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Storytelling: Multiple OptionsA Philosopher at Home: David Hartman The Duty to Give MemoriesNot by Bread AloneHeroic Women andthe Baby MosesMoses Comes of AgeWho Will Be Today's MidwivesThe Shifra and Puah AwardChurchill's Favorite StoryThe Batya Parent AssociationReturning Moses to the HaggadahMoses' Identity Crisis

Storytelling: Multiple Options

“The more one expands and embellishes the story,
the more commendable it is”
The Haggadah recommends that parents now go beyond the text of the Haggadah and improvise dramatically in retelling the story of the Exodus. The traditional Haggadah does not include a script for the storyteller nor even bring the appropriate Biblical chapters.
      Some parents like to tell the story in their own words.
      Others ask the children to retell what they have learned in school under three major headings:
      1. What was it like to be a slave?
      2. What do you know about Moshe as a baby and as a young man?
      3. How did the Jews finally become free?
      (Before the seder ask the children to prepare drawings to illus-trate these themes and then to show and tell what they drew).
Many parents prefer to use a script. Try reading aloud one of the following selections (pages 48-55 in the Haggadah text).   top

A Philosopher at Home: David Hartman
OUR FAMILY labors a long time at our seder trying to grasp the first part of the Haggadah: “We were slaves in the land of Egypt.” I ask my children: What do you think it feels like to be a slave?
    ONCE I TOLD my four-year-old a story about a boy who did not see his Daddy for a year: “The boy had a birthday and Daddy couldn’t come. Then Daddy called and said, ‘I’m going to come home.’ The boy invited all his friends to come and see his Daddy, because he loved him. He said, ‘Abba is coming home’. He watched his Mommy cook kugel, his Daddy’s favorite. Just after his friends had come, Abba called to say, ‘The boss won’t let me come.’ The little boy said, ‘What do you mean, the boss won’t let you come? Tell him your son wants you home. Everybody wants you. We miss you!’”
    SUDDENLY I could not help it, I started crying and my son started crying about the kid in the story. I created this dialogue of the Abba trying to explain to his little son: “I can’t make my own decisions. The boss decides my movements for me.” We felt the loneliness of the little boy who wanted so much to see his father but who knew that his love is not enough to bring him home. That is what it means to be a slave. You can’t control your life.
    (That is the story I tell when my child is four. At twelve, I tell another story. At sixteen, still another. On Pesach night I am a multi-faceted storyteller because my autobiography encompasses so many dimensions)   top

The Duty to Give Memories
The Haggadah transforms parents into storytellers. It is a very serious task to tell stories. My parents bring me into contact with my historical roots, with my grandparents and a world other than me. Whether it is relevant, the child will decide; but the parent must witness to a history and a memory that is needed in order to realize that there is a dimension to existence beyond the self. People who learn to honor their parents escape narcissism and acquire a memory. The parents are the feeders of history.
    Parents should not determine their children’s future, but they must open for them their past.
    In many ways we are today human beings in search of a narrative who may find our personal story by reconnecting to our people’s great story of wandering and homecoming, of oppression and liberation, and of near annihilation and rescue. By returning to our origins and following the journey of our people we offer deeper resonance to our personal lives and develop a common language to share our fears and our dreams. In retelling the Exodus we learn to commemorate the moments of family and national crisis and to celebrate with profound gratitude our emergence into a better life.
(David Hartman, Jewish Philosopher, Jerusalem)   top

Not by Bread Alone
IN THE SPRING OF 1945 a father and his teenage son shared the harsh labor in the Nazi camp. The father suggested a pact between them to save part of what little bread they received. After several days of saving the father reported to his son sheepishly: “I am sorry but I have given away our whole store of bread to a new arrival.” “Why?” asked the son in desperation. The father explaned, “There are two reasons: First, he needed food even more than we and second, I exchanged the bread for a miniature haggadah.” Several days later using this haggadah, the father was able to raise people’s spirits by conducting a seder for many inmates. Even though matza was unavailable, the seder gave everyone a special kind of nourishment – hope.   top

