Did the Exodus Really Happen?

Knowing the Exodus is not a literal historical account does not ultimately change our connection to each other or to God.

BY: Rabbi David Wolpe

 

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2. Truth should not frighten one whose faith is firm. As the Israeli Orthodox rabbi and scholar Mordecai Breuer writes: "Unable to withstand the contradiction (between faith and modern biblical scholarship) most men of faith consciously avoid biblical scholarship in order to safeguard their traditional belief." Those who hold that people should never explore such questions have very circumscribed notions of why God gave us brains. The Talmud ringingly declares: "God's seal is truth" (Shabbat 55a).

3. Knowing the Exodus is not a literal historical accounting does not ultimately change our connection to each other or to God. Faith should not rest on splitting seas. At the Passover Seder we declare: "In each generation, each individual should see himself as if he (or she) went forth from Egypt." The message does not depend upon whether 3 or 3 million individuals left.

In a book explaining how orthodox scholarship views the Torah, Rabbi Shlomo Carmy writes that he was always troubled by the omission of the exodus from Egypt in the book of Chronicles. Why does the concluding book of the Hebrew Bible elide this central story? His answer is in a prophecy by Jeremiah (16:14-15) that one day the liberation from Babylonian captivity will be more important than the liberation from Egypt. History will give way to messianism. In the future the very story of the exodus is omitted, for it is not the specifics of history, but the theme of liberation and of God's providential care that is the theological center.

The Torah is not a book we turn to for historical accuracy, but rather for truth. The story of the Exodus lives in us. Standing at the Passover Seder, I see in my mind's eye the Israelites marching out of Egypt, the miracles at the sea, and the pillar of fire leading them through the fearful night. I feel an enormous gratitude to God. For although we cannot know exactly how God has saved our people, we have been saved. Despite unimaginable odds and opposition, the Jewish people have seen nation after nation buried under the debris of history while our nation lives. Here is where archeology, history, scholarship and scripture meet: Am Yisrael Chai, the nation of Israel remains alive.

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Related Topics: Faiths, Judaism

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