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Subject: Pesach: The story behind the holiday rss

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Moshe Callen
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This shabbat (from Friday evening) begins Pesach, "Passover". I see three things worth talking about: the practical realities of preparing for and observing the holiday, the story of the holiday, and how we understand it and think about it today. I'm have in mind to make thread distinct threads but maybe won't. In any case, this is about the story behind the holiday.

First, to all who keep it: Chag Pesach, kasher v'semeach!

This is how I understand and make sense of the story of the holiday.
First, let's take it for granted and temporarily ignore the historicity.

Then, the Egyptians forcibly enslaved my people, my forefathers. They treated my people brutally, essentially trying to work them to death. (It was on the cities later called Ramses and Pitom, not the pyramids, incidentally.) Male children were murdered systematically. There are partial and wholly superficial analogies to the Shoa and to the experience of black people in America but like most historical analogies they do not stand up to much scrutiny. Be that as it may, slavery of Jews was so terrible that in principle all Egyptians involved-- which was essentially all of them-- were guilty of crimes against humanity and as such subject to a death penalty.

Over a period of roughly two years, approximately every couple of months, a natural disaster hit Egypt. Each time it got worse. What people typically render as "G-d hardened Pharoah's heart" really means something totally different. The heart is in the language of Torah the seat of reason, and harden is better rendered strengthen. Thus G-d strengthened Pharaoh rational mind so that he could choose without being overwhelmed by emotion. For Pharaoh's POV, everything that happened was simply a natural disaster. He thought Moshe Rebeinu, my namesake, essentially a conman who somehow knew these natural events were occurring and was trying to take advantage of them. One knows they are natural disasters because the Torah says G-d Himself did them. G-d's interaction with the world is through the act of Creation which is a single act throughout all spacetime. So, the Plagues, as well as the splitting of the sea, were improbable but entirely natural events intrinsic to the Creation of the world-- not violations of natural law or "miracles" in the usual sense.

The killing of the so-called Firstborn, a literal but by context inaccurate rendering of the word "b'chorim", was the last of the natural disasters to hit Egypt. A bachur is idiomatically the most auspicious, beloved, or revered person in a household but is not head of the household. Roughly it's the person whose death would most upset the family.

In every Egyptian family-- without exception-- those who did not mark their inner doorposts with the lamb's blood from the first qorban Pesach (Passover offering) the person whose loss would be most painful to the family died mysteriously of an illness that struck all at once. This was not a death of babies; infant mortality was too common and accepted. Thus while the event was improbable but entirely natural, in practice it came across as at least effectively supernatural-- due to its improbability.

In reaction, the Egyptians en masse demanded that the Jews just leave. They tried to force my people out immediately but my people refused to go like thieves in the night and in the end left about midday. Egyptians who had put blood on their doorways were forced to go as well. They became part of the Jewish people forever after.

Pharaoh never liked the idea of letting my people go and so convinced the army at least to try to force Jews back into slavery. When he saw my people at the Sea of Reeds (not the Red Sea) walking across via exposed dry dry, Pharaoh by sheer force of personality convinced the army to follow. That's why he was at the back; he was compelling them forward. As the waters fell back on them, again a natural event if improbable, Pharaoh alone was able to make it back to the shore without drowning. Looking back across the narrow inlet of the sea, my people saw the Egyptians dead on the shore. This happened on the seventh day from going out of Egypt (thus the sixth day after).

Many will say that this makes G-d sound horrible. I understand that POV but I disagree. G-d made the world. No matter how the world is made, the worst possibilities the inhabitants of that world can conceive will be deemed evil-- and in a real sense they will be evil. Yet no potential of good is possible without the same potential for bad. A world without evil is a logical impossibility. The killing of the Egyptians was merited by their deeds but G-d did not kill all those who had participated in crimes against humanity worthy of death.

