the way the world is supposed to be.

Noam: I love it. And then God shows up, right? And that’s the,, there are two ways to ask this question. One is, what makes the Jewish people so special that they’re the ones that cried out and they were able to say, wait, we’re not going to allow status quo remain. We’re going to do something about this. We’re going to cry out to God. We’re going to say things can change. And that’s something distinct about the Jewish people. Or you could say, no, actually, there’s nothing per se distinct about the Jewish people.

But the very fact that there was one people that in a context of slavery, that one people was able to shout out, was able to cry out, that becomes the Jewish people and then their identity forms. You hear what I’m saying? Two different ways, two different ways to view it.

Mijal: Yeah, so I don’t know. And I’ll quote my dad again. My dad taught me that the best way of learning Torah is to ask questions and to really lean into the white space between the black letters. I’ve always thought about why did we need the narratives of the midwives, for example. Why do we need the stories of like these individual acts of courage and bravery? One way to read this and we can be inspired by the way that slavery ended in America and what it meant for black Americans to fight for freedom. One way to read this is to say there were individuals who rose up and who resisted. And at some point when you have enough individuals who resist, they can actually shape the consciousness of the entire people who will cry out. That’s one way to read this.

Another way to read this actually refers back to the verse afterwards, the reason the Israelites cried out is that they had a covenant. They had this memory of the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, who promised them that one day there would be like a national relationship with God. So there’s a lot of ways to to read this, but you know what, can I read to you some passages that to me really emphasize this?

Noam: Yes.

Mijal: Okay, so I’ll read to you first something from an autobiography of Frederick Douglass called Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. And he says the following, he says, I did not want a slave understand the deep meaning of those rude and apparently incoherent songs. And he’s describing here right now the songs that the enslaved will sing on their way to the great house farm.

I was myself within the circle, so that I neither saw nor heard as those without might see and hear. They told a tale of woe, which was altogether beyond my feeble comprehension. He’s saying at the beginning when I heard these songs of pain and of woe, I couldn’t even understand them. They weren’t things that I couldn’t understand the anguish. Every tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains. And then he says, to those songs, I trace my first glimmering conception of the dehumanizing character of slavery. Those songs still follow me to deepen my hatred of slavery and quicken my sympathies for my brethren in bonds. What do you think about that?

Noam: It’s power, it’s a power quote. Power. But why did Frederick Douglass say this?

Mijal: Well, I think it goes back to what Freire was teaching us and what we know about the world. We can talk about slavery or we can talk about other things to make sure that it applies also to our lives. But when everything in our life tells us a certain message, we internalize it. And we don’t believe the world can or should be different or that we should fight to break the chains. We can talk about this now and we can talk about it in terms of the Jewish people, history, you spoke about Zionism before, how history changed. We can talk also about, I think Pesach also has like individual messages for us. What does it mean to be in chains? When do you believe that you cannot change the way you are or the cycles that you’re a part of? And in this way, what freedom begins with realizing that the reality in front of us is not what it should be and that we can act to make a difference. That’s freedom.

Noam: Yep. And so we start the Seder by saying, everybody who’s needy, come and eat. We like basically invite people in. Yeah, we make an invitation and that is an expression of freedom, of liberation.

Mijal: Yes, you know, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has a beautiful idea here.

Noam: Tell me. Of blessed memory.

Mijal: He talks, of blessed memory, because he asks, like, why are we starting the Seder by opening our door and basically saying, whoever’s needed, come and join us. And he, I forgot which book it was, but he speaks about a Holocaust survivor who described the moment that somebody in the camp decides to share their piece of bread with someone else. And for Rabbi Sacks, this is a moment in which in the most horrific conditions, you can actually exercise freedom by refusing to become what the camps are trying to make you become.

Noam: Non-human, dehumanized, non-giving, but the ability to give is the resistance, it’s resilience, it’s resistance, it’s resistance.

Mijal: Is the mark of freedom. Yeah. Yeah, so there’s something here to me, Pesach is really both collectively and individually. It’s about our ability to realize change can happen and that we can play a role in that, that we are not stuck anywhere.

Noam: I love it. I’m with you. Thank you for teaching me that. I like that.

Mijal: My pleasure. I’ll read to you one more. I’ll read one more quote from Aviva Zornberg, who’s a very, very prominent teacher of Torah, Bible.

Noam: Psychology.

Mijal: And she writes this, she says, one of the important issues is the need for those who have to be liberated to achieve in themselves some sense of the possibility of change.

Mijal: I think there comes a situation in totalitarian regimes of all kinds in which there is what Vaklav Havel, the Czech leader, calls a kind of automatism in which everyone somewhere becomes a system. People don’t just accept their role, they almost become their role. There are no choices involved anymore. Also as one in which no one believed that there could possibly be any change. Nothing would ever change again. And this is not only those who are imposing the regime, but also those who suffered under it. So it seems to me that the story of the Exodus is one in which, in a quieter way, but I think in a very real way, one of the most important themes for liberation is the need for a process of growth within the persecuted if they are to have a history. That’s where agency comes in. Isn’t that beautiful?

