My Jud@ism – The Egyptians are My children, too.
Passover is my favorite of the Jewish Holidays.
Christians might know it better as Good Friday – if you’re wondering why Good Friday and Easter move around on you guys every year, it’s because your holiday is directly connected to ours. If the last supper happened, it happened during a Passover Seder, which is a celebration of freedom from slavery in Egypt and a remembrance of everything that led up to that point.
In short: Joseph’s brothers followed Joe down to Egypt during a seven-year famine (as seen in Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat), but Egypt had been conquered at that point by a group of pirates called the Hyskos. The Hyskos were driven out of Egypt and the Hebrews, who had been associated with the Hyskos, were enslaved by the bitter Egyptians and some terrible things were done until God came and saved us from them (as seen in the Ten Commandments and Prince of Egypt, and very much not seen in Exodus: Gods and Kings).
A seder is a set series of things that Jews do to celebrate this collection of miracles, all done in a certain order. The word seder means order, and it’s a reminder that we’ve been doing this very same thing for something like four thousand years wherever the diaspora has taken us. It’s cool to have that sort of lineage, to know that something we do today stretches back that far and connects us with our ancestors, and to celebrate the concept of freedom and the responsibility that comes with it.
But there was always one part of the seder in particular that stuck with me, and that’s what I wanted to talk about today.
In Exodus, when the Hebrews are finally freed and have crossed the Red Sea, God lets the water loose and the Egyptians who are chasing them drown. The Hebrews begin to sing about God being a god of war in a vicious little ditty called The Song of the Sea that is very much the sort of thing that militaristic people enjoy so much.
There’s an amazing contrast, though, in Talmud – the angels also begin to sing their praises and God turns to them, weeping, and says “How dare you sing for joy when my children are dying? The Egyptians are my children, too.”
The Egyptians are my children, too.
It’s a concept that a younger me wrestled with; the idea that the Egyptians worshiped other gods and had done terrible things but were still worthy of being mourned, and mourned by the highest possible authority. The idea that life – all life – was important and mattered on a personal level. It humanized those faceless pursuers, the slavers, and reminded us that they were human and living and mattered, that they were people possessed of loves and hopes and fears that were merely doing what their society demanded of them.
They were still in the wrong, of course – slavery is wrong (and there’s a bit about slavery in Leviticus that we’ll come back to later), and the casual way the Egyptians inflicted death on the Hebrews and themselves spoke about the flaws in their culture, and yet still God wept and mourned their loss.
In Judaism everyone goes to heaven, whether they’re Jewish or not. There’s a whole thing about it that you actively have to look for, because in Judaism it’s life and what you do with it that matters. Taking life – even the life of an enemy – is a tragedy and needs to be treated as such.
When someone dies their story is over. If they did bad they will never have the chance to make that right, or to grow and understand why they might have been wrong. Society and culture and want might make killing necessary through war or whatever, but that doesn’t mean that the death of an enemy is a thing to be celebrated. We are all God’s children, we are all going to heaven, but we do have to take responsibility for the things we do while alive. We are accountable not only to God, but to ourselves and to one another.
Later on in Exodus, Moses will be given the Ten Commandments, and the very first of those laws further drives this point home. I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt have no other gods before me.
The idea here is that God is God, that all things are of God, that whatever deities we may choose to worship are still aspects of that single divinity, as we ourselves are. Recognize the truth of that and understand that we are all holy, every single one of us.
Every life matters in Judaism and the quality of those lives is important. We all matter, Jew or not, and respecting our freedom from slavery while treating one another with kindness, love, and dignity as default should be what we all aspire to.
Happy Passover, everyone.
Let’s go and help everyone be the best people they can be, and remember that even those who set themselves as our enemies are worthy of our love and our tears, even as the worst of them are curtailed for the good of all.
Every life lost is worth mourning.