Passover begins at sundown Saturday evening, March 27.
You think you know the story. Perhaps. But, after more than 70 years, I barely know it myself.
There's the Cecil B. DeMille version: Yul Brenner is oppressing the Jews in Egypt — conscripting them for construction projects along the Nile. With the help of frogs and locusts, Charlton Heston leads them out of slavery into technicolor freedom.
Seriously, the Passover seder is the world's oldest continuously celebrated ritual. There are the candles and wine, the matzah and bitter herbs. ("And they embittered their lives with servitude.") There's the Haggadah with the four questions: "Why is this night different from all other nights?"
The celebration lasts for eight days, during which we abstain from certain foods. The theme is remembrance: Remember what God did for you when He took you out of Egypt. Each Jew must feel that he was personally redeemed. Telling the Passover story is a commandment. The Haggadah says, "The more one tells about the Exodus, the more he is praiseworthy."
Passover is just the beginning of the story. The end is nowhere in sight.
After the first Passover and the departure from Egypt, there's the encounter at Sinai and the giving of the Law. In the DeMille version, Moses says to Pharoah: "Men shall be ruled by Law, not by other men." Whose law? The one from the ultimate lawgiver.
Western Civilization started at a mountain in the Sinai Peninsula, where the 12 tribes assembled received not just the 10 Commandments but the entire corpus of Jewish law. Before that, time was static. There was no progress, no movement toward a conclusion.
From Sinai came the Promised Land — more than 1,000 years chronicled in the Bible. From Sinai came the kings and prophets. Judaism and Christianity started there. (Without Passover, no Easter.) The Jews went into 2,000 years of exile and their morality was spread into Europe and eventually worldwide by Christians — hence, the Judeo-Christian ethic.
The settlers who founded America were inspired by the vision of Sinai. Many gave their children Biblical names.
For them, this was the Promised Land. (For the Great Seal of the United States, Benjamin Franklin proposed a scene showing Moses leading the Children of Israel through the Red Sea.) Eventually, the colonists came to see George III as the Pharoah of the Exodus.
The Declaration of Independence didn't spring full-blown from the brow of Jefferson. The seeds were planted at Sinai. "That all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." The doors to the Supreme Court chamber depict twin tablets with the Roman numerals one through ten, a reminder of our origins in a far older code of law.
But while Passover bids us to remember, the pagan culture we find ourselves immersed in tells us to forget.
Pharoah says to Moses, "Who is the Lord that I should heed Him and let Israel go?" So too says the party of the Democrats. America's elite calls appeals to our roots religious fanaticism, and asks why we should follow men with sandals and staffs, any more than men with wigs and buckle shoes.
Forget this invisible God, progressives say. Worship our Gods: multiculturalism, equality and choice. Washington, D.C. is their golden calf.
Passover is called the festival of freedom. Patriots have never been more concerned about the preservation of our freedoms. But the Passover story reminds us that freedom isn't free.
After the Exodus, God didn't say to the Israelites: "Zie gezunt — go, enjoy. The beaches of Tel Aviv await you." He led us to Sinai and gave us the Law, which was the culmination of the Exodus. For without law, we are forced to submit to the rule of men.
In America, today, there is no law. Instead, we have mindless regulations, (Wear a facemask. Maintain social distancing.), confiscatory taxation and spending like we possessed the riches of the store cities of Pithom and Ramses.
Our courts deliberately misinterpret the Constitution to advance their ideology. Flaunting the laws of Sinai has become a secularist commandment. ("Thou shalt exalt fornication and perversion.")
Passover is the tale that never ends. There's always a new Pharoah, a new House of Bondage, a new journey through the Red Sea and 40 years in the desert to reach the Promised Land. And they did it all without stimulus spending.
Passover reminds us of the eternal struggle (freedom and slavery) and the eternal balance (rights and responsibilities, liberty and sacrifice).
The seder ends with "Next year in Jerusalem." But the City of David isn't just a physical place. It's also an ideal to strive toward — a time when the Law is universally acknowledged and Pharoah is finally defeated.