Heroic Women and the Baby Moses
retold by Diana Craig (The Young Moses)
    In one small corner of Egypt, just where the great river Nile runs into the sea, there lived some people called Israelites. They had come from Israel to Egypt many years before to look for food.
    God had promised to look after the Israelites in their new home, and at first everyone was very happy. There was plenty to eat, and they grew strong and had lots of children. Soon their families filled the land.
    But then everything changed. The king of Egypt, who was called the Pharaoh, died, and a new Pharaoh became king. He hated the Jews.
    “There are so many of them,” he grumbled. “Just think what would happen if they turned against us. They might even take sides with our enemies. We must stop them!”
    So he thought of a plan. “We’ll make them our slaves,” he announced with an evil grin. “We’ll work them so hard they won’t even have time to think of fighting us...with a bit of luck they may even die of exhaustion!”
    So the Jews slaved from sunrise to sunset, making bricks and moving huge stones to build Egyptian cities. When they were not building cities, they had to dig the fields and plant all the wheat and barley.
    The Jews were exhausted, just as the Pharaoh had hoped. But they didn’t die. In fact, they didn’t even get ill. They stayed just as strong and healthy as ever. The Pharaoh’s wicked plan wasn’t working.
    So he had another idea. He told the nurses that they must kill all Israelite baby boys as soon as they were born. But the nurses knew that God would not approve if they did such a terrible thing, so they made up an excuse.
    “We’re so sorry, Your Majesty,” they lied, not daring to look the Pharaoh in the eye. “But the babies are born so quickly that we never get there in time.”
    “All right then,” replied the Pharaoh angrily. “They’ll just have to be thrown in the river instead!”
    All the Jewish mothers were terrified and tried to hide their babies. One mother hid her newborn boy in a corner of her house. If anyone heard him crying and wondered about the noise, she knew what to say.
    “It’s a sick sheep I’m looking after,” she would tell them. “Funny, isn’t it, how they sound just like babies when they’re ill?” No one suspected anything.
    But soon the baby grew too big to hide. “I know what I’ll do,” thought his mother. “I’ll make a little ark of reeds and float the baby on the river, near where the Pharaoh’s daughter comes to wash every morning, and she’s sure to find him. She has no children of her own, and she’s not nearly as cruel as that wicked king. Perhaps she’ll feel sorry for my baby and save him.”
    So the mother took a big basket and painted the outside with black, sticky stuff called pitch, to stop the water from getting in. Then she laid the baby inside and put the basket among the reeds near the river bank. She told her daughter, Miriam, to stay and see what happened.
    Sure enough, the princess came down to the water’s edge and stopped the basket. She sent one of her servants to fetch it, and she was amazed to see a little baby tucked up snugly inside.
“Whatever are you doing here?” she exclaimed, picking him up and giving him a cuddle. And then she guessed the truth. “You must be one of the Jewish babies, and your mother has hidden you here for safety. Well, I don’t care what my father says, I won’t throw you in the river.”   top

Moses Comes of Age
When the little boy was old enough, his mother took him back to the princess. “From now on, I shall be his mother,” the princess said, “and I’ll call him Moses, because I took him from the water.” So Moses was brought up like an Egyptian prince, and had everything he could wish for.
    But as the years went by, one thing began to bother Moses more and more. Although he lived with the Egyptians, he knew he wasn’t one of them. He knew he was really a Jew. He saw how cruel the Egyptians were to his people and it made him very angry. How could the Egyptians treat them so badly? They hadn’t done anything wrong. It just wasn’t fair.
    One day, when Moses had grown up, he decided to visit one of the building sites and see for himself what was going on. He caught sight of one of the Egyptian slave drivers beating a Hebrew slave. Moses completely lost his temper. He picked up a stone and smashed it on the slave driver’s head. The man fell to the ground, dead. Moses was horrified at what he had done. Quickly, he buried the body in the sand.
    “Don’t breathe a word of what’s happened, or the Pharaoh will have me killed!” he warned the slave. But the man just couldn’t help telling his brother, and his brother told his aunt, and his aunt told her friend...and soon everyone knew.
    The next day, Moses visited another building site, and saw a big, strong slave bullying a small, weak slave.
    “Stop that, you great bully!” shouted Moses.
    “Just you try and make me!” the slave answered back cheekily. “You can’t boss me about, or I’ll tell the Pharaoh how you killed one of his men!”
    Moses was terrified. His secret was out, and he knew that when the Pharaoh heard, that would be the end of him.
    So, that night, he packed a few clothes and some food and, with a last, longing look at his home, he crept away.   top

