Passover: Listening to the voice of God
One of the central ideas of the holiday of Passover is the celebration of freedom. During the Passover meal (Seder) we declare that “in each and every generation, a person is obligated to regard himself as though he actually left Egypt.”
It is around the Seder table that we are invited to get rid of our personal slaveries, freeing ourselves from our own physical and spiritual bondages. It is around this festive table, surrounded by family and friends, that we try to find the holy presence of God in our lives.
Eighteen years ago, one of my favorite animated movies was released, The Prince of Egypt. Many of you probably remember the movie for its digitization, music and special effects. When I first watched it, one of the scenes that caught my attention was Moses' encounter with God at the burning bush. I always wondered what the producers did to personify the voice of God.
For an actor, it is not easy to accept the challenge of being the voice of God, let alone in a biblical film. A few years ago I read an article written by Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a professor of Jewish theology at the American Jewish University, with whom the producers consulted in order to resolve the issue. His first suggestion was that the voice of God should be a blend of voices, following the traditional rabbinical interpretation that on Mount Sinai each person heard the voice of God according to his or her own level of understanding (Exodus Rabbah 5:9, 29:1). Technically this was impossible, so they discarded the idea.
Another option was that the voice of God could be the same voice as that of Amram, Moses’ father. This is in line with the rabbinical interpretation, which holds that what Moses heard at that moment was the voice of his father. This immediately alleviated Moses’ fear and made him feel comfortable (Exodus Rabbah 3:1). But since Amram was not part of the script, this interpretation was also rejected.
Finally, the chosen option to personify the voice of God in the movie relied on a deep philosophical idea. When you read the credits of the film, you find that Val Kilmer interpreted not only the voice of Moses but also the voice of God. And here is a deep religious message; God is revealed to us in our own voice because we are responsible to bring the presence of God to the world. God is not out there, far away, unreachable; God is in the deepest fiber of our being. When we act with compassion, kindness and love, God becomes present in this world.
Passover, the celebration of the Exodus from Egypt, began with a voice, the revelation of God to Moses in the burning bush. In our modern, noisy world, with scattered and loud noises almost everywhere, Passover is a unique opportunity to search for and find the sacred voice of God within ourselves. Every year, this celebration gives us the possibility to get rid of our modern slaveries, working together as brothers and sisters to construct a better society where God’s voice can be heard loudly and deeply in our lives.
Rabbi Marcelo Kormis is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth El in Fairfield.