I approached Passover with minimal reflection this year, not the same kind of 'spring cleaning' of the mind I've done in past years. The last 7+ months have been consumed with reflection, and more importantly holidays are just hard -- this was supposed to be our first Pesach with Ezra, not without him. And so we scaled back, made plans to only attend one small seder with my family, where mercifully I was the youngest there.
I've talked before about the narcissism of grief, the way I seem to have no choice but to see everything through the lens of our loss these days. But I never before have focused on how much birth connected to death there is in the Passover story -- and so it caught me by surprise last night. First Pharoah enslaves the Jews and then orders that the Hebrew midwives kill all the boys who are born; fearing God they don't do it (and when Pharoah asks them why they say Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women: they are vigorous. Before the midwife can come to them, they have given birth). So Pharoah orders all the Egyptian people to help, and throw every first born Hebrew boy into the Nile. The Pharoah is evil personified -- imagine the Hebrews' grief at arbitrarily and cruelly losing every first born boy.
I don't have to imagine, I know.
Then there's Moses' mother, who after birthing her son saw how beautiful he was and hid him for three months (don't blame her!). So she creates a little boat for him out of a wicker basket and places him amongst the reeds of the Nile. Her sister waits and watches while the Pharoah's daughter comes down to the river and finds Moses; her sister offers to find a "Hebrew nurse" to be the child's wetnurse and thus Moses' mother is still able to be with her son.
When Moses grows up, God charges him and his brother Aaron with challenging Pharoah and persuading him to let the Hebrews go free. God tells Moses: Then you shall say to the Pharoah, 'Thus says the Lord: Israel is My first-born son. I have said to you, "let My son go, that he may worship Me," yet you refuse to let him go. Now I will slay your first-born son. The entire people of Israel are God's first-born son, so if Pharoah will not release them, God will kill Pharoah's first born.
A first born son is precious.
Pharoah does not listen to Moses and Aaron's pleas and so God begins to bring plagues upon the Egyptians to show his power: blood, frogs, lice, insects, pestilence, inflammation, hail, locusts, darkness...none of these convince Pharoah to release the Hebrew people from slavery. And so God deals a final blow:
In the middle of the night the Lord struck down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharoah who sat on the throne to the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first-born of the cattle. And Pharoah arose in the night, with all his courtiers and all the Egyptians -- because there was a loud cry in Egypt; for there was no house where there was not someone dead. He summoned Moses and Aaron in the night and said "Up, depart from among my people, you and the Israelites with you! Go, worship the Lord as you said! Take also your flocks and your herds, as you said, and begone! And may you bring a blessing upon me also! (Ex. 12:29-32)
This passage sends chills down my spine and a lump to my throat...for there was no house where there was not someone dead. I can imagine that loud cry in Egypt...it is my wailing for Ezra magnified by the thousands.
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