On the very eve of the Exodus from Egypt, Moses speaks to the people not of freedom and their imminent liberation from bondage but rather of a time in the far distant future.
Three times in this week’s portion, the Torah recounts: And when your children ask you “What is the meaning of (these Passover) rites you shall say, It is because the Lord passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians but saved our houses.”(Exodus 12:25-27) On that day you shall tell your child, ‘It is because of this that God acted for me when I left Egypt. (13:8) Your child may later ask you, ‘What is this?” You shall answer, “With a show of power, God brought us out of Egypt.(13:14) These passages from Parashat Bo are familiar to us from the recited script of the Passover seder.
Moreover, every Shabbat and festival begins with a kiddush that reminds us that the day’s celebration is also a zechar y’tsirat mitsrayim, a remembrance of the going out from Egypt. Of all the pivotal events in Jewish history, then, the Exodus stands out as the most significant.
But an event has continuing significance only if it is remembered and only if its importance is recognized. Perhaps that explains why Moses is so concerned not about how the actual Exodus will be experienced but rather how the significance of the Exodus can be sustained for future generations. The Torah posits storytelling as the antidote to amnesia.
The New York Times today reported the death of Georges Loinger, a wartime rescuer of Jewish children, at 108. Loinger, raised in a religious family, led hundreds of Jewish children from occupied France to safety in neutral Switzerland. After the war he helped Holocaust survivors make their way to British mandated Palestine. No doubt Georges Loinger had heard the story of the Exodus recounted many times around his family’s Passover table. Loinger’s story is the story of yet another Moses who led his people to safety and freedom. His son reported that the last words his father spoke on his deathbed were: Personne ne pourra detruit la culture Juive. No one can destroy Jewish culture.
That is true as long as stories – especially ones like that of Georges Loinger - continue to be told and passed from one generation to the next.
Rabbi Jonathan Sachs writes: And no story, at least in the West, has been more influential than that of the Exodus - the memory of how the Supreme Power in the Universe intervened in history to liberate the supremely powerless, and together with a people covenanted to create a society that would be the opposite of Egypt, where individuals would be respected as created in the image of God, where one in seven days all hierarchies of power would be suspended and where dignity and justice would be accessible to all.