Who Will Be Today's Midwives?
ONE SUNDAY morning in 1941 in Nazi-occupied Netherlands, a mysterious character rode up on his bicycle and entered the Calvinist Church. He ascended the podium and read aloud the story of the midwives who saved the Hebrew babies and defied Pharaoh’s policy of genocide. “Who is today’s Pharaoh?” he asked. “Hitler”, the congregation replied. “Who are today’s Hebrew babies?” “The Jews.” “Who will be today’s midwives?” He left the church, leaving his question hanging in the air.
During the war (1941-1945) seven families from this little church hid Jews and other resisters from the Nazis.
(See the full story in the Leader’s Guide)   top

The Shifra and Puah Award
AL AXELROD, the Hillel rabbi at Brandeis University in the 1960’s, established this annual award for non-violent resistance to tyranny. He named it after the midwives who resisted and outsmarted Pharoah and saved the Hebrew infants from drowning. (In Tel Aviv the maternity hospital is located at the intersection of Shifra and Puah Street).
    To whom would you give this award this year?
(In 1849 Harriet Tubman deserved such an award. See page 99).   top

Churchill's Favorite Story
About the Exodus Churchill wrote: “the most decisive leap-forward ever discernable in the human story.”
(Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain, who led the Allies in World War II, the greatest war of liberation ever fought, sent this quote from his essay on Moses in a personal letter to Prime Minister David Ben Gurion).   top

The Batya Parent Association
THE NAME of the Biblical heroine, the daughter of Pharoah who adopts Moses, is not mentioned in the Bible.
    One rabbinic midrash calls her “Batya” which means “the daughter of God” and regards her as a convert to Judaism. Her adoption of Moses was motivated, they suggest, by her infertility. Appropriately the American association of adoptive Jewish parents with infertility problems is called “Batya.”   top

Returning Moses to the Haggadah
SOME HAVE ARGUED that Moses was deliberately excluded from the Haggadah to avoid deifying a human leader. Certainly the hero of the traditional Haggadah is and should be God. But it is likely that Moses was often mentioned in the rabbinic seder when parents told their children the story of the Exodus. We have introduced Moses explicitly into our Haggadah as recommended by Moses Maimonides: “It is a mitzvah to tell the children about the Exodus even if they did not ask ... If the children are mature and wise, tell them all that happened to us in Egypt and all the miracles God did for us by means of Moses...”
(Laws of Chametz and Matza 7:2).

Moses' Identity Crisis
WHAT KIND of spiritual transformation can come from an act of murder? What has ensued in the years between Moses’ being taken to live in Pharaoh’s palace and this act?
    Being free, Moses was not prey to the slave psychology. However, growing up as Pharaoh’s grandson thrust him into an equal danger - the ambivalence of dual identity. He was Hebrew and Egyptian. By birth he belongs to the oppressed, but he is nurtured as a member of the oppressing group. It is wishful thinking to assume that Moses was immune to the comforts and privileges of his station in life.
    There must have been times when Moses felt like a traitor to his people, especially as he relaxed on a hot day, a fine robe draping his body, servants offering him pomegranates, figs, and dates, while his people worked in the hot sun building pyramids. I wouldn’t doubt that sometimes Moses wept in silent helplessness as he tried to unravel the dilemma of appearing to be an Egyptian while knowing himself a Jew. He is a stranger in Egypt and a stranger to himself because he cannot live his true identity.
    Nothing is so vital to psychological well-being as identity. Through identity we know our place in the world. If that identity is seriously divided or defined by a society as negative, we are insecure in the world and insecure in ourselves. Moses was possibly the first person in history to have to ask, Who am I? Everyone else in the ancient world knew. They knew because society conferred identity on them. Moses had no alternative but to confer identity on himself.
    His first attempt to do so comes when he goes to face the suffering part of himself in the persons of his enslaved people. He looks on their burdens and weeps, saying “Woe is me for you! Would that I could die for you” (Midrash Rabbah). He feels their suffering as his own. It is a moment of intense compassion, charged with the emotion of a life-and-death conflict. Because true compassion compels one to act, he does. He kills an Egyptian.
    Psychologically he “kills” a hated part of himself. Moses projects his self-hatred outward onto one who most closely resembles that hated Egyptian part of himself. He wants to be a part of his people, and murdering an Egyptian was the way to come home. But this solution does not work adequately.
    I imagine him looking at what he has done. He feels no exultation, no sense of freedom or wholeness. Instead, he is engulfed by remorse, shame, and guilt. He is more of a stranger now than he could have ever imagined possible.
(Julius Lester, Civil Rights Activist, U.S.A.)   top