FWIW we remember each year with sadness the deaths of not only our own people but of the Egyptians, the cost in blood of our people's freedom.
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Slaves
Hebrews born to serve, to the pharaoh
Heed
To his every word, live in fear
Faith
Of the unknown one, the deliverer
Wait
Something must be done, four hundred years

So let it be written
So let it be done
I'm sent here by the chosen one
So let it be written
So let it be done
To kill the first born pharaoh son
I'm creeping death

Now
Let my people go, land of goshen
Go
I will be with thee, bush of fire
Blood
Running red and strong, down the Nile
Plague
Darkness three days long, hail to fire

So let it be written
So let it be done
I'm sent here by the chosen one
So let it be written
So let it be done
To kill the first born pharaoh son
I'm creeping death

Die by my hand
I creep across the land
Killing first born man
Die by my hand
I creep across the land
Killing first born man

I
Rule the midnight air the destroyer
Born
I shall soon be there, deadly mass
I
Creep the steps and flood final darkness
Blood
Lambs blood painted door, I shall pass

So let it be written
So let it be done
I'm sent here by the chosen one
So let it be written
So let it be done
To kill the first born pharaoh son
I'm creeping death
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Curious. If, for the moment, we are temporarily ignoring the ahistorical nature of the depicted events, why are we then simultaneously trying to fit the depicted events into a post-scientific worldview?

If we agree the events are ahistorical and didn't actually happen, then we don't need to try to make a case that the 'improbable but never actually occurring events' are natural or supernatural, right? Otherwise it seems we are purposely diluting the metaphorical value of the story by trying to fit it into a worldview that wasn't shared by those writing the story, no? Then again, perhaps we are not agreeing on the ahistorical nature of the events, in which case apologies for the aside given that you had asked we all ignore the historicity for the moment.

Now, all that said, I really appreciated the insights on the meaning of "b'chorim." I had not heard that before.
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aeroguru1978 wrote:
Curious. If, for the moment, we are temporarily ignoring the ahistorical nature of the depicted events, why are we then simultaneously trying to fit the depicted events into a post-scientific worldview?

If we agree the events are ahistorical and didn't actually happen,…

We don't. That's just not the topic under discussion.
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whac3 wrote:
aeroguru1978 wrote:
Curious. If, for the moment, we are temporarily ignoring the ahistorical nature of the depicted events, why are we then simultaneously trying to fit the depicted events into a post-scientific worldview?

If we agree the events are ahistorical and didn't actually happen,…

We don't. That's just not the topic under discussion.

To be clear: I'm not a literalist but I think there is a historical basis. The key points typically for dismissing it entirely are assuming it happened in the time of Ramses II and taking the numbers literally. Ramses was the name of the city in the time the account was written down, not when the events took place. Numbers like ten thousand are virtually never to be taken literally in ancient writings.
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whac3 wrote:
aeroguru1978 wrote:
Curious. If, for the moment, we are temporarily ignoring the ahistorical nature of the depicted events, why are we then simultaneously trying to fit the depicted events into a post-scientific worldview?

If we agree the events are ahistorical and didn't actually happen,…

We don't. That's just not the topic under discussion.


aeroguru1978 wrote:
Then again, perhaps we are not agreeing on the ahistorical nature of the events, in which case apologies for the aside given that you had asked we all ignore the historicity for the moment.
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aeroguru1978 wrote:
whac3 wrote:
aeroguru1978 wrote:
Curious. If, for the moment, we are temporarily ignoring the ahistorical nature of the depicted events, why are we then simultaneously trying to fit the depicted events into a post-scientific worldview?

If we agree the events are ahistorical and didn't actually happen,…

We don't. That's just not the topic under discussion.


aeroguru1978 wrote:
Then again, perhaps we are not agreeing on the ahistorical nature of the events, in which case apologies for the aside given that you had asked we all ignore the historicity for the moment.

Perhaps I misunderstood the intent of your comment.
 
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whac3 wrote:
Many will say that this makes G-d sound horrible. I understand that POV but I disagree. G-d made the world. No matter how the world is made, the worst possibilities the inhabitants of that world can conceive will be deemed evil-- and in a real sense they will be evil. Yet no potential of good is possible without the same potential for bad. A world without evil is a logical impossibility.