Noam: Yeah, it’s the story of freedom, liberation, agency, subject, being a subject. And then we’re given, I think, the mechanisms the night of the seder to display that.

Mijal: Yes, I’ll say one more thing here. And I’m sorry, Noam, if I’ve been in teacher mode today.

Noam: No, please, I’m learning, I’m learning.

Mijal: We’re having fun. Um, okay. So another, something that I think a lot about is that, so you have this moment of like Egyptian oppression, Israelite agency. And then it’s almost like, like if you’re filming a film, the lens kind of shifts and it’s like a showdown between God, Moses and Pharaoh, everybody else kind of like falls by the side in the Exodus story, right? And the, and most of the templates happen there. It’s really a showdown and a different day. We can analyze why that is.

Noam: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Mijal: But then you have, even before the Jews leave Egypt, while they’re still in chains, you have a return of them to the screen, right, of the story. And they are asked to take an animal to put its blood upon the, what’s it called?

Noam: The doorpost?

Mijal: The doorpost, this is before the 10th plague. Yeah, they’re also given like a series of commandments. I’ll quote Rabbi Sacks again, they are given the commandment to tell the story of Pesach. And Rabbi Sacks writes about what it means that we basically have this injunction to become a nation of storytellers.

And part of what I’d like to suggest here, Noam, is that this too is part of freedom and part of agency. Because maybe the hallmark of what it means to be a free person is to, even while you’re in chains, begin to think that you can tell your own story and that you can tell your story to your children.

Noam: I want to double down on that. I want to quote two people that this storytelling thing is actually something that’s been on my mind for a long time. I think that storytelling changes the world and I think that’s why it’s a huge part of this. I want to talk about two of my favorite quotes.

One is that someone that we spoke about a few weeks ago who just recently passed away, Professor Daniel Kahneman, who said, no one ever made a decision because of a number. They need a story. No one’s ever changed their minds because of some quantitative piece of information. People change their mind when they hear the story of what happened, why it happened, a result that emerged, the ups and the downs of it. And that’s, on the one hand, we have that.

And by the same token, the great marketing business grew by the name of Scott Galloway. I want to read to you what he says because he’s like excellent about changing the world. That’s like what his focus is, how to change, what to invest in, what to think about. And he said:

One query I get often is what class or skill would you suggest our kids take or learn to compete in the modern economy. I think most expect me to say computer science, STEM courses, or some BS about the wonders of a liberal arts education that foments curiosity. But hands down, the skill is singular, storytelling. The arc of evolution bends towards good storytellers.

I mean, that is exactly what the Seder Night is all about. Telling the story, the ups and the downs of the Jewish people, mitmatchiel bignutim esayem b’shavach, starting with degradation and ending with glory. That’s the story of the Jewish people. And that’s what the story of the Seder night is, is all about. And being a good storyteller, knowing how to do that, knowing your audience is, is the key.

Mijal: That’s beautiful. I think if we do Pesach right, and we tell this story in the right way, and we understand liberation and freedom as even realizing that the world and we can change, then it’s not just this idea about what happened a long time ago. Like doing Pesach right means that we get to look at ourselves and our world and saying, this too can change. Like both with our actions and with God’s help, these two can change. And we get to speak not only of an Exodus from Egypt a long time ago, but we get to really say in every generation, as individuals and as a collective, we get to go out of Egypt. So that, that’s what Pesach storytelling done right.

Noam: Right, and the word mitzrayim in Hebrew, also means metzarim, right? Which means the straights, like you’re constricted. And so liberation is about getting out of that constriction that either we feel in general is externally imposed but probably very often is self-imposed. And the ability to liberate ourselves and to call out to God and to call out to each other and to have that agency is what’s gonna lead to the change. I wanna hear though, before we go, I wanna hear your number one teaching that you’re gonna be doing this Passover.

Mijal: Well, I am thinking a ton about like this post-October seventh moment. What does it mean to have agency? And what does it mean to tell our story as an act of defiance and resistance? And I would say, especially when I speak with other parents and educators, what does it mean to see ourselves as storytellers? Because, again, there is a difference between telling someone else a story and just passing it along, between saying like, before my ancestors broke their chains, they had to see themselves as storytellers to their own grandchildren. It’s like a whole orientation that I think Pesach demands from us this year. How about you?

Noam: Yeah, yeah, that, here’s the orientation I’m thinking about. We’re often called the people of the book. Uh, but that’s not a term that we came up with. That’s a term that others put on the Jewish people.

Mijal: I didn’t realize that.

