There came a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph.
That is the transformative historical point that we read about every year in the Haggadah at the Passover Seder.
The point at which the Pharaoh enslaved the Hebrews. Before Moses, generations later, asked a different Pharaoh to set the Hebrews free.
This story of the Exodus is more ingrained in my being than I had ever realized. Such that, on a recent trip to Egypt, I was overwhelmed at the Egyptian Museum when I saw the mummy of Ramses, the Pharaoh who said no to Moses. Who would not let the slaves go.
Here he was thousands of years later, shriveled and little. And I thought, “this is what has become of the great Pharaoh.”
It was a profound moment for me.
And then we visited the site (in the photo) of Abu Simbel, the monument to this Ramses, where four large statues (3-1/2 anyway) of this Pharaoh sit triumphantly before the entrance.
I was surprised at the turmoil of emotions I was feeling. Looking at this massive structure dedicated to a man’s need to glorify himself. And remembering this is the one who wouldn’t let the slaves go. Who needed 10 terrible plagues as a convincer.
The story behind the site at Abu Simbel is astonishing, especially since the entire structure had to be moved prior to the building of the Aswan High Dam so as to prevent possible flooding to the site. And because of the engineering genius of some of the interior points.
That’s all fine as far as being a tourist goes. It was fascinating to be sure.
Still, what captured my attention was how after years and years of reading the Haggadah every Passover, I could not be objective. I couldn’t simply contemplate the historical site. I couldn’t let go of who this man was.
I am adding the photo of the site at Abu Simbel to our family Hagaddah.