Wikipedia: "In modern articulations of traditional Judaism, God has been speculated to be the eternal, omnipotent and omniscient creator of the universe, and the source of morality."

It’s always mystified me why God never made perfect people. Literally in His image. I’m supposing God never chooses evil, so why should we? Why would we? It should be as beyond our desire as I expect it is beyond His.

Omnipotence and omniscience mean something to me. It means God could have had the world and the people he wanted.
 
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MaxSewell wrote:

Wikipedia: "In modern articulations of traditional Judaism, God has been speculated to be the eternal, omnipotent and omniscient creator of the universe, and the source of morality."

Damn but those people are reading Judaism through a Christian lens. We don't say G-d is omni-anything. We just also don't say He isn't.
Quote:


It’s always mystified me why God never made perfect people.
What would perfect even mean?
Quote:
Literally in His image.

You can't be literally in the image of something without any physical form. It means being similar to G-d-- a creative being with the capacity to comprehend good and evil as well as self-aware and able to contemplate time.
Quote:
I’m supposing God never chooses evil,

What does this mean? G-d's interaction with the world is through the single act of Creation. No, that act was not evil.
Quote:
so why should we? Why would we? It should be as beyond our desire as I expect it is beyond His.

Omnipotence and omniscience mean something to me. It means God could have had the world and the people he wanted.

The world still has to be something that logically makes sense according to some species of logic.
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whac3 wrote:
Damn but those people are reading Judaism through a Christian lens. We don't say G-d is omni-anything. We just also don't say He isn't.

So God maybe isn't omnipotent. God maybe isn't omniscient. Or he is. If He isn't, then the structure of my argument falls apart. A God who is not O&O can’t intentionally achieve perfection in his creation.

whac3 wrote:
You can't be literally in the image of something without any physical form. It means being similar to G-d-- a creative being with the capacity to comprehend good and evil as well as self-aware and able to contemplate time.

It seems I was arguing my point using Christian terminology. Sorry. But the point was we would be similar to Him in ways you describe, but most particularly or not least in morality.

whac3 wrote:

Quote:
I’m supposing God never chooses evil,

What does this mean? G-d's interaction with the world is through the single act of Creation. No, that act was not evil.

I don't know what "interaction with the world is through the single act of Creation” means. Is it a limitation?

And again, if God were O&O, the act would bear more consistent, even persistent goodness, and a dearth of evil —Unless of course, God’s morality isn't interpreted through that lens.

whac3 wrote:
Quote:
Omnipotence and omniscience mean something to me. It means God could have had the world and the people he wanted.

The world still has to be something that logically makes sense according to some species of logic.

If God is O&O, I’d argue that the logic seems obvious to me. An O&O being can do what he wants and achieve perfection. An O&O God lives His existence in perfection. I would suppose He would want us to share in that, and I’m not really sure why that wouldn't be a goal of his creation.

If He’s not O&O, well...
 
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MaxSewell wrote:
...

Look, I'm not a rav and honestly many are more educated about such fine points than myself but I had a rav proverbially pound into me that G-d is not omnipotent and omniscient because these would really be constraints on G-d and G-d, called the 'Ain Sof, has no such constraints. By saying G-d is All Powerful and All Knowing one is actually limiting G-d, not the reverse.
 
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MaxSewell wrote:
It’s always mystified me why God never made perfect people. Literally in His image. I’m supposing God never chooses evil, so why should we? Why would we? It should be as beyond our desire as I expect it is beyond His.
Omnipotence and omniscience mean something to me. It means God could have had the world and the people he wanted.

I've heard these questions dozens of times, asked them myself, and never got a satisfactory answer. But life experience has taught me a few things, so...

From a philosophical perspective, perfect/evil/good are all relative terms, relative to the person asking them. How would you define perfect or evil or good? Your view will be different from others, especially those raised in a culture vastly different from yours. Doesn't make your definition wrong or right, it just is your definition.