Noam: nstead of being called the people of the book, we should view ourselves as the people of the story, the people of the storytellers. And we should be the storytellers. That’s what we’ve always been. So I want to just share with you this, this story that I think, uh, really feels different this year, and I’m not sure, I’m not sure if this story would be told anymore. And this story goes like this. There was a great chief rabbi named Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, and he’s still alive. And he was the chief rabbi of Israel.

Mijal: Holocaust survivor.

Noam: A Holocaust survivor from Buchenwald, the youngest survivor of Buchenwald, and he tells the story of, he went to this air base on Passover. top Israeli soldiers. And like, there were a lot of them. People have to remember a lot of Israelis, most Israelis, are not from richly observant homes. Many of these did not identify as observant or religious, whatever that means. And there’s a one point in the Seder in which one of these really tough Israeli guys, this soldier, a guy who made it into the Israeli Air Force, not an easy thing to do, and he says to Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, he says to him, listen to me, the text says something thoroughly ridiculous. The text says, hashta avdei, now I’m a servant, I’m a slave. L’shanah haba b’nei chorin. Next year, I’m gonna be free. This is ridiculous. I can’t say something like that.

I’m a sabra, meaning I’m a native born Israeli. My entire existence has been one in which I have been free, that I have been liberated. I was born into this country. I’m not from the diaspora, I’m not from this world, which is like part of this reality where people are not free, that the Jewish people are not free. So why am I saying this absurd line, now I’m a slave, next year I’m going to be free? Yisrael Meir Lau says this story, which I love, his response. His response was, listen. I used to visit the great rabbis. Rabbis like Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, who was a great rabbi that lived in Israel. He lived from 1910 to 1985. And he would see him praying on Yom Kippur. And one of the things that we say on Yom Kippur, he says is, we say, al chet, for this sin I did this, for this sin, for this sin. And you hit your chest and you say 44 different times or something like that, I’m so sorry for the things I did. Now, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau said, do you think Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was really doing all the awful things that he’s apologizing for? Of course the answer was no. Of course he didn’t do all those things. So what’s going on here? Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau said to this guy, said to the sabra, stop always thinking about yourself. Don’t only think about your specific situation.

Noam: Think about this idea of Kol Yisrael Arayvim zeh bazeh. All Jewish people are guarantors for the other. Now you were born into this land of Israel. That’s wonderful. But what about people who are living not in Israel? What about people who are in Addis Ababa or people who are in Kiev or people who are in different places throughout the world who can’t express their Judaism, who can’t express their Jewish identity? This year, what about the 134 hostages? This year, what about, you know, all of the different families that are struggling and dealing with not feeling free this year. And that’s the idea that for me, every year when I think of this idea from Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau of what he said back to this person in the Israeli Air Force, don’t just think about yourself that you were born here, you’re part of a collective in which they don’t necessarily have your experience.

Well, this year, even that Sabra I imagine would say it feels different. I’m feeling what it means to be oppressed. I’m feeling what it means to be subjugated. I’m feeling what it means to not be able to see daylight. I’m feeling what it means to be living in constriction. And next year, L’shanah habah, next year we should all have freedom. We should all have liberation. We should never have people hiding us in tunnels and hiding us in different areas that we have no idea what our future will be. And it hits differently this year. It hits very differently this year.

Mijal: Yeah, that’s beautiful. So you’re asking us that we not only think about our own freedom, but that we take seriously people who are yearning to be free.

Noam: That we don’t think about ourselves exclusively, that we think about the collective.

Mijal: Yeah, yeah.

Noam: And it’s not that hard this year, Mijal. That’s the thing. It doesn’t take imagination this year.

Mijal: I know, I know. Noam, before we sign off, do you have any reading that you’re planning to do over Pesach, any books that you have planned to read?

Noam: I mean, the best one of all time is the Rabbi Sacks Haggadah. It’s just the best. I mean, it’s got his brilliant essays and his interpretation.

Mijal: And we do not get a percentage of any sales from quoting Rabbi Sacks a million times.

Noam: Well, he was the voice of a generation.

Mijal: Agreed. I, same and I always, actually Pesach is my time to read Jewish history. Like I buy three or four books, biographies, and that’s my Pesach reading. So if anyone has good recommendations.

Noam: So what are you reading?

Mijal: I actually didn’t figure it out yet because I feel like I read a lot of the ones I want to read. Like last year I read this brilliant, a state at any cost, like an 800 page biography of Ben Gurion. It was so good. And Killing of a King, killing of Rabin. I’m looking for some new ones this year, if anyone has recommendations. It’s on my way.

Noam: That’s great. Okay, well, you’ll read those Jewish history books. I’m going to reread Rabbi Sacks’s Haggadah. And I want to wish you a really meaningful Passover. You taught me a lot today, so thank you, Mijal.

Mijal: Thank you, Noam. Have a Pesach kasher v’sameach, a happy Pesach, and hopefully a Pesach in which all of us, and especially those suffering, have more freedom right now and more liberation.

Noam: Amen.

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