“In every generation, one is obligated to see himself as if he had personally left Egypt.”
The Passover Haggadah annually exhorts us to make the ancient tale of Israelite liberation feel personally relevant. What better way to make this dinner party (or dinner parties, for those who observe two seders) seem more hip and current than to get in the mood with the musical sounds of our day?
Recline to your left, take a sip, and enjoy this humorous and enlightening Passover pop playlist:
The Passover seder is a night of questions and contradictions. On the one hand, we do things to make us feel like royals — lean back and relax, have our wine poured for us, dip our foods and otherwise dine like Roman aristocrats. On the other hand, mixed into our regal re-creations are symbols of lowliness and hardship: the bitter herbs, the mortar-like charoset and even the matzah, sometimes known as “poor man’s bread.”
No one song in recent memory captures the paradox better than this Grammy-winning “song of the year” by the international pop sensation Lorde.
“And we’ll never be royals/it don’t run in our blood … ” sings the 17-year-old, before turning it right around with, “Let me be your ruler/you can call me queen bee/and baby I’ll rule — let me live that fantasy.”
So which is it? Are we princes at the seder or paupers? A great question for table-wide discussion.
Anyone familiar with the details of the exodus story knows that Pharaoh’s behavior throughout the episode of the 10 plagues closely resembles that of the protagonist of this song by Swift, America’s authority on teenage heartbreak.
Like the weak-willed lover who just can’t seem to close the door on a bad relationship, Pharaoh refuses to make up his mind about breaking it off with the Israelites. Conditions get a little rough in Egypt — blood in the Nile, frogs in the floorboards — leading to Pharaoh’s decree of, “Get out of my house and don’t come back!” Then, as soon as things calm down, suddenly it’s all, “No, wait, I need you back!”
Over and over, Pharoah agrees to let Moses’s people go and then reneges as soon as they’ve packed their things. It’s only that final, devastating plague of the first-born that makes Pharoah say “never ever” — after which he, of course, changes his mind one last time.
Another fitting breakup song. The word “Passover” itself originates with the nighttime plague of the firstborn, when the deadly heavenly spirit passed over the homes of Israelite firstborns. It was that very night that Pharaoh finally relented, giving the Jews permission to leave Egypt and take all of their possessions with them.
Wasting no time, the Jews began their march towards freedom and national rebirth under the cover of darkness. Night, in the worldview of Judaism, is really never an ending, but always a beginning.
Among the coolest — when one is in middle school — of the plagues is surely the barad, the hail mixed with fire. I remember imagining the barad as bowling ball-sized chunks of ice that literally had flames burning in their centers.
Revisiting the actual biblical text, one finds a somewhat more fathomable, though still very improbable meteorological scenario: heavy hail accompanied by frequent and powerful lightning bolts. I don’t think British singer/songwriter Adele quite had the 10 plagues in mind when she composed this hit song, but both she and the biblical narrator heighten the effect of their narrative by juxtaposing the elemental opposites of fire and water. The plague seems all the more miraculous, and Adele’s stormy emotions feel all the more… stormy.
For pretty much everyone everywhere, the exodus from Egypt is the quintessential blueprint for rising up and breaking free. Macklemore’s 2013 anthem tells it all: “This is the moment/tonight is the night, we’ll fight ‘til it’s over/so we put our hands up like the ceiling can’t hold us!”
Click on the "multimedia" tab to the right for links to all the music videos.
Binyamin Kagedan has an MA in Jewish Thought from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. He can be reached at: [email protected]