In the Book of Exodus we read the riveting story of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt, complete with the ten deadly plagues that afflicted the Egyptians and the parting of the Red Sea. The people cross over to safety, Miriam leads them in celebratory dancing, and Moses leads them in singing, praising the Divine as a “man of war “ (ish ha-milchamah), a fierce Cosmic Protector. Then forty years go by, full of adventures. As the Israelites are about to enter the Land of Canaan and end their wandering, Moses gives lengthy orations reviewing communal history, ritual and ethical laws. We read:
Observe the month of Aviv [Spring] and offer a passover sacrifice to HaShem your God, for it was in the month of Aviv, at night, that HaShem your God freed you from Egypt. You shall slaughter the passover offering for HaShem your God, from the flock and the herd, in the place where HaShem will choose to establish the divine name. You shall not eat anything leavened with it. For seven days following you shall eat unleavened bread, bread of poverty—for you departed from the land of Egypt in haste—so that you may remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt as long as you live. (Devarim 16:1-3)
After hundreds of years in Egypt, the swift departure was to be etched in collective memory. During the Pesach Seder we read from the Haggadah, “You shall tell your child on that day, saying, 'It is because of what HaShem did for me when I came out of Egypt.'" (Exodus 13:8) And we recite: “In every generation, a person is obligated to see him or herself as though s/he came forth from Egypt.” (Mishnah Pesachim 10:5) Part of the genius of the Torah text is that it sets the stage for thousands of years of ritualized participatory story-telling.