By Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger
While Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” – partially based on the teachings of Moses, Judge Gideon and Prophet Samuel – cemented the 1776 American Revolution against the British crown, the Passover legacy cemented the Jewish Revolution (against the Egyptian crown), Jewish nationhood and the Jewish state. The Passover legacy contributed to the foundation of the culture, justice and liberty of the USA, and the special attitude by the American people towards the Jewish state.
According to the late Israeli philosopher/historian, Israel Eldad, the super-natural Passover legacy has accompanied the Jewish people for the last 3,400 years, since the transformation – against seemingly insurmountable odds - from slavery to deliverance and sovereignty via a series of super-natural events: the Ten Plagues, and especially the 10th Plague, which killed every Egyptian first-born, but passed-over (Passover) the Jewish first-born; the deliverance/Exodus from slavery in Egypt, a super-power; the parting and crossing of the sea; the reception of the Ten Commandments; rebounding from the crises of the Golden Calf and the Ten Spies; defiance of the 40-year military, social, economic, external and internal odds in the desert; and, finally settling the Land of Israel.
According to “realistic” assessments, Judaism and the Jewish people were expected to be extinct/fossils by 2016, but instead they have risen to new heights, contributing immensely to the well-being of humanity, while some of their formidable enemies have suffered major setback and some have become extinct/fossils.
The sea of history has parted many times since the Biblical Exodus, featuring the Jewish people marching on relatively dry grounds (although soaked with much Jewish blood) to the Promised Land - in defiance of destruction, exile, expulsion, auto-da-fe’ (execution by burning), the Holocaust, pogroms, violent anti-Semitism, conventional warfare and terrorism – while their enemies drowned.
For instance, in 1897, Theodor Herzl “crossed the sea” with very few true believers - chased by the chariots of skepticism, shaming, hostility and austerity – and convened the First Zionist Congress that led to the eventual reconstruction of the Jewish Commonwealth. In 1947-49, David Ben Gurion, Israel’s Founding Father, “crossed the sea” with only 600,000 fellow Jews – chased by the chariots of a hostile British Empire, a US military embargo, invading Arab military forces and Arab terrorism from within - and re-established the Jewish State. In 1967, Prime Minister Eshkol “crossed the sea” – chased by the chariots of Western threats, a Soviet military alliance with the Arabs, UN hostility and the ready-to-invade Joint Arab Military Command – reunited Jerusalem and reclaimed Jewish control of Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights. In 1981, Prime Minister Begin “crossed the sea” – chased by the chariots of brutal US and global pressure and overwhelming domestic opposition – destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor, and spared the US a nuclear war in 1991.
The ancient Jewish sage, Rabban Gamliel, who realized the permanent relevance of the Passover legacy to Jewish challenges, instructed: “each generation must consider itself as if it was liberated from Egypt.”
In fact, the Biblical liberation from Egypt inspired the 17th century early Pilgrims of the Mayflower (1620) and Arbella (1630), who considered themselves the people of the “modern day Exodus,” departing from “modern day Egypt,” crossing the “modern day Red Sea” and heading towards the “modern day Promised Land.” Hence, the abundance of sites in the US, bearing Biblical names (e.g., 18 Jerusalem). The Exodus also shaped the worldview of the 18th century Founding Fathers, who viewed themselves as the people of the “modern day Covenant,” and has impacted the American ethos until today.
For example, Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” referred to King George as “the hardened, sullen-tempered Pharaoh of England.” The second and third US presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and the relatively-secular Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin, proposed the Parting of the Sea as the official US seal. The proposal was tabled, but the chosen seal features thirteen stars (colonies) in the shape of a Star of David. Ezra Stiles, the President of Yale University – which features on its shield “Urim and Thummim,” the power of the High Priest during the Exodus - stated on May 8, 1873: “Moses, the man of God, assembled three million people – the number of people in America in 1776.” “Go down Moses” and “Let my people go” became the pillar of fire for the Abolitionist Movement. Harriet Beecher Stow, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was motivated by the Passover legacy, in general, and the laws of Moses, which condemn slavery, in particular.
Harriet Tubman, who risked her life smuggling slaves to Free States and Canada, was known as “Mama Moses.” Her biography is titled “The Moses of Her People.” Tubman followed in the footsteps of Biblical Shifrah and Pou’ah, two Jewish midwives, who risked their lives, hiding the newly-born male Jewish babies, in violation of Pharaoh’s command (Numbers 1:15-19). Women played a central role in the legacy of Passover, highlighting Yocheved, Moses’ mother, who hid Moses and then breastfed him at Pharaoh’s palace, posing as a nursemaid; Miriam, Moses’ sister, who was her younger brother’s keeper; Princess Batyah, the daughter of Pharaoh, who saved, adopted and raised Moses (Numbers 2:1-10); and Tziporah, Moses’ wife, who saved his life and set him back on the Jewish course (Numbers, 4:24-27).
On December 11, 1964, upon accepting the Nobel Prize, Martin Luther King, Jr., who was referred to as the Moses of his age, said: “The Bible tells the thrilling story of how Moses stood in Pharaoh’s court centuries ago and cried, ‘Let my people go!’”
In 2016, the bust of Moses faces the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, and the statue of Moses, holding the Tablets, towers above the US Supreme Court Justices.
The deeply-rooted linkage between Passover, the US and Israel is accurately described by King Solomon’s momentous lesson (Ecclesiastes, 4:12): “A triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”