Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thank G-d It's Fiction!!

I've just finished reading Philip Roth's "The Plot Against America," and it's a whopper of a tale.  It reads so hauntingly and frighteningly true that if I hadn't been raised in post-World War Two America I'd believe it to be an accurate history book.

Or should I say that because I'm very familiar with the twentieth century United States I must say that it reads true.  It could have happened, and thank G-d it didn't.  I guess that's the greatest compliment one could give a book of that genre, the "what if..."

What if the antisemitic, Nazi-sympathizer Charles Lindbergh had been elected President in 1938 instead of Franklin Roosevelt?  Start from there and Roth's book is amazing.  What could/would have happened to an ordinary new Jersey Jewish family?


Sam Sokol said...

I read it a while ago. It's an excellent book. But don't let Norman Finkelstein hear you say that

YC said...

R Leibtag has pointed out that God needed Paroah to SEND Bnai Yisroel out, simply allowing for immigration to Cannan would not be enough, not many would leave without being SENT, driven out.
I hope I don't need to connect the dots for anyone.

Batya said...

Shmuel, no problem; the only Finkelstien I ever cared about was my Aunt Sadie!

yc, but it's said that only 1/5 one fifth of Bnai Yisrael left Egypt.

Unknown said...

Batya, you should give the details.

Comment of Rashi on "they marched out chamusim". Tranlates literally "armed" or "in battle formation". However, it can also be read as one fifth from the root chamesh - 5.

That says that 80% were buried during the final three days of darkness when the Egyptians could not move and could not see what was happening. Considering that Dasan and Aviram (the villains of the trek through the desert) did make it out alive, consider how serious about staying in Egypt the rest must have been.

I also found the following at

--- Start quotation ------
Second, the more radical opinion in Rashi and the Mekhilta is that chamushim comes from the word for five, chamesh<3>, and that only one in five Jews left Egypt. In Rav Henkin's words, this approach explains the verse to mean that haShem "took into the desert those who did leave, because they were only a fifth: they were demoralized because the majority of their brethren had stayed behind"<4>. Only twenty percent of the Jews left Egypt! Believe it or not, the one-in-five opinion is the most conservative one in the Mekhilta. The full text reads:

Another opinion: "Chamushim went up" means one in five. Some say one in fifty. Some say one in five hundred. Rav Nehorai says: "[I swear by] the Temple Service! It was not one in five hundred that went out [but fewer]. It says, 'I made you into myriads like the grass of the field' (Yechezkel 15:7), and it says, 'The Children of Israel were fruitful and swarmed and multiplied and became huge' (Shemot 1:6) -- a woman would give birth to six at one time. And you say that one in five hundred went out?! [I swear by] the Temple Service! It was not one in five hundred that went out [but fewer]. Rather, many Jews died in Egypt. When did they die?During the three days of darkness, as it says, 'People could not see each other' (Shemot 10:23). They were burying their dead, and they thanked and praised haShem that their enemies could not see and rejoice at their downfall"<5>.

Talk about depressing! This midrash asserts that the vast, vast majority of the Jewish people -- whether 80%, 98%, 99.8%, or even more -- did not leave Egypt.
------ End Quotation ------

A further comment actually ties it to our time and helps us realize that we are all "Survivors"

----- Start Quotation -----
In other words, Rav Schwab defuses the explosive numbers of the midrash by applying them to future generations. A variation of this approach is to apply the numbers to past generations<10>. Except, perhaps, for a few individuals (as Rav Schwab suggests above), all the Jews alive at the time of the Exodus left Egypt. This was truly cause for celebration. However, the vast majority of the Jews who had lived in Egypt over the previous 200 (or 400) years didn't make it to the finish line. Of all those millions of Jews who had hoped and prayed to be freed from slavery, only one in five (or one in fifty, or one in five hundred) actually left Egypt. According to this, "The Children of Israel went up from Egypt chamushim" means that the newly-freed slaves were sobered by the thought of all their relatives who had lived and died in Egypt. Perhaps it was the sight of Moshe (in the next verse) carrying Yosef's bones which triggered the realization that the Jews were not only free, they were survivors as well.
------ End Quotation --------

Batya said...

Sabba Hillel, thank you for filling in the blanks. You did it much better than I could have.

Prophet from said...

My (ex-Binyamin settler) video on Abe Foxman versus Rush Limbaugh, Tutu, Obama, Mary Campbell,