So if there are variable definitions of perfect/evil/good, is it possible that Jehovah or Allah or Buddha or G_d has different definitions? If you look at the totality of physical existence, there is a humming symmetry to how things work, from stars being born, existing, and dying out to how tsetse flies scramble like mad to eat, breed, eat, breed and then die in a span of 24 hours. And we know the scientific basis of existence, how radiation from Sol affects and mutates the flora and fauna of planet Earth.

The Christian Bible stresses the "gift of free will" (which to me is intelligence and emotional depth) to humans. Take humans out of the Earth's biosphere, and things would work pretty well until the next meteorite smacks it around.

To me, the Universe is perfect, works just like it is supposed to. It's us that's fucked up, and it's mostly our fault.
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I came back top the thread to try to expand on or clarify what I said above. From a Jewish perspective (one of many but the one which makes the most sense to me and seems most consistent with our traditions) it's as if the world and everything in it is a coherent story like a novel and G-d is the author working it all out in His mind. We are nothing more nor less than characters G-d is imagining. Is an author omniscient or omnipotent when it comes to the world he or she is creating in his or her mind? Are they good or evil if good or bad things happen to the characters?

G-d Creates the universe including past, present, and future in a single act, an act I'm comparing to thinking up a story. He knows what will happen because He's thought it up in His mind. Yet He can also always change His mind to make a better story. Sometimes that involves changes not just is what we term the present or future but even in the past. To G-d, it's really no different.

Besides taking the above questions at face value, what does perfect mean? Perfect for what and in what context? Perfect according to whom?
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whac3 wrote:
MaxSewell wrote:
...

Look, I'm not a rav and honestly many are more educated about such fine points than myself but I had a rav proverbially pound into me that G-d is not omnipotent and omniscient because these would really be constraints on G-d and G-d, called the 'Ain Sof, has no such constraints. By saying G-d is All Powerful and All Knowing one is actually limiting G-d, not the reverse.


The question I would have for your teacher would be this:

If God is an entity beyond our ability to define, would that necessarily preclude His being able to create entities that are also beyond our ability to define, e.g., “us” in this universe, “us” outside this universe, or “us” in whatever form or lack of form God might take. What is the value in inferiority?
 
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remorseless1 wrote:
I've heard these questions dozens of times, asked them myself, and never got a satisfactory answer. But life experience has taught me a few things, so...

From a philosophical perspective, perfect/evil/good are all relative terms, relative to the person asking them. How would you define perfect or evil or good? Your view will be different from others, especially those raised in a culture vastly different from yours. Doesn't make your definition wrong or right, it just is your definition.

So if there are variable definitions of perfect/evil/good, is it possible that Jehovah or Allah or Buddha or G_d has different definitions?


I use the terms “perfect" and "morality” here only as terms defined by the Abrahamic God, or as terms that we have come to understand as those of the Abrahamic God. Clearly there are instances in the Old Testament that describe God’s disappointment in humanity's choices, and his need to punish or correct us for our choices. “Perfect” would be the most “ideal” form God might fashion for us to take, which, it would seem to me, to be a form that would not need any oversight or correction.

 
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MaxSewell wrote:
remorseless1 wrote:
I've heard these questions dozens of times, asked them myself, and never got a satisfactory answer. But life experience has taught me a few things, so...

From a philosophical perspective, perfect/evil/good are all relative terms, relative to the person asking them. How would you define perfect or evil or good? Your view will be different from others, especially those raised in a culture vastly different from yours. Doesn't make your definition wrong or right, it just is your definition.

So if there are variable definitions of perfect/evil/good, is it possible that Jehovah or Allah or Buddha or G_d has different definitions?


I use the terms “perfect" and "morality” here only as terms defined by the Abrahamic God, or as terms that we have come to understand as those of the Abrahamic God. Clearly there are instances in the Old Testament that describe God’s disappointment in humanity's choices, and his need to punish or correct us for our choices. “Perfect” would be the most “ideal” form God might fashion for us to take, which, it would seem to me, to be a form that would not need any oversight or correction.


You mean the Christian G-d, not the Abrahamic G-d. It's just not the same.
 
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MaxSewell wrote:
whac3 wrote:
MaxSewell wrote:
...

