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The Exodus You Almost Passed Over
By Rabbi David Fohrman
Aleph Beta Press

 

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The names of our Jewish holidays are almost always listed and used in the Hebrew language, even those that have English equivalents. That is all holidays, except one, Pesach, which more often than not is listed as Passover.

In his latest work, Rabbi David Fohrman, one of America’s leading Tanach scholars, titled his book The Exodus You Almost Passed Over, an amusing play on the holiday’s name and theme: an accurate title for the content of his new work.

This review will reference the author’s humorous take on a holiday’s name and quote his introductory take to give you a taste of his talented pen.

Rabbi Fohrman teaches us the following: “In Hebrew, it is Pesach; in English, it is Passover. But, either way, it seems like an odd name for a holiday. Would you have named it that?

“Imagine it is 3,000 years ago. You are an angel in heaven, and you have been invited to join G-d’s Nominating Committee for the Naming of New Festivals. One day you and your fellow angels on the committee get word that the Master of the Universe would like to make a shiny new festival that celebrates His miraculous deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. You immediately get down to work with your colleagues to brainstorm some possible names.”

Among the names mentioned are Freedom Day and Independence Day. Nothing unusual there, but here is the catch:

“….then imagine some angel in the back of the room raises his hand and says, ‘I have a great idea. Much better than those names. Let us call it Passover: Passover is a really wonderful name.’ ”

Rabbi Fohrman continues with this gag narrative: “ ‘See, it is a kind of a pun… You know how G-d made all these plagues to let the Israelites go, and then there was this tenth plague, right? And in the tenth plague, all the firstborn children of the Egyptians were killed. But the Israelites? They were saved. So you could say that G-d sort of ‘passed over’ their first-born children that night, when he didn’t kill them. You get it? He passed over their first-born? So let us call it Passover!’ ”

A bit of give and take ensues but finally the name Passover wins the day. With this all as prologue the author chimes in with the following observation and teaching:

“Perhaps the name suggests that we should adjust our sights somewhat. We tend to think of Passover the way I have just described it to you, as a holiday on which we got our freedom. And yet, the Torah’s own name for the night we went free does not emphasize the ‘free’ part, it emphasizes ‘passed over.’ Could it be that, somehow, the essence of the holiday really does revolve around the mysterious salvation that our firstborn experienced that night?”

I bet that you, my dear reader, never thought of the Passover name in this rather unique perspective. Neither did I, until now.

Rabbi Fohrman argues that “the story of the Exodus tells us who we are. It is a story that tells us not just about our past, but about our future. It speaks not only of our birth, but of our destiny. It speaks of why we are here and what we are meant to achieve. The story is about what it means to be a firstborn nation.”

Rabbi Fohrman goes on to explain that in this book “we are going to examine the Exodus story and try to unpack some of its mysteries – among them, the meaning of the firstborn theme. We will try to read the story with fresh eyes, and taste its newness.” Rabbi Fohrman invites the reader “to come along with me on that journey, so that together, we may thrill in the discovery of unseen delights, uncovering the hidden secrets of this ancient and sacred saga.”

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Alan Jay Gerber, a graduate of Yeshiva University, is a life member of the Association of Orthodox Jewish Teachers and a member of Kehillas Bais Yehudah Tzvi in Cedarhurst, Long Island. This article also appeared, in somewhat different form, in The Jewish Star.