The Exo­dus You Almost Passed Over

Rab­bi David Fohrman
  • Review
By – June 16, 2016

One of the major if not the major theme of the Passover seder is trans­mit­ting the sto­ry of the Exo­dus from one gen­er­a­tion to the next. Ide­al­ly, that trans­mis­sion is con­duct­ed through dynam­ic inter­ac­tion, ques­tions and answers, and a shared enthu­si­asm for the Bib­li­cal text and its descrip­tion of the process by which the ancient Israelites left Egypt. Rab­bi Forhman’s new work, The Exo­dus You Almost Passed Over, is a wel­come addi­tion to the cor­pus of Passover-relat­ed lit­er­a­ture that offers new insights into the time­less sto­ry of Passover. Like his ear­li­er works, The Beast That Crouch­es at the Door (a book on Gen­e­sis) and The Queen You Thought You Knew (a book on Esther) this is a smooth, quick read, whose light tone belies its vast scholarship.

Uti­liz­ing his char­ac­ter­is­tic con­ver­sa­tion­al tone (for exam­ple, in para­phras­ing Moses’ request to Pharaoh to have ALL of the Israelites leave Egypt, Fohrman writes: We’re talk­ing every­body, Pharaoh — even Sally’s pet sheep, and Bobby’s lizard. How could we leave any­one behind?”) and play­ful chap­ter head­ings (eg. Much Ado About Names”; The Jour­ney to Tomor­row­land”), Fohrman guides his read­ers in inves­ti­gat­ing the word choice and struc­ture of the Bible’s descrip­tion of the Exo­dus. Cov­er­ing top­ics rang­ing from exact­ly how the Israelites were to be con­sid­ered God’s first­born” to the Torah’s descrip­tion of Jacob’s funer­al pro­ces­sion, and employ­ing inter­pre­tive strate­gies rang­ing from aca­d­e­m­ic-style lit­er­ary analy­sis to gema­tria (Jew­ish numerol­o­gy), Fohrman’s work nev­er fails to accom­plish the very goal he ascribes to God Him­self in the Exo­dus process — name­ly, to edu­cate. For exam­ple, in his dis­cus­sion about the Israelites as first­born, Fohrman notes how such a fig­ure can serve as a bridge between the gen­er­a­tions. A bechor (first­born) can take the val­ues of the par­ents and live them, tan­gi­bly, in a child’s world. When a child-leader does that suc­cess­ful­ly, he or she takes a noble idea and breathes life into it, trans­form­ing that ide­al into behav­ior that makes sense in a child’s world. That kind of behav­ior then becomes a real, liv­ing pos­si­bil­i­ty for the oth­er chil­dren, too.” Such an insight, both into the con­cept of first­born-hood in the Bible, as well as in life as a whole, has a par­tic­u­lar­ly salient rel­e­vance with­in the con­text of the Passover seder — with its theme of trans­mis­sion and its dis­cus­sion of the four types of chil­dren. On such a night, the val­ue of trans­mit­ting, through a mea­sure of trans­form­ing, is the cen­ter of our focus.

Relat­ed Content:

Dr. Stu Halpern is Senior Advi­sor to the Provost of Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty. He has edit­ed or coedit­ed 17 books, includ­ing Torah and West­ern Thought: Intel­lec­tu­al Por­traits of Ortho­doxy and Moder­ni­ty and Books of the Peo­ple: Revis­it­ing Clas­sic Works of Jew­ish Thought, and has lec­tured in syn­a­gogues, Hil­lels and adult Jew­ish edu­ca­tion­al set­tings across the U.S.

Discussion Questions