Look, I'm not a rav and honestly many are more educated about such fine points than myself but I had a rav proverbially pound into me that G-d is not omnipotent and omniscient because these would really be constraints on G-d and G-d, called the 'Ain Sof, has no such constraints. By saying G-d is All Powerful and All Knowing one is actually limiting G-d, not the reverse.


The question I would have for your teacher would be this:

If God is an entity beyond our ability to define, would that necessarily preclude His being able to create entities that are also beyond our ability to define, e.g., “us” in this universe, “us” outside this universe, or “us” in whatever form or lack of form God might take. What is the value in inferiority?

Again you're trying to define and limit G-d. We perceive G-d through the world. The analogy I used in one of these threads is that He is the author and we are part of the story He is imagining.
 
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whac3 wrote:
You mean the Christian G-d, not the Abrahamic G-d. It's just not the same.


I’ll admit my shortcomings about Judaism. But isn't the story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion also a Judaic story? Babylon? Noah and the Ark? How about your own description of Passover above? It seems to me the Judaic God might have made creations that did not need to be coerced into releasing the Jews. Indeed have made creations that had no interest in even holding the Jews. That coercion is supervision and correction in my eyes.
 
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whac3 wrote:
Again you're trying to define and limit G-d. We perceive G-d through the world. The analogy I used in one of these threads is that He is the author and we are part of the story He is imagining.

"Author" sounds just as limiting to these ears as any term I might use. Since neither of us seems to fully understand your Rav's lessons as fully as he does, I'm not sure where we can go with this. I'd like to read further, but haven't had any luck with my search terms.


 
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One of the problems with this conversation is I've bee discussing in this forum for years how Jews and Christians often say superficially similar things but mean very different things by them. Our understanding of the Torah has remarkably little to do with a Christian understanding but you have to delve into it to see that.

Where do you want to start this time?
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whac3 wrote:
One of the problems with this conversation is I've bee discussing in this forum for years how Jews and Christians often say superficially similar things but mean very different things by them. Our understanding of the Torah has remarkably little to do with a Christian understanding but you have to delve into it to see that.

Where do you want to start this time?


I’ve really only made one point, which I don't think needs repeating.
 
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whac3 wrote:
MaxSewell wrote:
...

Look, I'm not a rav and honestly many are more educated about such fine points than myself but I had a rav proverbially pound into me that G-d is not omnipotent and omniscient because these would really be constraints on G-d and G-d, called the 'Ain Sof, has no such constraints. By saying G-d is All Powerful and All Knowing one is actually limiting G-d, not the reverse.


Sounds like Buddhism/Taoism.

It's a set of statements meant to express that the power of the divine is beyond our ability to express.

"The God that you can talk about isn't God" is a Westernized equivalent.

Or with how I learned it in school, an Absolute is ineffable.
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How is a being that exists outside time constrained to a single act?

To say that another way, what's the functional difference between creating the universe with perfect foreknowledge of all future events in a blink, or creating each event in a series, when in both instances the absolute isn't constrained by spacetime?
 
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Terwox wrote:
How is a being that exists outside time constrained to a single act?

To say that another way, what's the functional difference between creating the universe with perfect foreknowledge of all future events in a blink, or creating each event in a series, when in both instances the absolute isn't constrained by spacetime?

Nothing from our human point of view really.
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whac3 wrote:
Terwox wrote:
How is a being that exists outside time constrained to a single act?

To say that another way, what's the functional difference between creating the universe with perfect foreknowledge of all future events in a blink, or creating each event in a series, when in both instances the absolute isn't constrained by spacetime?

Nothing from our human point of view really.


Cool, I'm glad I understand to some degree.

Back when I believed, I remember the notion of understanding that God wasn't constrained by spacetime was particularly notable. It's one of those things most Christians interact with on some level:
a) God is ubiquitous/in all spaces at once,
b) time is relative to space
ergo
c) God is timeless/in all times at once/everywhen as well as everywhere

I'm not sure everyone stops to give it pause, of course, but I remember trying to work through that.
 
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