For almost 100 years Hollywood has attempted to capture the Passover story on film: The Ten Commandments (1923 and 1956), The Prince of Egypt (1998) and Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) to name a few. Film producers have spent millions of dollars recreating the dramatic scale and spectacle of the Israelite journey out of Egypt, through the Sea of Reeds and into the wilderness. (Charlton Heston looks even more spectacular as Moses when viewed in 3D!).
There is one film, not a typical ‘Passover movie,’ whose themes go right to the heart of the Israelite journey; Disney’s Aladdin (1992). Set in the fictional city of Agrabah, at first glance this story of princesses, evil sorcerers and magical genies appears far removed from our own story.
However, the Israelites and the entire cast of Aladdin share a longing for one thing above all else; freedom. Aladdin himself longs to be free from poverty, Princess Jasmine wants freedom to choose who to marry, Jafar and Iago want to be free from the Sultan’s rule and Genie ‘wishes’ he was free to be his own master. As the story of Aladdin illustrates, freedom is a shared ideal but the form of an individual’s bondage as well as the motivation that encourages one to seek freedom can differ dramatically.
The human catalyst for the Israelite journey from slavery to freedom is Moses. The first event of Moses’ adult life that is described in the Torah tells how he, disgusted at the brutality of the Egyptians, comes to the defence of an Israelite who is in the middle of being beaten by a taskmaster. Moses (at least at this point in the narrative) does not seek his own freedom but that of those around him. His first ‘grownup’ act is to try and reduce the suffering of those around him who are too weak to pursue liberty for themselves. Like Moses, Aladdin also desires freedom for others as demonstrated when he promises to use his third and final wish to set the Genie free. However, Aladdin’s own desires lead him to hesitate in granting this wish and this action becomes the catalyst for much of the tragedy that takes place later on in the story.
When Moses sees suffering around him his first instinct is to intervene, irrelevant of the consequences of these actions on his own liberties. In fact, it is this early action that leads to Moses own liberation later on in the Torah narrative. As central characters in our own journeys to freedom we must remember that by working to secure the freedom of others we are in fact working to guarantee our own freedom.
This article originally appeared as Alyth Synagogue’s ‘Thought for the Week’.