Passover: Karaite Perspectives
To describe this article as a Karaite Perspective is somewhat of a misnomer. Perhaps it should be more accurately described as an opinion or a gut feeling. Something quite not right though I just can't place my finger on it. Passover is a time to reflect. It is desinged solely for the purpose of our reliving the past, experiencing the events that moulded us into a people. Throughout the Seder meal we attempt to breach the barriers of time and if not physically, at least mentally drift back through the ages until we find ourselves preparing to flee from Egypt over three thousand years ago. And as I sat with my family during the meal I did experience the warmth of tradition that has always made this one of my favourite holy days but there was something else. A feeling of dread as if I wasn't just celebrating the past but looking at current events. A feeling of what was will be again and that in itself became very worrisome. It felt as if I was sitting in the great hall of Balshazar waiting for the hand to appear in mid air and to start writing upon the wall. A shadow off in the distance, waiting, looming but never fully materializing and not yet ready to reveal itself. I have always been one to listen to my instincts, to view my gut feelings as palpable things that can be portents of coming events. None of us have to be psychic to know that the world is changing; unfortunately it does not appear to be a change for the better.
That Did Not Know Joseph
And there came a Pharaoh that did not know Joseph! That is the why and the how when we became a people. Not what preceded before or what followed afterwards. The reality was that had the 18th dynasty not replaced the prior dynasty of the families of Thutmoses, Amenhotep, and Ahkenaton we probably would have been absorbed into the Egyptian culture and disappeared amongst the mass of the people. It was only when there arose a new Pharoah in the land that was disgusted by the policies of his predecessors, the open gateway to immigration, the indulgement in a monotheistic religion that it all came crashing down. Horemheb initiated the purge of all the influences Joseph had left behind, and this was carried on by Rameses and then Seti, men determined to turn the clock back to what they viewed as a greater Egypt, an Egypt before all these foreign influences had been permitted to take root. And only when they closed the offices of government positions to the Shazu and the Apiru, destroyed the religious reformation of the Aten worshippers, reduced the status of the immigrants to either that of a second or third class did the reality hit home amongst our ancestors that they were nothing but strangers in a strange land. Not Egyptian, Not Canaanite, and not even truly Apiru, having foresaken the religion of their ancestors. They were essentially strangers even unto themselves, dispossessed, disenfranchised and totally disconnected to the world in which they lived. You see, that was the starting point, the crucible so to speak when a people have nowhere to go, neither down nor up; lost and immobilized by fear. Moses was not their saviour but instead their solution. He gave them purpose, he provided them with an identity and he united their common needs into a singular focus. For the majority, they were much like the new dynasty of Pharaohs that did not know Joseph for these people, with their different backgrounds, multitude of practices and beliefs, the assimilation into Egyptian culture did not know Joseph either. But they did know Moses and in knowing him they picked up his gauntlet and seized upon his battles as their own.
Deuteronomy ends with the suggestion that we could never truly experience those feelings, those sensations that the very first generation of our people experienced. After all, it closes with expressing that a prophet of the likes of Moses has never risen again. A man that the Lord knew face to face, who could inspire terror with the might of his own hand, performing wonders and miracles that the world has never seen the likes of except during that first generation. And then it donned on me what that feeling of trepidation, that twist in the gut suggesting uncertainty was all about. Once more we are facing a time where "they did not know Joseph" and there does not appear to be a Moses on the horizon to rescue us.
A New American Dynasty
There is a new Pharaoh in Washingtion DC. He cares little for the past, seeking only to build a new future for America. The contributions of the American Jew to the industrialization, the arts, the freedoms, the democracy that America cherishes as its birthrite mean little to him. As far as he is concerned, they never existed for he is rewriting the earlier history of that nation because in a paraphrasing of his own words, "Yes He Can." The old dynasties that recognised the contributions of the American Jew to the greater America have been overthrown. They're gone, washed away in a purge where all things bad and evil can be attributed to them and the White House is truly white, having been cleansed of the grime those earlier regimes left ringing the tub. Just as Horemheb had negated any beneficial influence Joseph may have brought to Egypt, so too are any benefits derived from the contributions of the American Jew negated in the sweep of a pen. For those amongst the community that cry out, "He can't forget us, He won't forget us," I say to you, "Yes he can!" You are crying out with the same tears shed by your ancestors when the winds of change swept through Egypt. "But we supported him," you wail, the tears streaming down your face as you stare into mirror of oblivion." Then reflect this Passover on the fact that your ancestors too supported the change of regimes in their time. It had become misguided under the boy King Tut. It was without direction and purpose and the enemies were waiting on the borders to crush Egypt. Aye (Aijah) threw off his mantle of vizier, the same mantle his father wore and wrestled control of the empire away from the boy king with the help of the army under its captain, Horemheb but in so doing he unleashed the sword that eventually would be the doom of himself and his people. By overthrowing the Pharaoh and appointing himself into that position he had set the precedent. He had started the dominoes to tumble and he suffered for his arrogance.
Even now you are probably saying, "Who am I to pass judgment on your political decision making? To castigate you for your failure to see the obvious." I am no one and yet I am. I sit a world away on a South Pacific island and I cast my glance towards your land and I see from the outside what you cannot see from the inside. You should have, because the hand had clearly written everything upon that wall you needed to see, yet you spurned its warning and said that if it was that obvious then it could not be true. This Passover I have seen that you have willingly placed yourself into bondmanship of a new Pharaoh that did not know Joseph and cares not. He will cast you into the mudpits to make his bricks. He will humble you before his will because he cares little of your past. He will have you work without straw because he will take away all that you were given by his predecessors. He seeks to write his name in glory but it will be at your expense. And like our ancestors in ancient Egypt, you who imagined you were one of them will find that you have been nothing but strangers living in a strange land. You will be sold into slavery for the price of oil and it will happen in the blink of an eye an the slash of a pen and you won't even see it happen until all is done and it's too late. Because the time was ripe for such a change and you did not see it. Just like the boy King Tut played, chasing his lions while the affairs of state faltered, you too chased your lions while the rest of the world gathered upon your borders. And as the walls at the borders began to crumble they all searched to point a finger at those that failed to guard them, the ones reponsible for their decline. And that finger as always has fallen upon you. "You brought these terrible times upon them," they shout. "The lions we hunted were for you and you alone, because we cared not to hunt in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan but did so only for you. And those that attack us in our homes, they do so only because of you and the hatred they bear towards you. And our economy crumbles because you took your investments overseas and strengthened our adversaries at the cost of ourselves. And the world turns against us because we chose to defend your homes in your homeland and you refused to to obtain peace through quiet surrender." This is what they say, this is what they will say and all their fingers of blame will be pointing at you.
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