Friday, February 4, 2011

A Rejection of Egypt

In light of the current protests and violence in modern-day Egypt, I thought it would be interesting to recall the Jewish view toward ancient Egypt. One of the most important events in human history was the Exodus from that country. As miraculous and memorable as it was, this whole episode was about more than just a group of people leaving a foreign place to go to the Promised Land. It was about God freeing us from a culture of slavery and death, and showing the world that what He truly desires is a culture based upon life and goodness. In other words, Judaism is a rejection of ancient Egypt.

Here are a few examples of the contrasts between ancient Egypt and Judaism:

- unethical polytheism vs. ethical monotheism

- a culture obsessed with death vs. a culture obsessed with life

- slavery vs. freedom

(As a side note, those who claim that the Torah defends slavery are being disingenuous. In general, the Torah's concept of "slavery" refers to indentured servitude to pay off a debt. It was not about people owning human beings and doing whatever they wanted with them. In fact, brutal treatment of any slave - Jewish or non-Jewish - resulted in their immediate freedom. After all, a fundamental tenet of Judaism is remembering that we were once slaves in Egypt.)

Aspects of ancient Egyptian culture, such as art and technology, were indeed magnificent, but there was a huge problem: it was not coupled with universal God-based ethics. As a result, these things easily turned into false gods and led to poor treatment of other people. For example, the pyramids - for all their artistic and technological greatness - were nothing more than fancy tombs for dead rulers. Their whole religion was focused on death and the deification of human beings. The Torah represents the polar opposite, wanting people to be preoccupied with life and good deeds based on faith in one God. This is also a major reason why the Torah is virtually silent on the afterlife; God wants us to focus on this life.

As mentioned above, a prevalent theme in ancient Egypt was an obsession with death. Sound familiar? Radical Islamists, who have their sights set on overtaking more Middle Eastern countries, including Egypt, have a similar obsession. There is yet another similarity. Back then, the target was the Jewish people. This time, the target is the Jewish state (a hat tip goes to Devorah for this video):

Although Egypt is now Islamic in nature, it's still death-filled and obsessed with hurting Jews and destroying Israel. Of course, not every Egyptian wants this. After all, Egypt did sign a peace treaty with Israel, albeit a very tenuous one. But just look at Egyptian state television, which often incites Muslims against Jews, including airing a forty-one-part series based on the anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In addition, the Egyptian army conducts annual military exercises in the Sinai for preparation against their "primary enemy" of Israel. This attitude is all too common in the Islamic world. Hopefully, the more secular and democratic voices in this conflict prevail, but it could easily turn into another radical state.

Overall, it's difficult to remain optimistic in a part of the world where the historical precedent is persecution and destruction. Yet, instead of worrying about events that are out of our hands, all we can do is control how we react and find solace in the fact that God has a purpose for everything. In the meantime, it will be beneficial to hearken back to the values upon which Judaism was founded. In short, we are to reject a culture of death and embrace life; reject slavery and pursue freedom; and reject false gods, along with their unethical practices, and instead follow in God's ethical ways - chief among them, caring for people in general, and for fellow Jews in particular.

Acting decently toward Jews . . . now that's truly a rejection of Egypt!

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully written! Straight forward and to the point. Yasher koach.