Every Passover Jews the world over gather around tables laden with symbolic culinary oddities — including matzah, a roasted lamb shank and raw horseradish — to retell an epic tale of slavery and liberation. This thousands-year-old story features a fierce deity (the Israelites’ one-and-only monotheistic God); a flawed but loyal hero (Moses); a cruel ruler/slaveowner (the Egyptian Pharaoh) and a large cast of supporting players (the Israelites).
We use a Haggadah (a hybrid prayer/story/song book) to hit all the essential historic notes. The Haggadah summarizes how God recruited Moses to liberate his people via a burning bush; smote 10 plagues upon the Egyptians when Pharaoh refused to free the Israelites; and parted the Red Sea, enabling the Israelites to escape the Egyptian army.
Loose-constructionist Jews, my family included, like to veer off script to keep the story relevant and real. This year, making the Exodus tale current won’t be a big stretch. As we shelter in place, enslaved by an invisible viral enemy, we can relate to the Israelites’ plight on a whole new level.
The fact that the COVID-19 pandemic coincides with Passover has transformed me from an Old Testament skeptic into a believer primed to embrace my people’s prophetic heritage.
Consider the Exodus story’s parallels to the present:
1) The stubborn, thin-skinned, greedy and petulant Egyptian Pharaoh shares many personality traits with our own malignant narcissist-in-chief President Trump;
2) Presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden bears striking similarities to Moses, the Israelites’ leader. Moses suffered from a speech defect that made him reluctant to be God’s messenger. He signed on only after his older brother Aaron and God promised to help him.
Biden stutters and stumbles, speaking in fits and starts. I believe he also felt a call of duty to reenter public life to defeat a wicked leader and liberate us from evil. (Although God probably didn’t address Biden through a burning bush, he may have called him on his mobile.)
Aaron, the brotherly gifted orator, brings President Obama to mind. I feel certain Obama vowed to help his former vice president get elected before Biden jumped into the Presidential race.
And one final point of comparison: Moses and the Israelites wandered in the Sahara Desert 40 years before reaching the Promised Land. Likewise, Biden and his loyalists slogged through Democratic politics for 40 years before ascending to presidential nominee status.
I’m holding fast to the Moses/Biden analogy — it gives me hope Biden will be elected and lead us closer to the Promised Land.
3) The most disturbing comparison of all — COVID-19 as the 11th plague. Pharaoh relied on the Israelites’ cheap labor to build the pyramids — monuments to his ego, similar to Trump’s towers built by low-wage workers. Pharaoh wasn’t about to let Moses’s people go without a struggle. His arrogant greed forced God to play his plague cards.
Thus, the following parade of 10 horribles rained down on the Egyptians: blood on the water, loathsome frogs, body lice, wild beasts roaming free, cattle disease, skin boils, hail, locusts, blinding darkness and the devastating slaying of first-born children. These terrifying events caused immeasurable physical suffering and economic devastation, just as COVID-19 wreaks death, economic havoc and misery around the globe. I believe the COVID-19 plague means God and Mother Earth have combined forces to telegraph an urgent message. We must abandon our greed and avarice, and definitely stop sailing around in gluttony-inducing cruise ships.
4) The Haggadah instructs us to wash our hands twice between courses of the Passover meal. Need I say more?
5) During the meal, we are supposed to drink four cups of kosher wine (or overly sweet grape juice for the teetotalers and children present). This year, I’m strongly suggesting a three-glass maximum. Imbibing a fourth glass runs the risk of becoming sloppy drunk to the point of abandoning social-distancing practices and forgetting to disinfect the table, plates, cutlery and matzah boxes post-Seder.
We can hold off on the fourth cup until this novel coronavirus starts melting away. Then we’ll be able to celebrate with abandon and toss back that fourth glass.
Until then, I wish people around the globe of all religious stripes, a healthy, sane and safe Passover/Easter/Spring season. This 11th plague will soon pass, making way for global healing and renewal. That’s my Old Testament prophecy and I’m sticking to it.