As a child, not having had a religious Jewish education, my notion of the Exodus was taken from the movie “The Ten Commandments.” My main memory is of a fierce-looking Charlton Heston raising two stone tablets above his head. This image persists. I sometimes fantasize about what an updated version of the movie would look like. The following four Torah portions in the month of Shevat, which began the evening of January 6, provide parallels for the remade movie. I ask you to help me with my updated version, written in italics following the Torah portion summaries.
Beginning with Bo, Moses and Aaron face off against Pharaoh. The Egyptians battle swarms of locusts; then they are surrounded by darkness. Amidst these threats, Pharaoh becomes intransigent, refusing to allow the Israelites to depart to worship their God. It is not until God strikes dead all the first-born Egyptian males that Pharaoh relents and allows the Israelites’ departure.
Would Netanyahu or Abbas play the role of Pharaoh? They each confront their own form of internal and external plagues. They appear to be equally as hard-hearted, presenting plans for peace with one hand and then removing the possibility with the other. They offer one message to their own people and another to the rest of the world. How would they behave in this version of the movie?
Who should be cast for the role of the dead first-born? Again there is competition for the roles. Israelis and Palestinians. Young men and women. So many have been struck dead throughout this interminable struggle. If Pharaoh had not been so short-sighted, they would have lived. Will they live or die in “Ten Commandments 2?”
The Israelites are barely on the road in B’shalach, when Pharaoh changes his mind and pursues them with his army. At the shores of the Red Sea, they must jump or risk capture by Pharaoh once again. They are terrified, but, lo and behold, the water becomes dry land between huge wall-waves. The Israelites make it safely to the other side, while the Egyptian army falls into the sea and drowns. The Israelites are jubilant over their survival!
The wars have been won, and Israel has survived. But what a price it has paid! Loss of lives, fear, terror, hatred, poverty. Yet many small voices on both sides and outside speak of peace. Will these voices grow louder? Will the voices lead to action? Will there be a scene of reconciliation?
In Yitro, Moses’s father-in-law advises him on how to adjudicate disputes, recommending that he distribute the burden of decision-making to others in the community. Moses agrees and appoints judges. God appears in a cloud and then as thunder and lightning. Following this is the Charlton Heston scene with the Tablets that I described above. Mt. Sinai is erupting with smoke, the shofar is blowing, God booms out the Ten Commandments and Moses brings them to the people.
Who will be cast as Yitro? Advisors of Netanyahu or Abbas? Jared Kushner? David Friedman? Jeremy Ben-Ami? Who will play God and how will God behave?
The final Torah portion, Mishpatim, iterates a series of laws. Among my favorites are: “Do not be a follower of the majority for evil; and do not respond to a grievance by yielding to the majority to pervert [the law]. Do not oppress a stranger; you know the feelings of a stranger, for you were stranger in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:2,9). At the conclusion, Moses goes up the mountain for 40 days and nights while God appears as a consuming fire. It ends in a blaze.
How will these laws be integrated into the production so that the characters take them seriously? Finally, who will play Moses? Is there anyone you can think of who is humble, wise, courageous and diplomatic enough to give this movie a peaceful ending where both sides win? And what role can American Jewish leaders play in seeking a just and peaceful outcome to “Ten Commandments 2?”