At this year’s seder, don’t turn Trump into Pharaoh: treat him as a plague

Today is Purim, and so we begin the spring cycle of Jewish holidays that will culminate in Shavuos (the subject of my favorite line in all of Martin Scorsese’s films, but I digress). Naturally, I’m thinking about Passover, which we’ll be celebrating in about a month, and the meaning of the Passover story this year.

At progressive and liberal seders in the US this year, there’ll be a tendency to interpret the story through the current political moment. How could there not be? Immigrants will be cast as the ancient Hebrews; Trump as Pharaoh. And just as Pharaoh is depicted in the story as a sudden appearance out of the blue—remember, for years, things had been good for the Hebrews, and then a new Pharaoh came, “who knew not Joseph”—so will Trump be described as an intrusion upon an otherwise placid and benign setting, the undocumented a suddenly victimized Hebrew.

But we know that will not do. The war against the undocumented, waged by Republican and Democrat alike, has been going on or decades. And Trump, however specific and peculiar his viciousness, is the result of decades of political rot and mis-leadership, from both parties.



So this year, I ask all of us to resist the easy or partisan telling of the Passover story.

Instead of treating the undocumented as the ancient Hebrews—and thus as somehow separable from the rest of the society—let’s see in their plight a more common portent, a way in to understanding how so many in our society, immigrant and citizen alike, are excluded and subjected and oppressed.

And instead of treating Trump as Pharaoh, let’s view him as one of the plagues. Hopefully, the last plague, but whether first or last, as one of many signs and symptoms rather than the source of a society that’s falling apart.


  1. Dave the Liver March 12, 2017 at 1:57 pm | #

    Sounds good to me. The last plague was always my favorite.

  2. Howard B March 12, 2017 at 2:37 pm | #

    Corey, point well made- but how much of our current moral and political morass and plight reflected a conscious choice, and how much just a drift or a flood of unconscious drips? The plagues and the oppressions of the Hebrews were deliberate- the coming of a Pharaoh who knew not Pharaoh just happened, like this, Trump debacle, did it not?

    • Corey Robin March 12, 2017 at 3:08 pm | #

      An excellent question to discuss…at the seder!

  3. Edwin Glazier March 12, 2017 at 5:28 pm | #

    I discovered that the Shavous quote comes from THE KING OF COMEDY. But I don’t understand it or why it’s your favorite. Could you please enlighten me? Thanks.

    • Robert Daniels March 14, 2017 at 2:16 pm | #

      Why Jerry Lewis?
      Back in the day, everyone tried his hand at a talk show, and JL’s may have been the worst- all about him.

  4. Murray Reiss March 13, 2017 at 3:22 pm | #

    I’m wondering what, in this scenario, would be the equivalent of God hardening Pharoah’s heart so he would not let the Israelites go. Not, at least, until God had a chance to pull out the full shock and awe of all the plagues.

  5. Robert Daniels March 14, 2017 at 2:13 pm | #

    any relation to Arthur Robin, the great 3 cushion player?

  6. reuven kropsky March 14, 2017 at 7:27 pm | #

    As the midrash of the cigar reminds us, Clinton could be inappropriate. Moreover, welfare, criminal justice and fiscal trading reform decimated already-vulnerable populations. But Trump is a different kind of menace. Civil discourse, judicial autonomy, and existential preservation are at stake. If Trump’s temperament and first-fifty-days appointments are any indication of things, he seems to place love of self above any semblance of true patriotism. For God’s sake, the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation is more trusted by our Commander-in-Chief than our very own CIA, NSA, FBI!

    Please, let’s treat him like the-would-be-dictator that he is. Trump’s bold-faced lies about three million illegals who made the difference in the irrelevant popular count, his draconian immigration policies, his threat to the media, which he labels “fake news” and calls the “opposition party”, is enough to convince me of that label. My concern is that in turning Trump into some “sign() or symptom()” we’re deflecting blame onto entrenched ideological forces (and even amorphous ones) that become subject to a discourse that will run the Seder far too long to get the mitzvah. Switching “Pharaoh” for Trump focuses our attention on specific offenses committed by the President for which he (not “sign(s) or symptom()”) is morally responsible.

  7. reuven kropsky March 14, 2017 at 7:45 pm | #

    *sorry for the confusion, the label I”m referring to is “would-be dictator” (or pharaoh) not “fake news”

Leave a Reply