How authentic is the story of the Israelite Exodus from Egypt? From the Aztecs to the Athenians, every nation has myths about their origins. Is the Exodus story not just a Jewish legend, our nation's attempt to glorify its beginnings?
Mythology is a great image booster. There's nothing like a good legend to lift a nation's confidence. That's why most peoples of the world claim to have powerful forebears, like great kings and mighty warriors. Some go so far as saying that their forefathers were demi-gods, born from cosmic mixed-marriages between divine beings and humans. These stories are self-serving, with little resemblance to actual history. But they are useful. During the lower points of a nation's history, at least they can reminisce on their noble and powerful past.
But imagine a nation claiming to come from lowly and ignoble origins. What purpose would that serve? Why would people invent an embarrassing legend about themselves? Yet the Jews proudly declare a most undignified beginning: we began as a slave nation. Every year we retell the Exodus saga, and say: "We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt." Certainly not a great pedigree. Even the escape from Egypt cannot be accredited to our own power: "G‑d took us out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm." G‑d had to "reach out" and save us. What an unheroic heritage!
People don't make up stories like that, certainly not about themselves. It must be true. And we can be proud of it. There's no need to cover up our humble beginnings. The Jewish belief is that greatness is not a thing of our past; it lies ahead. The Jewish story has the power to inspire, not by glorying in an illustrious past, but rather by promising a brighter future. We were slaves, but we have a destiny to bring freedom to the world.
The children of demi-gods are today subjects for archeologists and historians. The children of Israel, descendants of simple slaves, are alive and thriving. No matter where you come from and how low your starting point may be, G‑d can reach out to you. You too can transcend your limitations, and become free.