Competing Myths

homecomingDid you retell the story of the Exodus at a Passover Seder this year?

If so, which version did you tell? The one with Moshe or the one without Moshe? Why?

As the text of the traditional Haggadah tells the story of the Exodus, Moshe never appears. The role of God is showcased; the role of Moshe downplayed.

If your usual Passover Seder consists of reading from the Haggadah with no cross-talk allowed, you may know this. But if your usual Passover Seder includes discussion, drama, and lively questions, you might not know this.

Because you probably talk about Moshe a great deal at your Seder.

Thus, you might wonder: Why did the authors of the traditional Haggadah leave out Moshe? 

Because Torah gives us two accounts of the Exodus. The one in the book of Shemot-Exodus describes Moshe’s emergence into leadership in great detail. It’s the famous version of the story. The one in Devarim-Deuteronomy is very short. When the children and grandchildren of the freed slaves reach the land of Israel, they should say:

An Aramean Astray my Ancestor; he went down to Egypt and lived there as a foreigner, as folk few-in number; but he became there a nation, great, mighty in number, and many. And the Egyptians dealt-ill with us and afflicted us, and placed upon us hard servitude. So we cried out to YHWH, the God of our ancestors, and YHWH listened to our voice; saw our affliction, and our strain, and our oppression. And YHWH took us out from Egypt, with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm, with great awe-inspiring acts, and with signs and portents. (Devarim 26:5-8)

That’s all, folks!

Why did the authors of the Haggadah choose this account rather than the one in Exodus?

Perhaps they wanted the Seder to be reasonably short.

Perhaps they favoured the book of Devarim.

Perhaps they wanted us to learn from the children of slaves what it might mean to see yourself “as if” you had left the land of Egypt.

Perhaps they wanted the Seder to unify us under a single God, rather than splinter us into groups, each supporting a different “Redeeming Leader of the Year.” (Imagine a year in which some attend the Steven Harper Seder, others the Chief Theresa Spence Seder, still others the Yair Lapid Seder.)

With all these good reasons to re-tell the short version of the Exodus story, you might wonder: If Moshe isn’t supposed to be in the Seder, why do we keep putting him back in?

Because, at a very deep level, we know his story.

Depth psychology studies the unconscious motifs we use to make sense of our lives. Through our dreams and creative artwork, we represent our life journeys symbolically. Our personal symbols are influenced by key cultural stories and myths. Cultural myths express some universal themes of human growth. These themes are found in the “collective unconscious,” a kind of psychic DNA.

One classic theme is the story of the hero’s journey. And Moshe’s story is a classic hero story.

His life is miraculously saved. He goes from poor circumstances to great power. He is called to a task but doesn’t want to do it. Finally he accepts, but encounters all sorts of obstacles. He succeeds. He is changed. But his story does not end there. He faces another obstacle. He succeeds. He is changed. Another obstacle; another success; another change. This pattern does not end until the day he dies.

It is inspiring to see ourselves “as if” we are Moshe. Because in some ways we are. We may not be game-changing leaders, but we share this same pattern of development. It is reassuring to know that we, too, have the inner resources to overcome obstacles and grow.

It is also inspiring to see ourselves “as if” we could be saved by a Higher Power. Sometimes we reach the end of our ability to find solutions. And then someone or something unexpected shows up with a special power or a special object or a secret instruction or a special grace. (This happens in Torah, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and the Hunger Games.) It’s reassuring to know that help in stressful times may come from a resource greater than our own.

Help comes from within us and also from beyond us. This could even describe the role of “archetypal” motifs in the “collective unconscious.” Yes, these motifs are part of our genetic inheritance, a map that shows human potential for psychological growth. But when we experience real growth, we may feel we are growing beyond that inheritance. Growth seems to be a gift of grace or an insistent calling from something beyond the everyday self.

We need to tell both of these stories over and over again. Both describe the wonder of human survival through challenge. The potential for freedom, change, and growth lie within us. Yet sometimes we don’t access them until a greater helping hand seems to raise us up.

Why retell the Exodus story over and over again? Not just because it’s a powerful archetypal story of human liberation – but because it’s at least two stories, dancing together in partnership.

Image: itrustican.blogspot,com

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *