April 19, 2000

Let My People Go: Elián and the Exodus

A haggadah for our times.

By Dave Kopel. National Review. April 17, 2000. 2:00 p.m.

Mr. Kopel is research director of the Independence Institute.

Elián fatigue has set in for much of the American public. After all, who wants to keep reading about a family trying to save a boy from being returned to slavery as "a possession of the state"? Not with the NHL playoffs underway, as well as new episodes of Chicago Hope coming soon.

Even so, as I was reading Jonathan Kirsch's biography Moses, to get ready for the Seder this week, I was struck by Kirsch's analysis of how Jochebed, the mother of Moses, put him in that little basket boat to save him from certain destruction by a wicked government. She knew the immense dangers of placing her little boy in a flimsy boat in a crocodile-infested river. The Bible does not suggest that she received any special vision or inspiration or miraculous assistance from God. Simply acting as a mother, she did the best she could to save her boy. An ordinary, courageous mother, Jochebed wasn't very different, it seems, from the mother of Elián Gonzalez, Elisabeth Brotons.

Although we can't be certain, little Moses' water journey may have been as far as ninety miles — the distance from Goshen (where the Israelites lived) to the Egyptian capital. Just about the same distance as from Cuba to Florida.

Moses ended up growing up as the favored child of the oppressors who were enslaving his people. And by a very circuitous route, he ended up as the liberator of the slaves.

One strand of rabbinic tradition suggests that Pharaoh ordered the murders of all the Hebrew baby boys precisely because his magicians warned him that the child who would free the slaves was about to be born. Is there some part of Fidel Castro's subconscious like Darth Vader's — a vestigial zone where conscience and guilt and knowledge of God still survive? Could subconscious fear amplify Castro's obsession with Elian?

In modern times, does God still use escaped slaves — even slaves who return to the land of bondage — to free people? Harriet Tubman certainly thought so. The "Moses of her people", she led 19 trips into the South to free slaves, and later fought as a Union scout in the South during the War Between the States.

Fidel Castro is currently gloating about this week's anniversary of the Bay of Pigs, in which his kleptocracy survived an episode of danger. This Thursday's anniversary of the Passover, however, may suggest that Pharaoh Castro's troubles are just beginning.

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