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Parashat Sh’mot

A few weeks ago, the film Exodus – Kings and Gods was launched and, in anticipation of the upcoming Torah readings about the liberation of the Israelites from slavery, I decided to watch the movie. I wanted to see how the authors of the film interpreted the biblical narrative. I was disappointed in the film in so many ways. I never expected to see a movie that was close to the bible’s narrative, and/or to Jewish interpretation, but in my opinion the film’s only goal was to devalue the Bible. The filmmakers presented a crude idea of a shizophrenic Moses who caused Israel to become insane followers of a cruel, child-murdering God.This film is not the first attempt at finding scientific explanations for the 10 plagues, and to devalue Moses’ prophecy as a kind of mental delusion. Usually, I don’t mind these attempts, as long as they respect and don’t vilify those who have a different understanding of the Torah. Unfortuantely this film has no intention of doing so.

“With the [book of] Exodus the Pentateuch [the Torah] enters the realm of history, albeit not history in the modern sense. The latter describes events, which are rooted exclusively in the human realm; the former depicts the will of God as the hinge on which human events must turn. In that sense, Exodus is history grounded in faith.”

In his commentary to the Bible, Gunther Plaut describes what the filmmakers of Exodus – Kings and Gods and many other modern historians haven’t understood. The Torah isn’t introducing a linear history to us, based on facts and archaeological excavations. Rather, the Torah is introducing a very detailed set of values, often-revolutionary ideas, to build up a just society, and help us understand how we can be partners with God. The Bible gives us role models and non-role models to evaluate and ponder. We learn that change needs time, and that nothing should be taken for granted – other than God’s covenant with us.

The Bible presents us with a system of faith, and its main teaching is to have trust in God, even though the world can be cruel and unpleasant around us. Modern thinking and knowledge can help us reveal some of the hidden treasures within the Torah, to understand the context in which the Torah evolved, and to adapt the wisdom of the Torah into our lives.

I would say that there is no need to opt only for one option to explain what is happening around and to us. For me, both the Bible’s interpretation and the more modern approaches can enrich our own thinking and the way we can act in this world. I would have loved to have seen this approach adopted in the film; it could have been a great movie.
—Rabbi Adrian Michael Schell

Shemot Year 3 Exodus 4:18-6:1 (Plaut p.355; Hertz p.220)
Haftarah Isaiah 27:6-28:13; 29:22-23 (Plaut p 375; Hertz p.225)