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The Passover Lesson That Can Save us All





The central tenet of the Jewish holiday, Passover, is the celebration of God’s deliverance of the Jews from slavery. But that deliverance came because the Jews were warned to paint their doors with the blood of a sacrificial lamb so that God’s wrath would spare the Jews of the slaughter of their first-born sons. That was the final plague Moses proclaimed against the Egyptians. The pharaoh’s refusal to free the Jews when faced with this tenth, terrible plague forced God’s hand. But the Jews had to act on God’s instruction, on faith that their sons would be spared. Yet, again, fleeing the attack by Egyptian soldiers, they gathered at the edge of the sea, acting on the belief that they would somehow cross it. And God parted the sea, allowing the Jews to pass, then folded the sea back, drowning the pursuing soldiers.

A very dramatic story, one braced against the grim history of the holocaust. But what is the lesson here? First is the recognition that the entire Passover legend is based on no traceable truths. There is no evidence that Jews were enslaved in Egypt, that almost a million escaped and journeyed through Sinai eventually to found Israel. Passover marks not only divine interventions but also the willing faith of the Jews and their daring decision to follow divine instruction and act accordingly.


“The denial of susceptibility rages even as proof of the contagion mushrooms exponentially.”


Deliverance from slavery resonates with the experience of pestilence. It is fitting that that deliverance was wrought by ten plagues. But slavery was the greater plague.  Hitler viewed the Jews as a global pestilence to be eradicated. The very idea of pestilence has pursued Jews at least from the time of the diaspora, after the sack of the temple and the genocide inflicted by the Romans in 60 AD. Almost everywhere in Europe where plagues occurred, and they occurred regularly, Jews were often blamed and punished. These reprisals, though obviously racist, represented attempts to secure deliverance from pestilence.

Today the coronavirus has arrived as a massive plague that spreads because of the core of human civilization—the instinctive trend toward socialization. We can now remove most traces of mythologization. COVID-19, like most viruses, exists in the natural order that ties them to the great evolutionary chain which all living things partake in.

Deliverance from this pestilence requires action faithful to belief in the scientific theory of contagion. Like the enslaved Jews of ancient Egypt, apocryphal as that story may be, people today must act on the recommendations offered by science.

Yet the tendency to assert blame on others, invoking racial and xenophobic slurs, has once again emerged. The denial of susceptibility rages even as proof of the contagion mushrooms exponentially. The allocation and the hoarding of medical resources recapitulate ideas of special privileging. Our democratic society is back-sliding, falling prey to eons-old fears framing one against the other.

The major preventative, physical isolation, also creates social isolation. But this preventive measure feels like an ancient enslavement, an imprisonment. But it is an act we must follow, as the Passover story reminds us, in order to find deliverance. And we must do it generously and faithfully.

We will prevail. Only save ourselves from the worst.



6 comments on The Passover Lesson That Can Save us All

  1. Tristan says:

    The ideological constructs created by an ENSLAVING civilization, and the mentality that a priori assigns “blame” to a pestilence may come from the same place. Blame for pestilence — or economic problems – comes from pre-existing racial/ethnic chauvinism, common to all human societies from day 1.
    As you write, Jews have for centuries been blamed for pestilence. And, since the 19th century, for pestilence and in US and the West at large, economic hardships.
    But it’s that same type of chauvinism that was actively encouraged by Europeans when they spread to the Americas and enslaved or slaughtered – first native peoples, then transported Africans.
    This ingrained mentality is a separate problem from the natural inclination to rebel against Social Isolation. One would think that getting a large, diverse, contemporary population to practice Social Isolation would be the easier lift. One problem is that issues stemming from the chauvinistic interpretation of pestilence is more abstract and diffuse. A slow-release, if pervasive, corrupting influence. It may be arguable that one might trace our modern society’s unpreparedness to deal with Covid back to the human inclination to chauvinism. But, that would be a theoretical, and lengthy argument.
    Getting back to the results of a society failing to practice proper social isolation – It’s immediate. People get sick. A small number actually perish. Luckily, whether we suffer greatly or not, the pestilence situation is self limiting.
    Chauvinism, especially ethnic or “tribal” based, has it’s matrix somewhere deep in mankind’s ancient brain. Even if we could somehow actually physically locate that matrix, ridding ourselves of it would be that heavier lift.

    1. Murray Schane says:

      Well put.

  2. David M fromm,Ph.D.,LP says:

    We must follow the recommendations of science. While this social isolation seems to be the most wise and helpful recommendation, it is difficult, but necessary. WE MUST ALL TRY OUR BEST.

    1. Murray Schane says:


  3. Hal Kane says:

    I have a less sanguine view, one that suggests wer’e monkeys in clothes, terrified of things that go bump in the night. Occasionally we as a species produce men and women who brilliantly define the physical and/or social basis of our existence. But just as rapidly we plunge back into what Hitler promised the Jews, nacht und nebel, night and fog. Covid-19 is disrupting everything from business models to interpersonal relationships. The upside is that Nature may be giving us one more chance to get it right, yet in the corner I hear climate change coughing…

    1. Murray Schane says:

      My view too, optimism charged with a dose of pessimism.

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